Stewart Lee: Much A-Stew About Nothing Festival Theatre

Stewart Lee’s new standup tour is quite openly billed as a tryout of new material which will form six half hour comedy shows for TV to be filmed in December and screened in March next year. Lee writes his own material, unlike some other well-known comics whom he berates during the show. He may not be as commercially successful as them but he is truer to his principles, and is brutally honest on all manner of subjects including himself and his inadequacies. The only things in his material that he doesn’t write himself are quotes he has pinched from his family and, as he says, he doesn’t have to pay royalties to them. He frequently uses his family as his comedy sources, and as his wife Bridget Christie is also a standup comedian, I’m sure she has the sense of humour not to mind his scurrilous references to her.

Lee became well known in the 90s as one half of comedy duo, Lee and Herring. He then took a break from standup, and, amongst other things, he co-wrote and co-directed the controversial and hilarious musical, Jerry Springer The Opera. In 2011, his TV show Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle won best comedy entertainment programme at the British Comedy awards, and he currently appears as a guest on various comedy programmes. He is a talented guy, but his material isn’t mainstream and his appeal is more to an audience that likes its comedy clever and thought provoking as well as very funny. Unfortunately, this is not enough to fill the theatre on a chilly Autumn evening. In fact he makes this part of the act, with frequent references to the relatively sparse audience and says Edinburgh teaches him humility – the last time he played in this venue his audience was 1000, this time it is 800. However, he did just do a 25 night run at the Stand during the Festival so maybe a lot of his Edinburgh fans saw him then.

There is a lot of political humour and every party gets the same treatment – there is no mercy for left, right or centre. His biggest target is UKIP and their views on immigration which takes us on a hilarious journey back to the beginning of time, all the while challenging our perceptions of national and cultural identity. And just in case you are thinking this all sounds a bit too heavy, he does also do a very funny piece on dog poo and there is some daft audience interaction involving TV animal programmes.

We may be a small audience but he gets plenty of laughs and warm applause throughout. I hadn’t seen him live before, but on the basis of this show, I would certainly go and see him again and I’ll be looking out for his TV show next year.

Irene Brownlee