Wednesday, 08 July 2020

Poison-tipped gags from comic master

I WISH I could be as brazen as Stewart Lee — not his humour, which is richly funny, but the chutzpah which saw him stride into the Oxford audience less than two minutes into his set and wrench a phone from an audience member.

“No phones, mate,” he said as he marched back to the stage and stashed the device inside the back of his jeans.

In your face, at your throat, uncompromising, truly remarkable timing, self-referential, laden with irony and straight-up funny.

I realised my own phone was still turned on but didn’t dare get it out to neuter it for fear of similar treatment.

Genuinely funny people don’t need gags written for them, they can exploit a situation, improvise on it and wring it dry. So it is with Lee who’s been a stand-up for more than 30 years.

He delivers two routines, the first an extended riff on a reference to a Netflix video of his, the second his take on being a snowflake — both are hilarious. What makes him work is his dual performance: one is the direct source material, the other is a kind of notated commentary on what he’s doing, a sideways look at himself.

He announces with simultaneous pride and irony his position in The Times hierarchy of comedians — at the top, of course. It’s that apparent contradiction, but not quite doublethink, which makes him tick.

It’s unquestionably original and often challenging. But he’s not unlike Shakespeare in that the high intellect is often countered by low humour which had the audience reduced to helplessness.

He’s political, identifies immediately and proudly as a liberal centre-leftie, and sends out poison-tipped jokes to pick off his targets — Boris Johnson is a favourite.

And watch out for a piece on cesspits which shouldn’t be funny at all, but in the hands of a comic master it is.

Until Saturday.

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