Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Driven to laughter

So, only a few days after suggesting Stewart Lee is "bitterly angry at TV executives", and especially those involved with BBC2, there he was appearing in the first of his new six-part series 'Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle' on - you guessed it - BBC2.

As has been said elsewhere, credit to the Beeb for giving him the freedom to make what is to all intents and purposes a straight stand-up show (last night's sketches were a relatively unsubstantial garnish to the main feast) - and for appreciating the value of his characteristic pauses and stretched gags, rather than imposing obvious abbreviations or cuts.

I witnessed Lee roadtesting the vast majority of last night's material - about books, and specifically the new genre of "celebrity hardbacks" - in October, when he was unfairly upstaged by a surprise guest headlining appearance by Eddie Izzard. On that occasion, I complained that I'd heard most of Izzard's routine trotted out on a repeat of 'The Graham Norton Show' the previous night, so in a way it's ironic that Lee was repeating himself last night - but, personally speaking, the difference is simple: Izzard's material wasn't particularly great, whereas Lee's was. Hence the discovery that he also seems to have mined '41st Best Stand-Up Ever!' for a forthcoming episode is reason for rejoicing rather than disappointment.

As Lee himself would concede (and indeed has), though, he's not to everyone's taste, and here's one amusing dissenting voice. I particularly like the way the key points are handily emboldened, just in case you haven't the time to read the whole review - presumably because you're halfway through 'Harry Potter And The Tree Of Nothing' and want to get it finished before the film comes out...

And what are those key points, exactly? That Lee's comedy is "satire for snobs". That "My [reviewer Sally McIlhone's] dad is a better comedian than Stewart Lee" (given his choice of "surly, arrogant, laboured" as an endorsement in the past, that one could well appear on a future poster). And that Chris Moyles and Jeremy Clarkson, the primary targets of the show, are "sardonic talents" who "incidentally, are immeasurably funnier than Lee".

Needless to say, it's reviews like that that illustrate just how much we need him back on the idiot box.

Update: If you didn't check out the extra material via the red button, you can do so on the programme's microsite. In conversation with the show's executive producer Armando Iannucci, Lee is forced to defend the opening of his own novel 'The Perfect Fool' ("'London'? That's a bit of a cliche, isn't it?") before going on to confess his admiration for the genius (albeit limited) of Adrian Chiles. Needless to say, it's highly recommended...


skif said...

Perhaps because I've seen Stew Lee a million times over the years, I certainly felt that getting a big name like Izzard as a surprise was certainly adding value to my tenner outlay.

While not a classic Izzard performance certainly (the Wikipedia stuff wasn't given as deft a touch as he can), I liked his Noah's ark stuff that October night, and enjoyed it again, possibly more, when I saw him do it on the highlights of the Secret Policeman's Ball a couple of days later.

Which shows the value of road-testing it, although it appeared from Stewart Lee's show that not much needed changing in terms of his 'books' stuff as it seemed not to have morphed at all between October and the filming in January (which, incidentally, I had a ticket for, but got there too late and all the seats had been filled - gutting!)

Jonathan said...

Intersting review you linked to. The writer seems to admire Jeremy Clarkson so much that she's imitated his writing style perfectly. I also appreciated the bold text, so I knew which parts of the review to really conetrate on .

Still not seen the first episode, hoping to catch it with the BBC's online gadget.

Also Lee's attack on Joe Pasquale's joke thievery remains my favourite piece of stand up comedy ever.

Betty said...

Well, I enjoyed it and it was all new to me because I *don't get out much anymore*, least of all to see live comedy.

Geoff said something to me about it being really good social commentary rather than comedy, and he sat stony faced through the show while I was trying to look composed and cool while laughing internally about Harry Potter And The Tree Of Nothing and Those Rappers. Oh dear. Awkward.

I have probably got the wrong end of the stick as usual, but it's just good to see comedy on TV that isn't cute/fluffy/Comic Relief-friendly.

Anonymous said...

It's the first time I've seen him actually, I really enjoyed it. Will make a point of watching the rest of the series. And I have seen those rap singers, the ones on top of the pops, and on the handrail, by where the multistory is.

Del said...

It was just wonderful. And having it on BBC2 bookended by trails for Horne and Corden only highlighted how much it's needed. I don't think I've laughed so hard at a TV show for a very long time.

"Satire for snobs". I like that. I might get it printed on a T Shirt.