Stewart Lee has never been one to shy away from the controversial, challenging material and in his latest work-in-progress show, A Room With A Stew – three half-hour sets he’s polishing to appear in the fourth series of his BBC show Comedy Vehicle – he continues to not do not what… not to do… continues to not do what… He’s once again on controversial, challenging form. Chewing up and spitting out an hour and a half of stand up covering Islam, urine and the flag of St George, Stew blew me away tonight; the laughter was consistent and deafening all around the (frankly massive) room. I’ve seen him twice before but this was something else. This was Stewart Lee at his very, very best.
My wife would ask ‘Do you think Nigel Farage can take Rochester and Strood tonight?’… Rochester AND Strood… Yeah, well… It was a Saturday night… On our anniversary: Thanet South!
I don’t want to talk about his material too much since, as this will be on TV soon, I will be spoiling what are some masterly crafted narrative adventures. What I will say is Stew swung from puerile to poignant to downright puzzling with ease, all the while smuggling severe subtext on UKIP and Islamophobia. And piss. I laughed for one hour and forty minutes straight, until my face ached.
Then I was forced to laugh more as Stew rolled out an encore he’d “written a bit of during the tour and the rest of today, back there”. This hasty encore, cleverly, will no doubt grow into the antidote so many of his fans/critics want to the one issue facing him as his popularity grows: The character of Stewart Lee the Comedian thrives on being misunderstood, disliked and downtrodden. This encore cleverly re-frames his recent boost in status as an even more disastrous state to be in than not being liked or understood. It is a sublime piece of comedic sleight of hand.
After the show, in the foyer, a small merchandise stall was set up with a (surprisingly) short queue formed by it. On closer inspection, we saw that Stewart Lee was sat behind the desk signing whatever anyone wanted signed and chatting with fans. We bought a CD, a book and a poster, which he signed “To Mr and Mrs Bundy” as he chatted with us about our upcoming wedding (“Being married is wonderful and ridiculous” he told us with his trademark cackle, “You can call someone your wife or your husband, which is ludicrous!”) and he was his usual friendly, humble, enthusiastic self – a marked difference to his on-stage persona. It was lovely to meet him again and was, all round, a really great evening.
The man is, I can say without hyperbole, a genius. He is an artist! See Stewart Lee at your earliest convenience. Disappointment is an option available only to the people you take with you. | ★★★★★
We are going to see Richard Herring’s touring show “Lord Of The Dance Settee” on 31st March in Cardiff, which I’ll also review here, so stay tuned for that!