In the interests of full disclosure, I should declare up front that I love Stewart Lee. So when Storyhouse pulled off the coup of booking him for his Content Provider tour, and pulling Chester from 25 years in the Lee wilderness, I was ecstatic. I tick all the boxes for Stuart Lees core audience demographic. Middle class. Liberal. Pretentious.
His early opener on Tuesday night set the tone: he explained that as a 5*, Perrier award winning comedian any problems weren’t on his side of the stage – audience divide. It would be us being too slow. In his shows Lee relishes the opportunity to deride observational humour and spoon fed punch lines, and push for something more. And in being part of that mockery, there is a smug sense of hanging out with the smart kid – a primitive tribalism where even though as the audience, we get equal amounts of derision for being mobile phone wielding, disillusioned, Twitter addicts , we lap it up like a sycophantic cult of Stockholm Syndrome victims.
All the hallmarks of a Stewart Lee performance were executed to perfection; his grumpy clown persona, which bullies and cajoles the audience, his despair as he has to patiently explain why his jokes deserve more than the crowds reaction, and his never ending impressions which transcend from funny, through awkward, to hilarious.
Like all his shows it was a thing of beauty. An intricately crafted narrative, with each turn of phrase so beautifully sculpted, it blurred the line between what was scripted, and what was genuine improvisation. His constant taunts about seeing behind the wizards curtain, only clouded it further. At the point when a hopelessly misguided heckler, was so comprehensively educated, and then integrated into the act so well, I couldn’t tell what was real anymore. Were they a plant? Was he using stock lines built up over his 30 years experience? Was he that quick witted? All we could do was sit back and enjoy the journey the puppet master was taking us on. Through swipes at his critics, the BBC, and generally the whole of politics, Lee stands alone as one of the most original comedy craftsman on the circuit.
It was a great performance that led to a standing ovation (well, one person – who perhaps had cramp), and hopefully the applause and whopping at the show finale will ensure he will be back soon. But then again maybe that’s just the Stockholm syndrome talking.