"I AM CULTURE!" - Stewart Lee at the Leicester Square Theatre

It is very difficult to attempt a review any of Stewart Lee's stand up. It is purposely devised and performed in such a way as to alienate as many of the people who might happen upon it as possible. If Stewart Lee had his way, and the ability to feed his family was no object, he would play to rooms of two people or less and those people would laugh all of the moisture from their bodies and be wheeled out with the most amazing six-packs you'd have ever seen.

He is very funny, but only if you like that sort of thing. I do like it, a great deal, but therein lies the problem. 

The purpose of a review is to convince you about a thing one way or the other. I give you my opinion of it, and perhaps that goes some way to helping you decide whether or not to spend your own time doing or looking at the thing. My issue here is that if you don't already like Stewart Lee, there's no chance I can convince you to. His stuff is deliberately impenetrable to stop people who don't like him from watching. You're not going to get it, and you're going to bring the whole room down, so he doesn't want you there.

From the music he plays while you're waiting for him to come on to the repetition of phrases and words to an absurd level right to the minute dissection of even the shortest most simple saying, Stewart Lee is trying to lose you.

For example in this show, which he advertises and openly informs you on stage himself is a work in progress, Stewart has an extended piece on immigration where he drags you back through millions of years of the history of Britain being invaded; from a fear of the coming Bulgarian immigrants to prejudice against emerging evolved fish-creatures at the dawn of humanity, all the while still managing to make fun of Deputy Leader of UKIP Paul Nuthalls. 

You're not gonna enjoy that if you ordinarily get your jokes from Peter Kay repeating the words Cheese Cake for 13 years. 

The show itself is separated into 2 halves, one of 30 minutes (or as close to it as Stewart can get) and the other into two 30 minute sections stuck together (so... an hour). The reason behind this, and the "work in progress" caveat, is that Lee is trying to shape material for the upcoming series of his Comedy Vehicle stand-up program on BBC 2. It's back in March 2014, he's shooting it December this year, and he needs to say things during it.

For me the first "half", which deals primarily with UK politics, was the weakest of the three segments. Not because it wasn't good, but like Back to the Future 3 there has to be a "worst" in any excellent trilogy. The jokes are there but not in the usual polished-but-scuffed-on-purpose high bar his stuff usually attains. That'll be because he's not finished yet though. The guy in front of me didn't laugh, or smile, or indeed make a facial expression of any kind till intermission when it was time to nip to the toilet and work the rod out of his anus.

The other two pieces, about Immigration and finally his own life as a surgically impotent 45 year old father of two, are magnificent. A prolonged cyclical conversation with a racist cab driver is the absolute perfect example of something oscillating between funny and not funny then funny again, and the aforementioned Paul Nuthalls beat is sublime.

Stewart Lee is a comedians comedian, a fact he himself acknowledges when he says all stand up comedy is directed at other stand up comedians. His books, "The Life and Deaths of a Stand Up Comedian" and "The Milder Comedian EP" are ESSENTIAL texts for anyone wishing to work in comedy in any capacity. Understanding how jokes are not only built, but also where they fit in the larger flowing narrative, is something Stewart seems to understand innately and he demonstrates that on stage with this show.

The summary of all this, I suppose, is that if you already like Stewart Lee then you know you'll love this. If you already don't like him, you know you won't, and if you've never seen him but tend to lean more towards clever stand up performance and more away from catchphrases and people in t-shirts running back and forth on stage, then give Stewart Lee a go. 
It's on as we speak at the Leicester Square Theatre in London, right up until December 14th, then back again January 2nd till the 19th. After that he goes on the road and details of that can be found on the man's website HERE.

For the sake of a star rating, I'll say 4 1/2 out of 5. 

Fucking Great, in essence.

Words by Gazz Wood

Gazz is a writer from the Northern Film School in Leeds. He also hosts the "Possibly of Interest" podcast with TV producer Howard Cohen (Impractical Jokers) and special guests from the British Comedy world. Plus he's got his own show; "Gazz Wood Has A Podcast", with weekly guests like MISFITS Director Nirpal Bhogal and Sex & Relationships Expert Annabelle Knight! Good Lord!