COMEDY REVIEW: Stewart Lee @ Newcastle City Hall (19.5.17) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Stewart Lee was on fire tonight, the best I’ve seen him in years (and I’ve seen him a lot). Freed of the need to road-test material for his now cancelled Comedy Vehicle TV show, he’s gone back to the longform set structure that made him comfortably the best comedian in the country. He was at pains to point out that whilst he started writing a show last year that dealt with the individual in a digital world, first Brexit and then Trump derailed his plans and caused him to rework it. He was also astute on the difficulties of finding comedy in a subject like Brexit, which even among his ‘metropolitan liberal elite’ audience, is divisive. He didn’t waste much time fretting about that, though, explaining that not everybody who voted to Leave was a racist. “Some of them were just cunts”.

The first half of the set roamed across the pre-Brexit wasteland, hitting upon everything from Michael Gove and Sarah Vine (“the Neil and Christine Hamilton for the ‘Two-Girls-One-Cup generation”) to Eamonn Holmes, memorably portrayed as “Murdoch’s dustbin condom truffle pig”. The second-hand cost of live stand-up DVDs on Amazon (1p for most comedians, considerably more for Lee’s because he buys them all up to sell at his shows, thus inflating prices) explained the tottering piles of DVD cases arranged behind him (the sole other prop, a print of Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer Above The Sea Of Fog, became relevant much later). There was a point where it looked like he was leaning a little too heavily on his long-established device of playing different segments on the audience against each other – still funny but far from fresh – but this was kept to a minimum; thankfully there was still plenty of his self-proclaimed “pretentious, self-aware meta-textual shit”.

The second half of the set started beautifully, mirroring his Brexit opening with reference to Trump (“not everyone who voted for Trump was a racist…”) but stayed closer to the original intention for the material, looking at our increasingly atomised lives via glorious attacks on Game Of Thrones (“Peter Stringfellow’s Lord Of The Rings… Bilbo Baggins At Spearmint Rhino”), ‘the Russells’ (Russell Howard in particular), and young people in general, “with their Japanese cat face satchels drinking yoghurt from a pouch”, leading to an excruciatingly protracted sight of Lee clawing at an imaginary mobile phone, face contorted (the previous night’s show had seen him confiscate an audience member’s phone and shove it into his underpants for half the set). The final segment of the show – which critiqued lazy consumerism by comparing the ease of buying a Taiwanese sex fist from Amazon with the S&M efforts of his grandparents in the thirties, forced to hand craft sex harnesses from twine and straw and use potato sacks as gimp masks – was impossibly funny. Finally – and with a twisted logic – we were left with the image of Lee, clad in a cloak atop the hillock of DVDs, shrouded in dry ice, recreating the Friedrich painting whilst wielding a selfie stick at the audience.

Untouchable.

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