Sunday, August 26, 2018

The generation game

The title of his most recent show, Content Provider, is Stewart Lee's characteristically sardonic comment on his role in a world he finds increasingly alien, and in particular his bafflement in the face of the media and entertainment industry. As he notes, it's utterly mystifying that the BBC dropped his award-winning and critically acclaimed Comedy Vehicle series but then chose to screen a live recording of this show. Still, we should be grateful that Auntie decided to give it wider exposure.

As usual, Lee takes aim at both more conventional stand-ups and those who fail to understand or appreciate his own material. But, in truth, there are segments in here that might well find favour with fans of enormodome comedy rather than alienate them: the 50 year old's claim that anyone under 40 should be considered young; his dismissal of suggestions that Game Of Thrones is worthy, essential viewing ("What - Peter Stringfellow's Lord Of The Rings?!").

In other ways, though, Content Provider is Lee to the max, perhaps his most self-referential show. That he continually revisits old material and targets (Russell Howard, Gary Lineker, audience members who have dragged along their unwitting friends, himself) and even recycles jokes within the course of the show (the first and second halves essentially begin with the same (very funny) joke) is a sharp comment on the way media content providers seem to operate on an endless loop, but, I'd suspect, also polarising and infuriating to those less convinced of Lee's genius than me.

As ever, his insights into the way comedy works - the backstage pulleys and levers - are illuminating as well as hilarious. Not only does he make the perils of attempting to write a topical show evident, in the way that it exposes the comic to the risk of jokes going stale or becoming entirely redundant, overtaken by events, but he also manages to craft a laugh-out-loud (and self-deprecating) segment about the economics of survival as a stand-up.

No one else really does this kind of thing, let alone anywhere near as stylishly as Lee. I won't spoil the show's conclusion, but it's fitting that it ends with him perched on a mound of other comedians' DVDs, each bought for 1p on eBay, creating something recognisable as high art.

No comments: