Stewart Lee – Much A-Stew About Nothing (Tour – Salford)

Carmel Thomason finds Stewart Lee on good form and even though his material is a mixed bag, she leaves with respect for his ability to tickle your funny bone.

The Lowry

Stewart Lee
Stewart Lee
© Steve Ullathorne

Stewart Lee has been called the comedian’s comedian – pushing the boundaries of comedy with clever word play, rather than cheap shock tactics. He’s also been described as ‘a slime pit of bitterness’, and coming from the Daily Mail, exceeding its bile takes some beating.

Of course his politics are widely opposed to the Mail, and in this show there is plenty of political swiping. There are some obvious jokes about Thatcher, which go off on a tangent leading to a crude joke about anal sex.

It makes you want to turn into the 45-year-old, dad-of-two, which Lee is, and say, ‘It’s not clever and it’s not funny,’ but really I just thought, ‘Aren’t you better than this?’

Thankfully, the rest of the show does get better than this. There are the obvious laughs, having a pop at our Scouse neighbours, ‘If only there was a way for Liverpudlians to make profit out of talking about the past in a whiney voice’, ridiculing the distinction between Manchester and Salford when everyone outside sees them as one and the same, and pulling apart the routines of more mainstream comedians like Peter Kay and Jimmy Carr – although that said, his Jimmy Carr face is unexpectedly hilarious.

But next to this are a series of more inventive ideas drawn out to surreal lengths with painstaking repetition. Lee takes UKIPs policy on immigration to its extreme by leading us back to the first amphibians stepping out of the water, then back further to the Big Bang, all followed by UKIPs deputy leader, Paul Nuttal’s repetitive remarks on immigration, which sound increasingly absurd as the joke progresses.

Lee’s obscure take on intolerance then takes a different twist as he mocks both a small-minded cabbie and his own liberal need for political correctness, by pretending he has both a black wife and a gay wife, striking up a scenario where these purposefully stereotyped characters meet with his equally stereotyped Irish wife.

In all it’s a mixed bag, but there are enough gems in there to keep him on top, and, much as he might fight it, filling the 1,000-plus seater Lowry for two nights must surely mean that Lee’s humour, thanks to TV success, has won over the mainstream.

– Carmel Thomason