"I play a CD of a long Evan Parker sax solo while they [enter the theatre]. I figure if people can’t put up with that then they will probably not be able to put up with me."
Quoth Benito Strauss
, in the context of the Daily Mail
's crusade against cruelty to millonaire stand-up Michael McIntyre: Yeah, I'd love it if someone would do a post on Stewart Lee.
Stewart Lee combines considerable media goodwill (outside the Daily Mail
, anyway) with a public profile that seems sometimes to be expanding and contracting simultaneously - his recent series, Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle
is shown on BBC2, the artier, less-viewed of the BBC's two core channels. However, he has been involved in some of the key moments and with some of the key people of British comedy from the 90s onwards. Although he has made much humorous play of his recognition as the 41st-best stand-up of all time in a phone-vote program - a recognition simultaneously meaningless and lukewarm (he was also GQ's 10th funniest Briton) - he is often acknowledged as one of the finest "comic's comics" practising today. As Lee comments in a riff on his former career as a librarian and his current day job, he was
a funny librarian, but he was the sort of librarian you had to see a lot of other librarians beforehand to appreciate.
Lee began his professional comedy career as a stand-up comedian and writer for On the Hour
, the Chris Morris
-showrun radio news satire that introduced Alan Partridge and moved to TV as The Day Today
. Even then, he was connecting himself to projects which stoked tabloid wrath, as On the Hour
was suspended for inserting a Wellesian news bulletin announcing the death of Conservative party grandee Michael Heseltine
His stand-up at this point shows comparatively limited mastery of the form
- although his resemblance to a young Will Smith is somewhat hypnotic, and his interest in repetition, blurring the line between person and performance and making the audience uncomfortable is apparent even then.
This all arrival coincided with the British comedy boom of the 90s - when it was unwisely stated that comedy was the New Rock and Roll (a claim that would only really come true when both were completely shafted by YouTube). Accompanied by Richard Herring
, he embarked on a series of sketch shows for Radio 1 (the BBC's youth music station), crossing over to TV with Lee and Herring's Fist of Fun
[Note - the official Lee and Herring site is pretty terrible, possibly because it is the website of a comedy duo who have not worked together meaningfully for ten years. It does contain a link to another Fist of Fun
website which appears to offer downloads of much of their material, but, uncertain of its copyright status, I did not link to it - although Stewart Lee does himself on this and his own site.]
Fist of Fun
's core cast - Lee as the acerbic, unimpressed snark-machine, Herring as the wide-eyed boy from the West Country and Peter Baynham, writer of the Heseltine skit, as a subhuman grotesque - was eerily prescient
[note - this is humor. These shows are quite unlike each other]. This segued into This Morning with Richard Not Judy
- a pastiche of This Morning with Richard and Judy
, the Regis and Kathie Lee
of Great Britain, if Regis and Kathie Lee were married and Regis had been arrested for shoplifting alcohol. Around this time, Lee also directed The Mighty Boosh
's breakthrough Edinburgh show, Arctic Boosh
. The post-Richard Not Judy
switch from ubiquity to relative obscurity was referenced in the name of Lee's 90s Comedian
[The Richard not Judy
"Parables of Jesus" sketches were collected Previously on MetaFilter.
During the period between 2000 and his return to stand-up, Lee continued to direct other comedians, DJed for London's community radio station Resonance FM
, and published a novel
. However, his return to the public eye came with the launch of Jerry Springer: The Opera
), starring Michael Brandon and then David Soul (Starsky and Hutch
) and revived on Broadway with Harvey Keitel. Dogged by mass protests
by the Christian group Christian Voice, the show, despite massive exposure, apparently did not give Lee the Fry-like wealth he had dreamed of. After taking a royalty cut to ensure its survival, his portion became reportedly a car-changing, rather than a life-changing, amount of money.
His next collaboration with Jerry Springer
composer Richard Thomas was the almost cynically commercial moneyspinner Stand Up Opera
, an opera in German about a form of comedy that does not exist in Germany
However, Lee is certainly best known to MetaFilter from his more recent stand-up tours, the scripts of which were collected and annotated in book form
. His comedy addresses many recurring themes of modern Internet discussion (all YT, all NSFW):
The merry pranksters of the BBC's Top Gear
(Anyone feeling guilty about watching these videos on YouTube after that last one is invited to donate to a donkey sanctuary
Since returning to stand-up, he has also (reverse chronological order) unintentionally sabotaged a promotion by Fosters Lager at the Edinburgh Festival
, contributed liner notes to a number of albums, among them Galaxie 500's Today
, and organized Tedstock
, an event to fund the publication of a 4-CD retrospective of the largely forgotten British comedian Ted Chippington, which had as its selling point a Lee and Herring reunion
As for the future - in 2031, he will, apparently, be a TV pundit
, in the kind of shows that award people the accolade of being the world's 41st best comedian.