Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle
It’s utterly pointless to write an intro to a piece like this, because anyone who’d read beyond the first sentence, or the photo of a pudgy middle-aged Britisher on the top of the post, is the kind of person who’d know this information anyway. However, for the sake of journalistic tradition:
Stewart Lee was one half of the Lee and Herring comedy team of the late 90s, a duo who helped many a needless adolescent like myself forget about their social inadequacies and citizen and guidance coursework with two TV shows (Fist of Fun and This Morning With Richard Not Judy) that eschewed the comedic norms of the time (ie, there were no Red Dwarf actors in starring roles), and instead took as their muse meta-commentary on the very concept of comedy, and extended puns on the word “egg”.
Since he was last on TV regularly, Stewart Lee has gone on to become the only “great” stand-up currently working in the UK. Admittedly, his competitors mainly consist of mealy-mouthed generic “indie” types from central casting whose routines tend to have as their opening like “Hey, wouldn’t it be crazy to be a ninja/pirate/monkey/bacon?”, but the guy’s routines bare comparison with anything stateside from the past decade (on a completely unrelated note “mealy mouthed generic indie comics” who have the same dead eyes, pasty skin and effeminate visage as trafficked child hookers, this man asked a female friend of mine out, and suggested, as a first date, that she come and watch him perform. What a king.)
Anyway, Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle is Lee’s first regular TV show in nine years, nine years in which he’s somehow become fatter than his former comedy partner, and also developed some sort of rotting internal organ illness. And… it’s good. I think. No, it is.
OK, firstly, this is clearly better than any British comedy show of the past half decade, with the inevitable exception of TV Burp. And you could argue that the two shows warrant sustained comparison: both consist of one man helming a show where he talks directly into camera, occasionally peppering his content with short, relevant sketches, where the overriding feeling is that the host has an intense contempt for his subjects. While Harry Hill – possibly due to the fact he has to due to playing to a mainstream audience, possibly due to the fact that his comic persona is utterly different – can play a lot of his anger off as “D’oh, I’ll get you Butler” slapstick rage, Lee instead comes across as a lot more… bitter.
In terms of delivery, Lee is unfaultable here. The slow, needless hammering into the ground of his points has always been one of his signature moves, and the “You’ve seen them, the rappers, the rap singers” routine here is a perfect example: there’s literally no point to it, and trying to read some “MAYBE HE’S TALKING ABOUT HOW RAP ISN’T POLITICAL ANYMORE” message into it is ignoring the point that it’s funny to talk about rap music as being easily identifiable from the way its protagonists descend staircases.
As for the targets… the reason that Charlie Brooker isn’t funny isn’t just because he’s gone from being a 7th rate Mr Biffo to a 14th rate Victor Lewis Smith, but because his targets are just pathetically easy and he never properly ethers them, like watching a post-Olympics Audley Harrison labour to a points victory over some guy who works as a bouncer for Reflex in Stoke Newington. Lee’s targets here are ridiculously easy: Dan Brown, JK Rowling, Chris Moyles, Jeremy Clarkson. And he sets about them in a way that is undoubtedly smug, liberal elitist and almost sixth form at times: responding to someone’s query as to whether you’ve read Harry Potter with “No, but I have read William Blake” is something most people should have grown out of by the time the girl doesn’t have to put the dick in with her own hand during sex.
And if we’re gonna keep criticising (remembering that I honestly thought this was approaching greatness), the final skit went absolutely fucking nowhere and didn’t have any jokes. Although it’s always good to see the boring priest from Father Ted again. Love the crazy kid.
Would it be grasping to say this is the first British TV show that’s had a clear influence on it from Family Guy? I’m sure the purists would say he’s jacked the Dave Allan formula (an admitted influence on Lee), but think about it for a second: what you have is a pretty didactic show where the intent is not to foster any affection on the topics discussed, and the narrative deliberately sets up short throwaway sketches, revolving around pop culture punchlines (a British FG writing team would definitely be using the Grange Hill sausage, or ripping the piss out of Marcus Brigstocke as a zing), that are explicitly set-up by the narrative: ie, “you’re the worst person at giving out bad news since Dan Brown worked as a mortality doctor”.
Anyway, it’s nice to have the guy back, if you don’t own his “Stand-Up Comedian” or “90s Comedian” DVDs you really should, and the “this book’s not really for me” throwaway line made me laugh more than any other TV has in 2009. Also, there’s extras in the form of Armando Ianucci deliberately trying to make Stewart Lee laugh as a mock interviewer for ten minutes on iPlayer or, more conveniently, YouTube.
I mean, clearly this is gonna be a commercial bomb, what with the first night only just beating America’s Toughest Prisons in the ratings, and less than 600 Youtube hits for its BBC-promoted videos (including a pissy comment from a Jimmy Carr fan). But, y’know, enjoy it while it’s there.
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