Review – Stewart Lee at the Brighton Dome

The latest Stewart Lee show was bookended with PA tunes from The Fall, both singular acts venerated by an adoring fan-base but both not always able to tickle the fancy of a prime-time TV scheduler nor large venue booker.
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But Lee’s continued absence from TV screens is our loss and a sad example of the lack of brave comedy programming.

In the People’s Republic of Brighton and Hove (itself something of a slightly smug outlier to large swathes of the UK) Lee is on safe and profitable ground, last week selling out an impressive five nights (one more than the last tour) at Brighton Dome.

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His new show - Basic Lee, is a stand-up comedy performance which looks at the mechanics of stand-up comedy performance.As any fule kno, this is by no means uncharted territory for the intelligent comic who has spent a large part of his career kicking at the creaking joints of comedy and carving out a well-deserved reputation above the hackneyed offerings of many of his contemporaries and subsequent waves of comedians who inexplicably fill arena after arena.The show featured plenty of trademark Lee themes and tropes of his comedy persona, the deliberate positioning outside of the stand-up norms "I'm not really a stand-up comedian, loads of people on social media will tell you that", disappointment with the crowd: "Don't come and see me if you don't know what anything is", and faux superiority: “The pleasure of the simpleton. I envy you”.

Stewart Lee by Steve UllathorneStewart Lee by Steve Ullathorne
Stewart Lee by Steve Ullathorne

Lee, who once said 'Twitter is the Stasi for Angry Birds generation, also details a recent social media scrape (in the form of teasing routine only partly about JK Rowling) which saw him as the subject of online pile-in on Mumsnet, and somehow leads to a brilliant unpublishable line about Paddington Bear Dolls.

A broken ankle isn't too much of an impediment for him, although we do lose a little physicality, but there’s a superb extended section on the supposed banality office life which is a wonderful drawn out piece of visual physical comedy achieved while barely leaving his chair. Describing going to see him as 'a necessary but unenjoyable chore' feels like vintage Stewart Lee but less common is the ‘crowd work’ – chatting to members of the front row.But it’s a set-up to an extensive prod at Phoebe Waller Bridge for ‘inventing’ the idea of talking directly to the audience "What's going on.” he asks “I thought should see me through the television”.The show is not a political and his previous effort – the wonderful Snowflake/Tornado, which perfectly captured the growing ideological chasms in post-Brexit Britain.

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He said it’s been difficult to identify a prevailing political narrative because in the time he took to write and perform the show he’s seen three Conservative Governments, although he did briefly point out that the Conservatives can't bash the water companies for polluting the seas because they allowed it. But Lee seemed to reserve most of his anger for latecomers to the show and the ‘expletive deleted’ who unwisely attempted to record part of his act on a mobile phone.The show grinds to a characteristically challenging but hugely enjoyable conclusion, when an almost gruelling routine interchanged with jazz history is explained as being performed like Miles Coltrane - something which even Lee, haughty and curmudgeonly persona ramped up to 11, could barely say with a straight face