There is a trend now in comedy for bigger stadium gigs rather than smaller but longer tours and for the DVD to be out in time for Christmas. Peter Kay, Michael McIntyre and the like have gotten rich off of it and fair play to them. The television schedules is also significantly fuller of comedy panel shows than it once was – thanks to the success of them as they come over from Radio 4. Coincidentally I had just been listening to Danny Baker and Bill Bailey discussing the very topic a few days before I watched this show. Certainly now there is a trend for the quick one liner and for every single thing that happens to be subject to a quip and young comedians nudge each other off the spotlight.
Stewart Lee may be many things but he isn't that sort of comedian; he is known for not doing "jokes" per se and at times his material can be much more acerbic to the point where you're not sure if you can laugh or not. He opens this show with a bit of real life observation about buying a cup of coffee but it spectacularly fails as the smoke machine lets him down, the audience don't feed him the lines he needs and his real life story is not actually that interesting. It is a brilliantly awkward opening to the show and it is no surprise that he moves from there to cleverly dig at those that do those very types of shows and sell millions of DVD's to fans queueing to buy them like "captured Partisans digging their own mass grave". He does his own style here and he goes after those that he perceives has sold out for money, whether it be advertising, other comedians and particularly those presenters on Top Gear.
It is brutal stuff and it almost feels like he is intent on alienating his audience by just how angry and clever he is with it. His attack on the non-PC Top Gear and their "just a joke" approach is incredible and his assault on Richard Hammond is hilarious and uncomfortable – particularly a story from his childhood (the two went to the same school) that is moving, involving, reveals a lot about Hammond's cowardice and is of course entirely fictional. While many comedians make fun of adverts, Lee does it here by constructing an entire world of history about language and tradition simply so he can exaggerate his rage. This sends him into the audience in a simulated breakdown during which he attacks specific members of the audience for piracy, for moving around during his bit and so on. It is brutally entertaining.
Lee is not to everyone's tastes and there are times when I'm not even sure if he is to mine or not; however this is a really great show. Inventive, cleverly structured and masterfully delivered. It feels like it is collapsing and that his audience will all walk out any second but yet that is all part of the construct – it really shouldn't work but it is very effective, very engaging and very funny. Download it today!