Perhaps not the most obvious choice. When asked the question of who is your favourite comedian the most common answers are likely to be the likes of Michael McIntyre, Peter Kay, or Jason Manford.
Perhaps not the most obvious choice. When asked the question of who is your favourite comedian the most common answers are likely to be the likes of Michael McIntyre, Peter Kay, or Jason Manford. But for me, Stewart Lee’s long rambling anecdotes and use of indulgent improvisation set him apart from the majority of mainstream comics.
I first saw Stewart Lee on his Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle on BBC 2 in 2009 – I was 16. Back then I found the show amusing, although at the time I was a fan of acts that are completely different. The one liner comics like Stewart Francis, Tim Vine, and Milton Jones were my preferred stand ups. Lee’s humour is one that requires a more mature recipient to appreciate and a couple of years later I saw his Vegetable Stew tour at my closest Corn Exchange – since then I’ve been an avid fan of his work.
Much of Lee’s material is political, and from a liberal standpoint. One of the main ways his alternative comedy differs from the mainstream stand up is in his views on political correctness. Unlike the usual ‘political correctness gone mad’ bemoaning of the limits on potentially offensive jokes, Lee recalls experiences from his youth growing up in the West Midlands such as racism, that show why there is a need for the legislation.
That tour, Lee’s last national circuit, contained three jokes, according to the man himself. Like this, his work regularly takes self-awareness to new levels, as well as commenting on and mocking the work of the popular observational comedians that dominate the large venues and prime time TV slots, such as Live at the Apollo and Mock the Week. In fact almost anything that is fashionable is torn apart with great simplicity, to make you question whether your favourite aspects of modern life are really that good – from TV, to literature, to music.
Often referred to as ‘the comedian’s comedian’, Lee prefers the smaller intimate venues to allow his heavy use of repetition and drawn-out recollections of what comedy was like when he started out in the eighties, to have its greatest impact. He regularly mocks his own inability to use observational humour and his middle-class lifestyle and interests. And often refers to the way he is reviewed well by the broadsheet newspapers and yet seen as pretentious, boring, and ‘the alternative to comedy’ by many.
Lee is in no way frightened to take on the controversial issues of the day. Despite his atheist views the topic of religion is never dealt with by crass, un-researched jokes – you would be hard-pressed to find anything that could be taken to be offensive in his routines at all. This is surprising considering the way he experienced religious hatred in 2005 after the broadcasting of Jerry Springer – The Opera on the BBC – which he co-wrote and co-directed. Lee’s comeback tour is regarded as some of his best, and most unrestrained work – in one routine he describes a situation in which he meets Jesus Christ when drunkenly stumbling home from a night drinking at a local pub, and ends up ‘vomiting into the gaping anus of Christ’.
So although the likes of Peter Kay and Ricky Gervais can have me in stitches it is the meandering ramblings of Stewart Lee that make him the greatest comedian that I have ever seen.