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May 5, 2014 9:51 PM   Subscribe

Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle is both a television show featuring stand-up comedian Stewart Lee (previously), and the whimsical clown car in the opening credits of the show’s first season. Lee’s patronizing, repetitive, and defeatist style may appear thoughtful or ironic, but taking him at face value reveals a darker, more interesting picture (NSFW language):

In the show's third season, Chris Morris (previously) grills Lee on his material. Quotes from these interviews (along with YouTube links to the full episodes), when taken at face value, expose Lee as a washed-up charlatan:

Lee explains his past success: “So little is expected from a stand-up comedian. They’re viewed with contempt and thought of as the very lowest form of entertainer, I think, and so if you bring in the slightest illusion of thought or intelligence you appear to be some sort of genius.”

Lee admits a joke is meaningless: “It sounds clever, and I think people have laughed at it in an attempt to pass themselves off as clever… sometimes you write these things down, they seem to work -- they’re best left not analyzed.”

Lee’s desperate attempt to justify his show: “People will be hard pressed to say that the money’s wasted because you can see…. a man’s been speaking…you saw him from different angles…and it can’t be said not to have happened…some music came on at the end and its finished now…they can’t say that…they can’t say that nothing happened because you can see it did. They can say it wasn’t any good but they can’t say nothing happened…because there were six pages of words per episode minimum. You can see in the film bits at the end someone put a lot of work into that. They go at different speeds, the cameras…”

Lee finds some value in his floundering performance: “My only hope is that the final moments of this expiring talent have been captured and that that in itself will be entertaining in some way…in the same way it might be entertaining to watch an animal expire after its throat’s been slit…let’s watch the talent and purpose ebb away from this character and maybe there’s something entertaining in that…”

Lee’s favorite joke of the series, on choosing between a Nando’s restaurant or an experimental jazz club: “The problem I would have is if Nando’s were to invent some kind of jazz chicken, by which I mean a chicken which, while still recognizably a chicken, used improvisation and chance procedure to operate at the very limits of what a chicken could be.”
posted by Hume (53 comments total) 95 users marked this as a favorite

 
"I think the problem I have as a kind of frustrated, bitter, politically-correct, middle-aged liberal is that I can't work out which of the three Top Gear presenters to despise the most. You'd think it would be Jeremy Clarkson, wouldn't you, with his outrageous politically incorrect opinions which he has every week to a deadline in the Sunday Times... almost as if they weren't real..."
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:57 PM on May 5 [27 favorites]


Not sure if his interview on WTF is still available, but it is well worth seeking out.

I also really enjoyed his book How I Escaped My Certain Fate, which talked about what it was like to work on a musical about Jerry Springer.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:09 PM on May 5 [3 favorites]


Unsurprisingly, the youtube videos are blocked in the UK. I still heavily endorse this post though - Stewart Lee is awesome, especially Comedy Vehicle. Who's the jazz comedian now?
posted by Dysk at 10:17 PM on May 5


Good lord this is amazing stuff.
posted by naju at 10:23 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]


There was an interesting episode of Richard Herring's Leicester Square Podcast with Stewart Lee where they got into a discussion in some detail about Stewart Lee's very high status in some circles and how that impacted some of the jokes he was doing, particularly joke he had done about Russel Howard. What I saw of Stewart Lee in "Carpet Remnant World" and very definitely in the third series of the Comedy Vehicle seemed to be part of Lee adjusting to a new status, by focusing more of the humor inward on as I think he put it, the character based on himself he plays on stage and what an absurd figure that is.

Also it's kind of amazing that Stwart lee has never actually gone bald. Every single picture I've seen of the man, from the Fist of Fun era onwards, it seems like that little tuft of hair clinging grimly on to the top of his forehead is a few years away from giving up the ghost, but it never goes. He may have some kind of really crap version of Dorian Gray's portrait, that just works for hairlines.
posted by Grimgrin at 10:34 PM on May 5 [3 favorites]


The first time I watched the "Which Top Gear presenter do I hate the most" bit I was laughing so hard by the end that I had actually become a bit winded. I literally could not get my breath. And yet I also could not stop laughing. My husband became concerned for my well-being. I think he briefly considered dialing 911, or perhaps just firing a squirt gun at me. I don't remember it very clearly. I was delirious. It was wonderful.
posted by That's Numberwang! at 10:36 PM on May 5 [4 favorites]


What's interesting about Lee is that he's taking that role he played with Herring as the cynical straight man and only refined it in his solo shows in a way that just didn't seem possible.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:12 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


I inhaled pretty much all of season 3 at the weekend, and he is still on incredible form. The long, imaginary telephone conversation he has at the end of episode 1 is a trick he's pulled before with his very similar Visible Otters bit, right down to discussing the reactions of the audience with the unheard telephonic antagonist, but this time he manages to end it much more neatly by lampshading exactly what he was doing, and showing the difference between someone on stage pretending to have a phone conversation....and someone on stage pretending to be pretending to have a phone conversation.

The only thing I was hoping for was that Chris Morris would be a little more off his leash - suprisingly Armando Iannucci's segments were a little more barbed.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:39 AM on May 6 [3 favorites]


(he's not a real hamster)
posted by flabdablet at 1:01 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


"... & anyway, you don't cut mustard, you spread it"
posted by DanCall at 1:52 AM on May 6


I'm only half-joking when I say that one of the final nails in my relationship was when it turned out my SO was offered free tickets to see Stewart Lee and turned them down without telling me, despite me being in the middle of a major obsession. I'm convinced my "WHAT" was heard in space. He's just genius.
posted by billiebee at 2:13 AM on May 6 [10 favorites]


The first time I watched the "Which Top Gear presenter do I hate the most" bit I was laughing so hard by the end that I had actually become a bit winded. I literally could not get my breath. And yet I also could not stop laughing.

I couldn't laugh. I was too affronted by the vicious canard that Top Gear salaries are funded by the licence fee, when any fool knows that Top Gear is BBC Worldwide's single biggest export, outselling even Dr Who globally, thereby raising the money that probably funds Stewart Lee's much less popular BBC output.

Richard Hammond is a complete cunt though.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:37 AM on May 6


I couldn't laugh. I was too affronted by the vicious canard that Top Gear salaries are funded by the licence fee

They are. It's just that the BBC turns a profit on it. To say they are not is like opining that the best salespeople on a random sales team do not have their salaries funded by the company merely because they generate revenue.
posted by jaduncan at 2:50 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


Ooh! I did an FPP on Stewart Lee previously, covering his career from 1991 to 2031.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:28 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


YES, THIS IS GOOD
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:46 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


Just watched S03E04. Loved it.

I was about to say, "it's really funny watching Chris Morris being a more or less straight interviewer", but then "what happens to words when we're asleep" happened and now I'm enjoying life in an altogether different way.

I had never checked out Lee & Herring before. I will have to climb back and do so.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:05 AM on May 6


Oh, god...That Top Gear bit pretty much distills everything I think about the show anymore. Hilarious.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:50 AM on May 6


Word of warning: As an American, I became aware of Stewart Lee 5 or 6 years ago and he's honestly made it difficult to enjoy a lot of other stand-up. He's just operating at a totally different level I didn't think possible. Most other comedians (including lots of alt-faves) seem hack in comparison.

I named my dog after him.
posted by ericthegardener at 4:58 AM on May 6 [13 favorites]


Thanks for this great post. I don't really think what he does now is "stand up" per se. It is absurdist improvised word and thought jazz taking the form of "stand up comedy". He actively plays to the expectations and frustrations of his audience. I just watched Carpet Remnant World for the first time last weekend. By the end, he had gone completely quantum. A dark depth, so much said and suggested. More subtext than a 70s Shag style floor covering.
posted by The Salaryman at 5:40 AM on May 6 [3 favorites]


The 'rap singers' bit from season 1 might be the funniest thing I've heard this decade.

I'd give a limb to be able to riff like that...
posted by rock swoon has no past at 6:11 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


> He's just operating at a totally different level I didn't think possible.

Yes - Marc Maron, who by his own admission was neither a huge fan of, nor very knowledgeable about, the British comedy scene, has said he was blown away the first time he saw Stewart Lee. He says he just had no idea comedy could be done like that. Stewart Lee is absolutely fearless, and brilliant.
posted by kcds at 6:30 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: a really crap version of Dorian Gray's portrait
posted by Billiken at 6:38 AM on May 6


I couldn't laugh. I was too affronted by the vicious canard that Top Gear salaries are funded by the licence fee

They are. It's just that the BBC turns a profit on it. To say they are not is like opining that the best salespeople on a random sales team do not have their salaries funded by the company merely because they generate revenue.


No, it's like opining that the best salespeople on Sales Team X do not have their salaries funded by sales made by Sales Team Y -- the licence fee is not the BBC, it's just a funding stream for the BBC.
posted by Etrigan at 7:22 AM on May 6


This old bit of Stew talking about kitten painting is interesting to contrast with him now. It's not actually that different in form from a lot of the things he's done since - it's basically exactly the same as his franklin ajaye bit - but the confidence isn't quite there yet. I'd actually really like to see him do the kitten painting bit now.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 7:30 AM on May 6


S03E06 belongs over here.

Holy crap.
posted by flabdablet at 7:48 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


I feel I want to like Stewart Lee because of his great anti-Islamic humor (And beyond).

But his delivery is so much… I would walk away from this guy at a cocktail party, no matter how interesting, because of that drippy, depressing, "I'm not really any fun while simultaneously being condescending", downer energy he sweats.

There are interesting, thoughtful people out there who are also borderline fun to be with. Many interesting, thoughtful people actually fully cross that "also pleasant to be around" line quite easily.

My wife is in love with his brain and would spend an entire weekend hanging out with SL and not feel overwhelmed, and she's a mad introvert.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:03 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]


No, it's like opining that the best salespeople on Sales Team X do not have their salaries funded by sales made by Sales Team Y -- the licence fee is not the BBC, it's just a funding stream for the BBC.

It's produced and commissioned by the BBC. It is internationally distributed by BBC Worldwide (the commercial/export subsidiary) as distributors. I'm still not seeing how the salaries aren't paid by the BBC, largely due to the fact that they are. I do understand that programmes can be made by BBC Worldwide (and indeed on occasion are not licenced back to the BBC parent). Top Gear is not one of the programmes made in such a way, and it is budgeted from the parent company.

I understand what you're saying about income streams, so let's look at that. Overall BBC income is around 70% licence fee derived, so it's still a big issue that the licence fee is apparently funding racism and is possibly providing the majority of funding for such (although Top Gear is somewhat of a special case here; I wouldn't be surprised if it was merely a plurality with regard to that programme in particular).
posted by jaduncan at 8:05 AM on May 6


I'm still not seeing how the salaries aren't paid by the BBC, largely due to the fact that they are.

Read this part that you quoted again: the licence fee is not the BBC. In your analogy, you equated "the company" with "the license fee," while I pointed out that "the company" should be "the BBC" and that the license fee is a funding stream for the BBC.

In essence, saying that license fees pay Jeremy Clarkson's salary is like saying that you pay your local police officers' salaries -- yes, you throw an amount of money into a large pot, from which some amount of money makes it down to that police officer. But a lot of other money goes into that pot too.
posted by Etrigan at 8:20 AM on May 6


See the second paragraph there.
posted by jaduncan at 8:21 AM on May 6


Taking to MeMail.
posted by Etrigan at 8:21 AM on May 6


Within the context of UK discussions on public services, it is in no way shocking to raise the fact that "Top Gear salaries are funded by the licence fee". At least in part, they are.

Believe me, if that statement was in any way questionable, we'd be able to provide a link to a Daily Mail column in which Lee would be attacked for saying it.
posted by iotic at 9:40 AM on May 6


rock swoon has no past: "rap singers"

A rap singer???
posted by symbioid at 9:42 AM on May 6


Anybody know who the standup comedian is who plays a working class schlub (essentially parodying he type that Stewart Lee rips on, or a sort of mocking Larry the Cable Guy, only I believe this guy doesn't believe the shit, unlike Larry the Cable Guy who does embody his schtick on a lesser level). I don't know if he's from the North or Scottish, I may have his origin all wrong.

Ugh. He's a bit short and stocky, IIRC.
posted by symbioid at 10:27 AM on May 6


This is great, cheers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:04 AM on May 6


symbioid, are you thinking of Al Murray?
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 11:08 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


I love the meta-interviews with Chris Morris, who has done this kind of improvisational off-the-cuff work in The Day Today and Blue Jam. The canonical stuff is perhaps his fake interview with Peter Cook (excerpt).
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:12 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


Yes, Rhamphorynchus. Thanks :)

Stewart is definitely up there with the top of all time, in my book. The fact he keeps honing and refining is a great sign.
posted by symbioid at 11:15 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


Yes - Marc Maron, who by his own admission was neither a huge fan of, nor very knowledgeable about, the British comedy scene, has said he was blown away the first time he saw Stewart Lee. He says he just had no idea comedy could be done like that. Stewart Lee is absolutely fearless, and brilliant.

The Marc Maron interview is revealing, and he manages to draw out Lee's motivations in a way I haven't heard before. He also gets Lee to talk about the four years during which he quit doing stand-up, and the internal conflicts that led him to just step back and figure out why he wasn't content following the standard formula. It's fascinating stuff. The rabbit hole goes deep.
posted by vverse23 at 11:25 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]


Hume, I'm confused. You seem to straight-up hate Stewart:

Quotes from these interviews (along with YouTube links to the full episodes), when taken at face value, expose Lee as a washed-up charlatan: ...
Lee admits a joke is meaningless: ...
Lee’s desperate attempt to justify his show: ...
Lee finds some value in his floundering performance: ...


Universally, the Mefites who have responded find him entertaining. Are you being completely ironic, or are you unaware that the boat you're on is headed >>this direction>> ?
posted by IAmBroom at 11:52 AM on May 6


IAmBroom, I took this tone to be reflective of Lee's own self-deprecation as evidenced here and in many of the interviews with Morris.

Also, I love Lee and am glad to find like-minded people here, but I don't think we all need to be in lockstep. My wife will tolerate it when I play a video but just isn't a fan, and somehow our marriage is surviving.
posted by vverse23 at 12:15 PM on May 6


IAmBroom: Yes, this post is ironic. The apparent hatred is Lee's own; I've just taken what he's said at face value and transcribed it. Its in good fun, as Lee encourages fans to take his irony seriously.

Its funny to imagine Lee had a personal breakdown during filming, lost all confidence in himself, then for some reason let Chris Morris edit the breakdown into the show. I got the idea from a Lee quote I commented on previously.
posted by Hume at 12:16 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]


symbioid, are you thinking of Al Murray?

"Not racist, but #1 with racists."
posted by jaduncan at 12:16 PM on May 6 [4 favorites]


It's part of Lee's own schtick. After all, he's only the 41st Best Standup.
posted by billiebee at 12:16 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


If only he didn't look like Morrissey who's let himself go.
posted by vverse23 at 12:21 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]


Thanks, Hume. Since I'm at work right now, I can't follow the Youtube links - but I too love Lee!
posted by IAmBroom at 12:25 PM on May 6


The final episode of this series was astonishing in pretty much every way. It was wonderful.

It's a shame the sketches (in all three serieses) are mostly all completely superfluous, except for the incredible apple shop sketch, which seems to be the entire history of bbc sketch show sketches in one.
posted by dng at 12:45 PM on May 6 [4 favorites]


Leo DiCaprio who's let himself go.
posted by lauranesson at 12:59 PM on May 6 [4 favorites]


There's also a bit of Baconface weirdness, if you'd like.

Stewart Lee and Simon Amstell take shifts at being my favorite comedian. The ways Lee uses language and timing and distress and anger... I can never get enough of it. I'd also recommend his book on stand-up, in which several of his routines are printed with explanations as to what he hoped for from the audience at every turn.
posted by lauranesson at 1:03 PM on May 6


I personally would not really recommend his book, in which several of his routines are printed with explanations as to what he hoped for from the audience at every turn.

But I'm with you ericthegardener, Stewart Lee has spoiled standup for me in the same way Arrested Development spoiled sitcoms. Something about the directness of the connection with the sentience of the authors just glints through and makes everyone else look at best competent in comparison. Keep letting yourself go.
posted by forgetful snow at 1:57 PM on May 6 [6 favorites]


Speaking of repetitive, seeing this bit from the first season of Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle on YouTube blew my mind when I first saw it, and finally convinced me to buy a region-free DVD player.
posted by skoosh at 4:11 AM on May 8


Terry Christian who's let himself go.
posted by chill at 5:45 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]


Terry Christian who's let himself go.

The war and resultant ICTY trial has clearly taken a toll on General Mladić.
posted by jaduncan at 9:52 AM on May 13


Argh, BBC has since blocked all the videos here on copyright grounds. GRR
posted by Quilford at 3:46 AM on May 28


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