Stewart Lee – March of the Lemmings (Brexit in Print & Performance 2016–2019) (4 stars)

Stewart Lee – March of the Lemmings (Brexit in Print & Performance 2016–2019)

An often hilarious and occasionally bewildering dissection of Brexit Britain from a man with three identities

When Stewart Lee came to filming his most recent live performance for TV, he was keen to record a Brexit-inflected show that had a real sense of edge and occasion. So, Content Provider was not made in front of an audience in Remain-friendly locations such as London, Glasgow or Belfast, but instead it was produced in the Leave heartland of Southend. Love him or despise him (judging by the below-the-line comments on his Guardian columns, samples of which are almost gleefully reproduced in March of the Lemmings, there are reams of folk in the latter category), you can't deny that he ever shirks a challenge.

An arch contrarian not averse to winding up the liberal-left while standing proud as an out-and-out bogeyman for the right, three 'Stewart Lee' personae are platformed in March of the Lemmings. There's the Guardian columnist, a largely confused individual riddled with self-doubt and trying to make some sense of the post-Brexit vote landscape that lies in tatters before him. The stand-up comedian 'Stewart Lee' (represented here via the full script of Content Provider) is a vaguely bitter man who looks down on both his audience and comedy contemporaries with a withering, elitist contempt. Meanwhile, the 'real' Stewart Lee enters proceedings offering up perfectly reasonable and very entertaining interjections in the form of footnotes so abundant that they most likely make up the majority of the book's near-400 pages.

The reprinted columns begin from the moment immediately prior to the EU referendum in June 2016 right up until his mid-March piece this year which tackled everything from Andrew Neil to Pat Kane and Bake Off to Viz. As a totality, they show the trajectory of a man, husband and father-of-two who has become ever more fretful of the future as the months and years have gone by. His not-so friendly (f)ire lands on a large mass of players in the Brexit panto, though Michael Gove appears to attract more than his fair share of derision.

Recently voted the number 41 comedian of this century so far by his pals at The Guardian (clearly a cheeky reference to 41st Best Stand-Up Ever!, Lee's stand-up show which itself was his response to a Channel 4 poll from 2007), books like March of the Lemmings (frequently hilarious, occasionally bamboozling), will help cement Stewart Lee's spot in the British comedy pantheon. And that's assured whether his old pal Al Murray or his sworn enemies at the Daily Mail like it or not.

March of the Lemmings: Brexit in Print and Performance 2016–2019 is now via Faber.

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