Glasgow Comedy Festival - Stewart Lee
Officially funnier than Jackie Mason but not as hilarious as Jim Davidson, Stewart Lee tells Brian Donaldson about turning abject failure into comedy
When a stand-up is dubbed ‘a comics’ comic’, that can usually be translated into: ‘loved by his peers and critics; not quite so loved by audiences.’ Yet, when you look at the career of Stewart Lee, the adulation of comedians and journalists may have taken a while to take root, but now the crowds appear to have finally caught on to the man’s appeal.
Due to reach 40 at the beginning of April, the comic who spent the early 90s as one half of the Lee and Herring double act, used the late 90s to go it alone and endured a bit of the 00s on the run from the Christian fundamentalists who objected to the broadcasting of Jerry Springer: The Opera (which he co-wrote with Richard Thomas), is now reaping the benefits of raw persistence. ‘I didn’t really start getting good reviews for my stand-up until I became grey, fat and old,’ Lee tells me from his home where he is recovering from a nasty flare-up of sciatica. ‘I’m doing this show about failure and things not really working and I’m getting 750 people in a 750 seater in Leeds. It’s bizarre.’
The show in question is 41st Best Stand-Up Ever, a title which was inspired from his placing in Channel 4’s hot 100 of stage comics. For the record, he is officially funnier than Jackie Mason, Tommy Cooper and Chic Murray but officially not as funny as Jim Davidson, Eddie Murphy and Jasper Carrott. From that, Lee put together an audacious hour of mind-bending stand-up which poked Celebrity Big Brother’s race row, the BBC and Russell Brand in the eye while wondering (over the course of at least ten minutes) whether Del Boy’s accidental plunge through the bar is really the funniest thing that’s ever happened.
‘When I started this one, all the information that was in it was true at the time of going to press, but things can change,’ notes Lee, referring to the fact that the BBC have now given the green light to his own stand-up show, Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, a situation which never looked like happening, causing him to slate the corporation every night back in August.
If you miss Lee now, you’ll have another opportunity to catch his 41st Best show when he pops back to Glasgow’s Stand in early April to film a DVD. But his presence will also be felt during the Glasgow Comedy Festival where his Johnson and Boswell: Late But Live comic play gets a run with Simon Munnery and Miles Jupp in the key roles. ‘Johnson and Boswell’s accounts of the same incidents were often different, because Boswell weights them towards making Johnson into this hilarious bloke whereas Johnson just describes what actually happened. But we thought it would be funny to have this arrogant man from the Midlands come and say lots of mad things about Scotland.’