Brighton Year-Round 2020
Double-bill of two new 60 minute sets, back to back nightly from ‘the world’s greatest living stand-up’ The Times.
Tornado questions Stew’s position in the comedy marketplace after Netflix mistakenly lists his show as ‘reports of sharks falling from the skies are on the rise again. Nobody on the Eastern Seaboard is safe.’
Snowflake questions Stew’s worth in a society demolishing the liberal values he has been keen to espouse in a fairy-tale landscape of winter wonder.
My friend at work said to me that Stewart Lee is a bit Marmite, and I suppose that very long-lasting and popular brand is indeed a reasonable comparison point.
I’ve seen Lee live twice before. I comfortably fall into the Platonic ideal of a Stewart Lee fan, being a middle class man who finds it hard not to oscillate between being very silly and very bad-tempered. Anyway, on both of those occasions, as on this one, people really do walk out. They don’t like Marmite. Perhaps they’d even struggle with Twiglets.
But for the four nights he’s in Brighton there seem to be plenty of people to fill the Dome and get fully on board with the strong umami tang of self-referential fury and faux confusion with the modern world.
In previous shows, Stewart Lee has been variously angry, irascible, furious, self-righteous and aggressive. And there are certainly flashes of that former pugilistic nature here. However, the reason this show succeeds as well as it does is that it doesn’t merely re-tread earlier ground, even though it does play to Lee’s strengths. What it really excels at is taking the silly and ridiculous, and turning up the dial as far as it will go.
I’m not going to pretend for a moment that this is somehow a completely new Stewart Lee; it absolutely isn’t. And if you went to see John Coltrane and he’d taken up the banjo you wouldn’t be happy. So yes, there are recycled ideas and themes (and occasionally even brief jokes or asides), but in general the more furious has made way for the far more absurd.
Lee does a determinedly mediocre impression of Alan Bennett reading his take on Hollywood B-movie Sharknado. He does an unbelievably lengthy impression of Ricky Gervais attempting to say the unsayable, which is one of the most wonderfully infantile things I’ve ever seen and made my face ache as tears ran down my face.
Lee constantly refers to how clever he’s being with call-backs and structure. He rails that the world doesn’t understand him, only moments before boasting about being the number one living stand-up. He’s like a child who’s just discovered that putting Marmite under cheese-on-toast, or in bolognaise, makes it better and who can’t believe the brilliance of what he’s made; he just wants you to understand what he sees in it. And, like a child, his sense of humour is deeply surreal, light, playful and mad.
Of course we can all pretend that those who don’t like Marmite are somehow entitled to their opinion but, like Lee, we know we’re right.
By Tom Beesley