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Old 27th Feb 2012, 14:23   #1
ono no komachi
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Default The Carpet Remnant World of Stewart Lee, Cheltenham Town Hall

Self-referential, mocking, diatribe, circumvention, intellectual, vitriol, target, belligerent, existentialist, self-abasing. Rearrange these words to make a by-numbers review of a Stewart Lee performance.

The more I think about our experience on Saturday evening, the more convinced I am of Mr Lee’s qualities as a consummate performer. I am going to try and studiously avoid spoilers in this account, but I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that one of the main themes of the show is that there is a lack of ‘material’. The lie is given to this as you realise there is actually a very satisfying narrative structure, not least when various ‘mainstream’ comedy techniques are decried, but are eventually utilised in turn, with the addition of a unique Stewart Lee sheen.

There is plenty of the trademark ribbing of the audience for not working hard enough to respond in the required way. You would have to be part of an extremely small cadre of rarefied intellectual to be innocent of any factor which Lee would putatively claim would render the show ‘not for you’, but the audience I was part of clearly enjoyed this hugely. Which are you? The aficionado or the person who doesn’t put the effort in?

There might be those who’d claim the laughter comes from a place of thinking you belong to the former group and therefore feeling superiority, but I’d argue that 1, Lee would have to think his audience pretty mean-spirited to believe that that’s where the laughs come from and 2, it’s trading on the idea that all he really wants is to end up in a self-congratulatory loop with a vanishingly small circle of broadsheet journalists, a thought he evidently finds amusing and uses to take the piss out of himself and his audience.

And there are the customary flights of fancy which take an idea and extend it until it reaches the extremes of whimsy and imagination, another familiar Stewart Lee technique and one he points out the absurdity of, and mocks himself for, more than once. I can’t imagine any other comedy performance which could seem so simultaneously mocking and fun-poking yet turning the weapon on itself to such good effect.

It almost seems wrong to call it a ‘comedy gig’ since it seems really to be a beautifully crafted and structured stage performance. But surely it’s also right to call it a comedy gig since at its heart, it’s just really really funny. Is Stewart Lee an absurdist philosopher for our time? Perhaps. I just know I had a brilliant time on Saturday night.

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