In the last week or two, I’ve become obsessed by the comedy of Stewart Lee. He’s an English stand-up comedian, originally famous as half of the Lee and Herring duo in the 1990s, making Fist of Fun and This Morning With Richard Not Judy for television. His career has taken a lot of twists and turns since then, but in the last few years he’s emerged as a unique voice with a series of shows that don’t really resemble anything else I’ve seen.
His stated goal is an unusual one for a comedian: “Within a few years these “jokes” as we comedians call them, will have been entirely purged from my work in favour, exclusively, of grinding repetition, embarrassing silence and passive-aggressive monotony”. He refers to this process as “refining my audience”.
This may not seem like good way to sell a comedy act. Yet the result is, I think, the funniest act I’ve ever seen. Many times in the last week, I’ve spontaneously burst out laughing in the middle of supermarket or while cooking or something, when I happen to remember a particularly surprising part of a Lee routine. I’ve watched the same routines repeatedly: they have a re-watch value that I’ve not previously seen in comedy, and which reminds me more of good music.
“Sounds great, Mike, where can I see some?”, I hear you ask. Well, hypothetical interlocutor, it’s not quite as simple as that. There are lots of clips on YouTube, but it’s in the nature of a Lee routine that it builds into a coherent whole through the full 30 or 90 minutes, so that decontextualising any part of it robs it of much of its significance. That said, a decent shortish introduction would be this eleven-minute routine which seems to be about American attitudes to the death of Osama Bin Laden.
So my point is that you should all rush out and buy Stewart Lee DVDs — you’ll thank me. I’d especially recommend the second series of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle (six half-hour sets), and his two most recent full-length shows If You Prefer a Milder Comedian Please Ask For One and Carpet Remnant World.
And stop me if you’ve heard this before …
You can’t buy these DVDs in America. Or, at least, you can at great expense get imports, but they’re region-2 encoded, so won’t play on legal American hardware.
And I have to ask once more, whose benefit is this for? Being the huge Stewart Lee fan that I am, and having a lot of American friends, it’s a dead cert that I would by now have bought multiple DVDs as gifts for my friends in the States. I want to know how Lee or his distributors benefit from the unavailability of his work outside of Europe.
In the mean time, the only recommendation I can make to my American friends is that you go and download Lee’s shows from The Pirate Bay.