Stewart Lee: What I know about comedy

Remember when I talked about Charlie Brooker and how I discovered him while not learning for one of my three bible exams? I must have discovered Stewart Lee while not learning for one of the other two bible exams, somehow learning bible-code (or rather, not learning it) created a keen eye for amazing comedy. Since then, I watched his shows with Richard Herring, some great clips of an arrogantly young Stewart Lee and I own most of his stand up routines. When I first watched Bill Hicks, there was a lot I agreed upon but with Lee, I pretty much agree with everything. Lee is a Comedian’s comedian which makes me sound like a pretentious twit but bear with me.

First of all, Lee is not one for one-liners, punch lines or observational humor. There is nothing wrong with those but when he does a routine, it’s more of a long ride, with a great pay-off. But you’ll also enjoy the ride and that is a pretty great achievement for comedy, where you usually just want one joke after the other. Instead, Lee does jokes that stretch out, create absurd (but also very touching) moments and always have a point that dares you to think. That sounds super boring, I know, so here’s one of my favourite examples how absolutely un-boring it is:

While you learn a lot about the media and how they work through Charlie Brooker, Stewart Lee teaches how certain forms of Comedy work and why some things might be funny but are also lazy. He also has the kind of work ethics that make it easy to simply respect him for that. Some people say he is a bully when he calls out British tv-personalities and comedians for stealing jokes, making bad jokes or simply being assholes but they’re wrong. If you bully someone, you simply want to kick them in the nuts and laugh at it (because – admittedly – it is pretty funny). If Lee picks on someone, he wants to make a point about their behaviour by taking whatever they said and bloating it up until you can see why Lee is so frustrated with them. Someone once said about Hicks, that he is the typical misanthrope, he was simply frustrated that humanity couldn’t live up to his ideals. I think in one way or the other that holds up for Lee’s comedy as well, no matter what celebrity gets the 10 minute hate-tirade.

What I also love about his comedy is the fact that he deals a lot with what is allowed and what’s not allowed. Sure, Hicks did it, Carlin did it and kind of made comedic history with it but Lee gets the point more clearly. You can make jokes about everything but Lee shows beautifully that – if you’re not willing to make it properly – maybe you should forfeit your right to joke about foreign religions that you know nothing about, just cause.

I tend to get a little snobbish over Lee because after watching his stand-ups, I look up things, learn something, get into things. I evaluated the way I see humor and comedy a lot after watching him and I thought about what I would want to achieve if I want to be funny. Sure, I still do my fart-jokes and no one can change that but Lee is a major reason why I also try to now and then make a point. And for me, that’s why you can make fun of everything – if you do, and if you actually have something to say, you make a point, you try to make people think about stuff that they usually only see from one perspective, where jokes are either forbidden or tasteless. It’s like gagging a topic, if you can’t dissect it through humor because that’s what comedy can do – if done well. He has done a very long and painful routine after he worked on a Jerry Springer musical in the UK. There was a scene with Jesus involved and some religious people got very upset, right up to the point where they boycotted the musical, threatened Lee and everyone involved and started a huge media-carnival. It wasn’t a good time for Lee and he reworked all that frustration and anger into one of the most offensive, gross and brilliant pieces of comedy, I’ve ever seen. It’s one thing when Bill Hicks talks about sex and drugs. It’s another if a personal nightmare gets turned into an analogy that – SPOILER ALERT – involves a cat towel, vomit and Jesus Christ. I can’t show any clip of it because it only works in context but the routine is worth the buy.

So, to sum it up: I highly recommend that you buy all his stand-up programs, he even did – in this day and age, oh my – a series called “Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle” where he does circa 20 Minute-routines each about a certain topic. He wrote several books, did an audio book and has quite a few CDs out. He is amazing because most of his 90s shows can be seen on his homepage for free, which are ridiculously British, involve the perky Richard Herring and have a certain anarchic glee to it.


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