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Stewart Lee, Much A-Stew About Nothing | reviews, news & interviews

Stewart Lee, Much A-Stew About Nothing

Stewart Lee, Much A-Stew About Nothing

Faultless entertainment from a comic at the top of his game

Stewart Lee takes comedy to another level

We shouldn't expect a perfectly formed show with a narrative arc and a final gag that is a series of clever callbacks and which neatly encapsulates all that has gone before, Stewart Lee tells us at the beginning of this show. Much A-Stew About Nothing is a sort of work in progress, as the comic tries out material for the BBC television series that he starts recording at Christmas and which will be on our screens in the spring.

As such it's a more loosely formed enterprise than previous live shows and includes a lot of material that may not make the final cut.

The show is in three half-hour segments (although on the night I saw it the first one overran markedly as Lee appeared to be lost in a genuine conversation – as opposed to improvisations from topics suggested by the audience – with a bloke down the front.

That conversation was about celebrity wildlife programmes, part of a quintessential Lee gag - a story filled with repetition, constant reinforcement of a phrase and an idea developed to the point of absurdity – with a punchline finally delivered after he and the man in the Leicester Square Theatre in London (where Lee has started a long residency) discussed an episode the comic hadn't seen but which clearly fascinated him.

Celebrity-baiting is another Lee trope and much of the first segment concerned Tory-voting entertainers, such as Gary Barlow and Judith Chalmers. A few comics – chief among them Micky Flanagan, Michael McIntyre and Russell Brand – came in for a decent filleting too. Describing the recent Jeremy Paxman interview on Newsnight with the last mentioned, Lee was quietly but splendidly cutting: “It was hardly Frost/Nixon,” he said with impeccable timing, “....more like watching a monkey throwing its excrement at a foghorn.”

The second segment contained a more obviously crowd-pleasing demolition of Ukip, taking as its starting point comments made recently by Paul Nuttall MEP, who suggested that Bulgarians (soon to join an enlarged EU) might be better to stay at home. But what if generations going back to the Big Bang had taken Mr Nuttall's desires to heart, Lee posited?

In a section that took Nuttall's stupid, misguided views to a deliriously heady level of absurdity, Lee ground out a version of history in which the UK wouldn't have developed beyond the primordial swamp if foreigners had stayed away. In a lengthy riff that kept trumping itself for levels of accomplishment of ideas and language, the comic at one point wondered with irritation why those annoying Beaker People who landed on British shores c.2000BC were “coming over here with their drinking vessels”.

Lee reached a level of comedy that I thought might be difficult to match in the final section, which touched on seemingly more personal matters, as he delivered some observational comedy (although laced with heavy doses of surreality) in reports of fictitious conversations with London taxi drivers – sadly, though, they had the ring of racist and homophobic authenticity about them.

But somehow he did keep it up, describing his imaginary wives - one a black woman, one a gay man, another an alcoholic harridan - and describing himself as “an impotent, vasectomised, 45-year-old functioning alcoholic father of two”. Normally one would think among the gags there was a clue to the real man behind the clown, but such is Lee's constant subversion of the form that even a seemingly revealing sentence like this – which contains at least two irrefutable facts – appears to be just a joke within a joke within another joke, wrapped in a joke, in a clever piece of misdirection that Derren Brown would be proud of.

Lee is a master of his craft and has been operating at such high level for some years now that you wonder if he can continue to maintain the standard. But he can, and Much A-Stew About Nothing is comedy of the highest order.

  • Stewart Lee is at Leicester Square Theatre, London WC2 until 19 January 2014
He took a stupid, misguided comment to a deliriously heady level of absurdity


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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