Stewart Lee: A Room With A Stew
The Shed, Brawby
Sun June 7
Watching your audience numbers shrink from 1,800 to 70 in the space of just one day might raise the spectre of a Spinal Tap-style career tailspin. But that wasn’t the case for Stewart Lee, as he moved on from his show at the Barbican on Saturday night to his second York area sell-out of the weekend – Brawby Village Hall, the venue for The Shed’s 23rd birthday party.
This gig was part of an extended series of UK dates intended, in part, to showcase and hone new material ultimately destined for the next series of his award-winning BBC2 Comedy Vehicle programme.
Most of the gigs are in large venues but Lee feels a close connection to The Shed – one of a number of smaller venues that he chose when he returned to stand-up after a four year absence some time ago.
The gig saw him at the top of his game, with a brilliant set lasting almost two and a half hours. His performance skills were consummate, and it was a pleasure to watch him draw in and manipulate an audience without a reliance on observational humour and telegraphed punchlines.
What sets Lee apart from his peers is his ability to engage on a deeper level with the multi-faceted nature of ideas and beliefs, and to explore the absurdities and contradictions that confront anyone trying to assert definitive positions in personal and political life.
So it is that Islamophobia, religious belief and nationalism are put under the microscope, pulled apart and held up for scrutiny by a comedian with a taste for the surreal and a sharp, politically astute, wit.
A new warmth
The familiar Lee tropes of deconstructing the whole process and reviewing himself and the audience were, of course, woven into a fluid and wide-ranging mix.
It is sometimes said – by his fans and detractors, for differing reasons – that Stewart Lee can appear remote and distant. For me, the experience is akin to having a great night out with someone, whilst at the same time being troubled by the nagging thought that they’re sizing you up and might be about to deck you.
I really like that aspect to his performance and, although it is still part of his armoury, I feel that he has added a new warmth as well. There was a real connection between him and an audience who go to see him expecting more than the average comedian can deliver.
His star is rising, and he is now enjoying much greater commercial success. His inventiveness and the skill with which he crafts his material mean that it is happening purely on merit, and without any need to dumb it down to pull in the punters. That’s rare, indeed.
The evening was nicely rounded off by Snake Davis, who stepped out of the audience to perform a short piece of music that gave the audience a moment to reflect after one of the best comedy performances I’ve seen for a long time.