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Tuesday 11 February 2020

Interview: Stewart Lee On The Comedic Reasoning Behind Presenting Two Shows Back To Back Over Four Nights @ Brighton Dome

"How do you make people laugh in such unstable, unpredictable times?", the comedian Stewart Lee asks.  Well, he should know! Last year, after three decades in the business, The Times called him the 'world's greatest living stand-up'. 

His current tour, Snowflake/Tornado, which visits Brighton Dome, next week, sees him, in his own words, "negotiating the thin line between has-been and legend". 

Q/ Readers might remember you from BBC2"s Bafta-winning Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle, or perhaps seen your last TV special Content Provider. But what can they expect from the new live show, Snowflake/Tornado?

Stewart Lee: It's two one hour shows back to back. Tornado is a story show about me sharing a venue with a famous American comedian and getting chased off by his private security team. 

Snowflake is a more discursive, ideas-driven hour, about how some people think political correctness has supposedly imposed on people's freedoms. 

I'm a 1980s snowflake liberal, and very much a product of political correctness, but fans of shock and awe will find enough in both shows to flip their wigs. 

Every new tour, I tie myself in gut-wrenching knots worrying time will finally be called on my career, but this show has got better reviews than ever so I am cursed to continue.

Q/ You're in the strange position where you've won every award going from British Comedy Awards to Baftas, you can shift a quarter of a million tickets on tour without advertising, but you are by no means a household name. Does that bother you?

Stewart Lee: Not really. To some extent, I engineered it, by never going on panel shows or Live At The Apollo, and it was easy to do this as I was never asked.
Celebrity gets in the way of the art of being a stand-up, and it is a massive pain in the backside being even a bit famous. 

Me being recognised is embarrassing for the kids, and we've had to take legal advice on people threatening and harassing us, and they weren't all other comedians.  

The last stand-up special, Content Provider, played to two million people on the i-player in 2018 and there was stuff about Brexit in it, so before it went out I grew a massive beard and let myself go a bit so I didn't get attacked in the street. 

The problem is, I can't seem to find my way back to normal now, so I look like a furry bin bag. 

Q/ You mentioned the dreaded B word there? Is talking about Brexit a problem? Do you change what you say in different parts of the country? 

Stewart Lee: I don't really change what I say in different parts of the country. The on-stage Stewart Lee is an artist imposing his arrogant vision on audiences. He's not there to entertain people. He just does what he does, and if they are entertained it is an accidental by-product of the performance! 

But in April 2017 The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Express, Shortlist, The Daily Mail, Breitbart and Spiked On-Line all ran versions of the same largely made-up story saying I was having mass walk-outs because of doing jokes about Brexit, which was entirely untrue.  

In the end The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Express made minor corrections on line, but it does show you how they run fake stuff up to fit their agendas.  

I am a graduate who works in the arts from a 78% remain voting constituency so obviously my attitude to Brexit reflects that. I wouldn't be as aggressive about it now as I was last time I toured, because I don"t think anyone has got what they wanted, so it just seems like a massive tragedy. 

But I'm not going to change who I am or what I think, even if it did mean losing audiences, which it doesn't seem to have done. They've gone up if anything! 

I didn't get into this to get big crowds. I got into it to be free to do what I want. 

People can come and see me if they want, but it doesn"t make any difference to the work I produce. I'd do it anyway, to no-one.

Q/ What about now? Who do you rate today?

Stewart Lee: "I was very lucky to start out when the old Alternative Comedy values where still in place, as I think modern stand-up is bland, market driven and unpleasant. I still love the work of my contemporaries, like Harry Hill and Simon Munnery. 

I think Daniel Kitson is the greatest living stand-up and I would like my wife Bridget Christie's act even more than I do if I wasn't married to her and knew what she was really like. 

Paul Sinha from The Chase is a great stand-up. From the newer comics I really like Rosie Jones, and Ghosts, by the Horrible Histories lot, is my favourite comedy TV show since Detectorists and This Country.  

I saw the husband from Ghosts in a tile warehouse and I was quite star-struck. And of course, he didn't know who I was, so it was all very awkward.

Q/ Who were your comedy influences? 

Stewart Lee: Well when I was a kid I liked The Two Ronnies, Monty Python and The Young Ones on TV. But I think it was Dave Allen that really went in, when I come to break down what it is I do now.  

I realised I wanted to be a stand-up when I was 16, watching this weird punk-comedian Ted Chippington supporting The Fall in Birmingham in 1986. 

He didn't have any proper jokes and just liked annoying everyone and I thought it was the best thing I ever saw. 

At the Edinburgh Fringe in the late '80s I was exposed to the Scottish shock-comic Jerry Sadowitz, the dry Jewish comic Arnold Brown, the surrealist Norman Lovett, the performance art driven Oscar McLennan, and the brilliant Irish storyteller Kevin Mcaleer, and they all remained cornerstones of what I was doing until I finally found my voice.

Stewart Lee presents a double bill of Snowflake/Tornado, at Brighton Dome Concert Hall, from Tuesday 18th - Friday 21st February 2020. For tickets CLICK HERE.

by: Mike Cobley


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