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April 23, 2011 9:15 AM   Subscribe

Comedian Stewart Lee on not wanting to be a "content provider"
posted by Artw (47 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've heard many comedians state that YouTube and file sharing and all the content sites have made their jobs a million times harder, because by the time fans see their shows live, the material is already stale because people post all the new stuff from their phones.
posted by xingcat at 9:25 AM on April 23, 2011


Speaking YouTube, here's one of Steward Lee's bits.

I'd never heard of him, but I liked his writing, and the first thing I did was look for a video online. The bit I linked to is pretty brilliant. I suppose I'm a fan now.
posted by jsturgill at 9:35 AM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


jsturgill - previously
posted by Artw at 9:37 AM on April 23, 2011


Also, increasing the betrayal of having posted a bunch of Youtube clips, I heard about this article on Twitter...
posted by Artw at 9:40 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


We are all just content providers for someone else's life.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:49 AM on April 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


"These opportunities to get my work in front of more people are compromising my work!"

Aw, it must be tough retaining your artistic integrity in a fractured, remix-friendly culture. Maybe being less approachable and more recondite will help. At least you'll be able to sleep at night, knowing you haven't watered down your authenticity by telling an actual joke.

What bullshit.

OLD MAN YELLS AT CLOUD
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:51 AM on April 23, 2011 [9 favorites]


I've heard many comedians state that YouTube and file sharing and all the content sites have made their jobs a million times harder, because by the time fans see their shows live, the material is already stale because people post all the new stuff from their phones.

I saw Patton Oswalt in Athens about a month ago and he actually stopped in the middle of his set to address a woman in the front of the audience who was literally just standing there holding a camera up at him. It was kind of weird in that "here's this comedian saying stuff so we're all gonna laugh like it's part of the set" but it was actually just a two minute moment of him just flat out looking at the woman and saying "seriously, can you, like, not do that? Please? I'm on tour and I'm here because I'm practicing shit for a new special and an album. If you post all this shit on YouTube before I even record the album, people aren't go to buy the album and then I won't be able to, you know, come to fucking Athens again...... no, seriously. Yes, I really mean this. No, really. Like, this isn't part of a bit, lady. Yes, Please turn the camera off."
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:57 AM on April 23, 2011 [45 favorites]


tl;dr

:)
posted by fungible at 10:00 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


He makes some really good points, but they're somewhat betrayed by either dogmatic adherence to tradition or ignorance of the totality of what he's advocating.

I mean, what's with the "book" that can't be a e-book?

I understand not wanting it to be video augmented, rendered in 3d, adapted into a movie, etc. - but if he's going to believe reading his book electronically vs. in a bound book is some kind of betrayal or diminishment, why stop there? Obviously the transition to softcover will fundamenally alter the book's gestalt. Also, they may use some other paper - possibly even (perish the thought) recycled paper, which actually had someone else's ideas on it before.

This doesn't even begin to describe the horrors brought by the consummate change in physical dimension the book will undergo, as these soulless content merchants reformat his book into "paperback" size. It's likely that they'll change the typeface -- those of us in the know are aware all you need to do to make an idea better or worse is change the "font" (sic), so his work is in great jeopardy.

I feel for him, trapped at his letterpress, writing backwards and upside-down, filling in the letters piece by piece. But it shows his commitment: works are best when their format is not shifted, because format shifting mysteriously diminishes the content. Of the work.

Work of course being preferable to content as a noun, since it's a word people don't like to use as much anymore.
posted by illovich at 10:02 AM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


The difference between content and art reminds me of the distinction between being a consumer and being a Human. What Stewart Lee illustrates is the essential problem of commodification. We live in an age where conception itself, experience, has become a commodity. The implications of this are profound in the sense that this attitude determines how we interact with our 'commodities'--mostly everything. What he is trying to do with his art is to draw people away from the notion of commodity back to the notion of a real artistic substance and he should be heartily applauded.

Squashing art down into easily digestible capsules and parceling it out to the cell-phone enabled throngs is deplorable. Yet, cultural and economic incentives are always pushing for the sound-bite.
posted by kuatto at 10:10 AM on April 23, 2011 [15 favorites]


One of the best things I’ve read in a while. I think I may have written it.

I couldn’t be more tired of people filming everything. I know people who never actually experience any part of their lives because their too busy filming it. I don’t know who they think is ever going to watch it. I often think it’s not really about preserving it for later as much as it’s a convenient way to avoid being a part of the moment.
posted by bongo_x at 10:10 AM on April 23, 2011 [10 favorites]


Isn't Metafilter some sort of content provider?
things change...so I was told when having new diapers put on
posted by Postroad at 10:23 AM on April 23, 2011


illovich:

What he is mourning specifically is the near total destruction of popular art in the long form. Or even moderately long form. It's destroyed by a sort of, especially in stand-up comedy, a sort of Comedy of Randomness. Like, Dane Cook. Who just makes up something extremely strange and says "Hey, isn't this strange thing super strange?" He's sort of the evolutionary dead-end of that sort of comedy.

Which, it is to say, is the sort of thing that is just a part of a general downtrending vortex of comedy that is funny IMMEDIATELY and requires no set-up what so ever reacting with a reciprocal decline in our general attention spans. These things feed off one another, and the art of the set-up, which is really the most important part of comedy-- and ART for that matter--is lost and cast aside because it cannot be summed up in one small bite-size chunk. The REAL fun stuff comes when you begin to manipulate, combine, create variations on the set ups, which Stewart Lee seems to do, judging from the clip I just watched.


This man is not anti-technology, he is anti-the decline of popular art. And judging by what you've written, so are you. Try to enjoy something difficult for a change, it may change your life.
posted by TheRedArmy at 10:27 AM on April 23, 2011 [9 favorites]


Whoops. He is anti-the decline of the popular art, and you seem not to be. Is what I meant. (Late edit burn!)
posted by TheRedArmy at 10:29 AM on April 23, 2011


I mean, what's with the "book" that can't be a e-book?

He's referring to how a creator allows form to interact with content. For a bound book, physical acts like flipping to footnotes, seeing how much of the book you have left, and the dimensions of the book can inform on the content (one famous example: Infinite Jest has you bouncing back and forth from the narrative to footnotes, like a tennis match). Some authors don't care about the delivery system, but more than you think do consider these aspects. For the latter group, a portion of the content is lost when you reduce their work to the words they typed.

This extends beyond books. We're at a cultural point where delivery systems are irrelevant. You can make the argument "thing change, learn to adapt," but the change is strongly weighted toward convenience of consumption. If the survival of a comedian is based only on whether they can produce 5 minute comedy-bites, we're limiting the work we receive.
posted by bittermensch at 10:29 AM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also relevant.
posted by bittermensch at 10:33 AM on April 23, 2011


Did they intentionally bundle this with the interview with Tim Vine, a specialist in one liners?
posted by biffa at 10:36 AM on April 23, 2011


Infinite Jest has you bouncing back and forth from the narrative to footnotes, like a tennis match

And also, when you reach the end, you still have a third of the book in your right hand, which is pleasingly disorientating.
posted by Grangousier at 10:42 AM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


The one taste we can all agree on is that others' tastes are usually crap.
posted by cheburashka at 10:44 AM on April 23, 2011


I can extract good and meaningful points from what he's saying, but I don't think they were the points he was trying to make.
posted by Lorc at 10:49 AM on April 23, 2011


I think Lee has a point, but may, just may, underrate the creative potential of the, uh, fungibility of medium. Let's say: he's Adorno, Peter Serafinowicz is Benjamin. He's Adorno, Tim & Eric are Benjamin. Basically, I won't be happy until someone gets called Adorno and someone else gets called Benjamin...
posted by flechsig at 10:51 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I read features in weekend supplements about how the young people of today don’t own anything. All the music and literature they need is crammed on to their hard drives in compressed form. This is why the young people of today will never do anything worthwhile.

Well, if you read it in features in weekend supplements, it's just got to be true.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:52 AM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


but if he's going to believe reading his book electronically vs. in a bound book is some kind of betrayal or diminishment, why stop there?

It's funny how most of the time we're told that Technology Will Change Everything! But if someone complains, then suddenly it's the exact opposite: Technology Doesn't Change Anything! Sometimes the same technology is simultaneously revolutionary and ordinary - the printing press is revolutionary, but the book is completely ordinary.

This is marketing, not rational argument.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:01 AM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is actually something that's been bothering me for a long time. A stand-up comedy set is not just a collection of jokes. It has pacing, timing, rhythm, early bits setting up later bits ... something is being lost when it's chopped up into two-minute segments outside of their context.
posted by kyrademon at 11:14 AM on April 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Here is some good stand-up: It lasts several minutes: I hope that's long enough: Stewart Lee in Glasgow: 1 2 3
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:29 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think there were a couple of good points in there, but he's yelling at me to get off his lawn so loudly I'll be damned if I could really pin them down.
posted by pts at 11:56 AM on April 23, 2011


Kind of a strange argument, I would think that long form stand up would tend to make itself youtube-clip proof and therefore drive people to seek out the complete work (and hopefully buy it). Lots of long form work doesn't lend itself to blip-vert simplification (novels, movies, concept albums). Is he complaining that his whole works aren't stolen and posted whole or that his work doesn't get internet buzz because it's misrepresented in short form?
posted by doctor_negative at 12:19 PM on April 23, 2011


I have huge respect for Mr. Lee and I enjoy his comedy greatly. I find myself approximately 85% in agreement with him here and I would enjoy discussing the other 15% with the man over a pint or three. Or maybe we could do it via tweets.
posted by Decani at 1:00 PM on April 23, 2011


Is he complaining that his whole works aren't stolen and posted whole or that his work doesn't get internet buzz because it's misrepresented in short form?

This is not really a complain about people stealing his work -- Ed Byrne does a very funny but pointed bit on YouTube recordings, though -- it's a complaint about an industry and an expectation that all work will be reducible to repurposable "content" that is friendly for stings and YouTube 5-min shots.

It's also a plea that we keep some small space for the type of work that only works in a particular context and setting, like his unbroken 40-minute low-light rambles which work by the emotion and intensity generated by 40 unbroken minutes in a dim room where all the focus is on him and don't work at all if you view them on the 63 bus in slow-loading 7-minute bursts.

Aw, it must be tough retaining your artistic integrity in a fractured, remix-friendly culture. Maybe being less approachable and more recondite will help. At least you'll be able to sleep at night, knowing you haven't watered down your authenticity by telling an actual joke.

Lee is of the generation of comedians that came through Britain's 80s counter-culture movement, which, yes, was all about authenticity and not selling out, etc. Then he was a part of the 90s comedy-is-the-new-rock-n-roll nonsense, where comedians merrily sold out and some got rich.

It's safe to say he's seen both sides of this, and decided that the side that means your "comedy" turns out like David Baddiel or Michael McIntyre was not for him. There is a place for comedy that plays with the form of stand-up itself; that takes 30 minutes and signposts the single joke all the way, comedy that is basically meta layered on meta but still somehow incredibly funny.

This puts him on the spectrum of people like Daniel Kitson. Kitson won't do TV at all as he has no control over it, so I can imagine what he makes of YouTube. He also does shows where he'll just read a story book instead of doing comedy, so as to keep his audience deliberately small and his lawn clear. Is that not OK? Is there not space in the comedy pantheon for people like him and Lee? Should any work more difficult to acquire than a feeble trackpad click from the couch be forcibly dragged on to the piratebay out of the sheer principle of the thing?

Lee's book (which, yes, *does* work massively better in print and I say this as a big Kindle fan) also makes it clear that he's pretty aware that ploughing this furrow means there will not be the same hordes on his lawn as there are on Michael McIntyre's or even Russell Howard's, but he's accepted that as the cost of doing business. So get off his, like.
posted by bonaldi at 1:02 PM on April 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


I totally agree with the idea that a live performance vs a video recording is a big difference, "clip" or not. That part makes sense. The same is true for music, sure.

But when he goes off on how "the young people of today don’t own anything" and how, in some mysterious way, music and books suddenly become worthless when they're "digitial"... well he's pretty far off the rails there. This is definitely "get off my lawn" territory.

(and if he listens to any recorded music, it's hard to understand any difference between that and lossless digital files --- it all goes into an electronic stereo at some point and comes out the same speakers -- this makes even less sense than the book argument, which is pretty ridiculous in its own right)

Although I'm curious how he plans to make a book that somehow can't become an e-book. I have no idea what that would entail (and I suspect neither does he).
posted by wildcrdj at 1:23 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


But when he goes off on how "the young people of today don’t own anything" and how, in some mysterious way, music and books suddenly become worthless when they're "digitial"... well he's pretty far off the rails there. This is definitely "get off my lawn" territory.

(and if he listens to any recorded music, it's hard to understand any difference between that and lossless digital files --- it all goes into an electronic stereo at some point and comes out the same speakers -- this makes even less sense than the book argument, which is pretty ridiculous in its own right)


He is arguing that part of the inherent value of art is its temporal and irreproducible nature, that art that exists in a particular form and at a particular time has a unique value because of those qualities, a value which is lost when a given piece of art becomes infinitely reproducible, becomes in any way infinite, in fact. It turns into mere content, which you can exchange for other content endlessly, with no discernible difference in impact on the consumer, because there is little impact at all, ever. It's all just part of the same mush. Is anyone cable of caring very much about amusing youtube clip 1,500,063 when clip number 1,500,064 is coming up right behind it?

There is a fair bit of hyperbole to his argument, but it is not, I think, without merit....after all, life itself is like that, only valuable because finite.
posted by Diablevert at 2:05 PM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Was that a bit? Was he doing a bit?
posted by Trochanter at 3:38 PM on April 23, 2011


I'm with him on the word curator, very atp-ish gallery bullshit word that it is.
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:38 PM on April 23, 2011


...after all, life itself is like that, only valuable because finite.

Hmm. Is this really true? I mean, consider a simple thought experiment: Let's say, that, unbeknownst to you, you are actually immortal. You're not going to live 70 or 80 years, you're going to live forever.

Would that simple fact about the future change whether the life you've lived so far has value to you right now?

And if it wouldn't, doesn't that mean that, at least potentially, you could live a life that has meaning and value to you, forever?

Note: I don't know the answer to this. The version of immortality that I want is, "you can live as long as you want, but if you get bored after a couple billion years (or whatever), you can check out." If I was offered immortality in the sense of "you have to live forever", I don't know what I would say.
posted by jcreigh at 3:45 PM on April 23, 2011


All the music and literature they need is crammed on to their hard drives in compressed form. This is why the young people of today will never do anything worthwhile.

This is where I stopped reading.

I transfer the (digital!) contents of my CD's to a HDD to declutter my life of shitty brittle jewel cases. I buy digital music online to save the cost to the environment of producing and shipping those crappy discs that get scratched up and lost.

You know what I have in my apartment instead of a big shelf full of plastic discs? I have a guitar. And when I want to hear REAL music, I pick it up and I MAKE real music.

Gah, there's so much, "I misunderstand the young peoples' culture, therefore they are all worthless and I am so much better" going on here. Need to go do something worthwhile instead of spending time under this guy's little raincloud.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 3:49 PM on April 23, 2011


But when he goes off on how "the young people of today don’t own anything" and how, in some mysterious way, music and books suddenly become worthless when they're "digitial"... well he's pretty far off the rails there. This is definitely "get off my lawn" territory.

I don't think he's being entirely serious here (and in other places)... it fits in with his comedy persona which can be grumpy and / or niave about 'kids today' as he's now outside of the normal age-range for your young buck stand up (... and it only seems like yesterday I was watching, hung-over, the youthful looking Lee on TMWRNJ... How did we get so very old?! This clip reminds me that he's being having a go at the slackers in the business for a long time. Oh and, despite what the internets say it's St George's day so I'll slap this in as well... watch it every year now)

Despite there being some great clips of Lee on youtube that do actually work in short segments, he really does work properly in the long form you can watch one of his concerts in its entirety (start here) and it's great to see the foreshadowing, repetition and referencing back to earlier parts that he weaves into it...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:51 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


This might also be relevant...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:10 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Astro Zombie: Well, if you read it in features in weekend supplements, it's just got to be true.

That is the joke.

wildcrdj: Although I'm curious how he plans to make a book that somehow can't become an e-book. I have no idea what that would entail (and I suspect neither does he).

An obvious candidate is pop-up books.
posted by Kattullus at 4:27 PM on April 23, 2011


TheRedArmy: " Try to enjoy something difficult for a change, it may change your life."

I guess my letterpress references revealed I'm one of those people who just goes for the easy stuff, huh?

I'd have to see his book, but I'm fairly certain I'd just be convinced he's being a drama queen about it -- the fact that he used copious footnotes in his manuscript does not justify abhorrence of the book in electronic form, especially now that the vogue is finger-swipe page turning (although I would join him or anyone in taking up cultural arms against that). The fact is most authors do not do anything with their text that automatic page reformatting would cause to be lost.

I'm also not impressed by his jolly funny ideas for his next book-- it sounds like book arts 101. My wife and some good friends are Masters of book arts, and my prediction is his experimental output won't pass muster in a critique.

But I have been known to be wrong, so I invite him to give it a shot.
posted by illovich at 6:31 PM on April 23, 2011


In reference to XQUZYPHYR's comment:
It really really bothers me when people stand there filming the experience instead of using the two cameras in their face to experience the experience. Why even go? It really pisses me off when they're in front of you holding it up high so it blocks my view of the goodness. And their video/audio is probably going to look/sound like shit. Way to go, asshole.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 2:25 AM on April 24, 2011


Although I'm curious how he plans to make a book that somehow can't become an e-book. I have no idea what that would entail (and I suspect neither does he).

Much of BS ("Bloody Stupid") Johnson's output doesn't work as an ebook (at least not on current tech); the Unfortunates and Albert Angelo particularly.

(I don't know if they'd pass the critique of Mr and Mrs Illovich either, to be fair, but that sounds like a joyless sour-house, right there)
posted by bonaldi at 2:47 AM on April 24, 2011


I'm telling you, when they invented the printing press, started making infinite copies of popular works, put the religious scribes out of business and sparked the rise of the irreligious, trivial, bite-sized 'novel', everything went to shit.
posted by Summer at 3:56 AM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Paper print and digital print are different media. Standalone content and networked content are different media. Sure, a pop-up book is impossible difficult pointless to imagine in an inherently (for now) 2D medium as ebooks, but so is imagining video in an inherently (for now) static medium such as paper print.

If as an artist/reader/spectator you are incapable of seeing or refuse to see the value of a particular medium then don't engage that medium. Meanwhile, the rest of the world will engage media as they see fit.

Smart people, including smart comedians, do not necessarily understand the uses of new media, and Stewart Lee seems pretty OK with asserting his ignorance preferences regarding long-form print.

Big whoop.
posted by mistersquid at 8:14 AM on April 24, 2011


One of the central fallacies that many people commit when talking about e-books vs. books is to think of one as technologically advanced and the other as not. Books are a very advanced and clever piece of technology, honed to the specific task of presenting text in a simple, easy way to the reader. Compared to books, all e-readers I've tried are hopelessly primitive at that task. I'm not saying it's always gonna be that way, and I'm sure that over the next few technological generations e-readers will match books in that central function.
posted by Kattullus at 10:52 AM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


speaking of long form live performance, mike daisey (previously) "will present a 24-hour performance piece that Edwards describes as 'an excursion into the American character through the lens of a road trip.' The audience won't be required to sit through the entire thing, of course. There'll be built-in meal breaks, maybe an availability-based seating system that allows you to pop in for a few odd hours."
posted by kliuless at 11:34 AM on April 24, 2011


It almost seems like people are agreeing with the idea that an artist ought to have control over his creation.
posted by gjc at 11:43 AM on April 24, 2011


“Dickens would never have killed Little Nell if it had gone to a public vote. The only good thing about being a writer is you get to decide what happens to the people you have invented.”

Actually, Dickens left her fate in the hands of his friend and first biographer John Forster.

Or at least, so says his friend and first biographer John Forster

It almost seems like people are agreeing with the idea that an artist ought to have control over his creation.


What?!!? That's just crazy talk.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:28 PM on April 24, 2011


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