Stewart Lee, Comedy Hero


How do you explain the evolutionary phenomenon of the stand-up comic? From the primitive music-hall smut of Max Mille, via the beautiful non-existent jokes of Frankie Howerd, to the surreal Pythons and fanciful Eddie Izzard, and finally, to sardonic Stewart Lee. Of course, after that it drops back down again to Leslie Crowther lookalike Michael McIntyre, who although rich, is as funny as a herniated groin being repeatedly kicked by a Size 14 Doc Martin boot.

But Stewart Lee. If you’ve never seen him live, how can he be explained? To take an opposing viewpoint and expand upon it, gently, carefully, with the grace of a high-wire artist, with erudition and Socratic argument, until you have irrevocably demolished your opponent, crushing him into the ground with nothing more than a sensible liberal viewpoint. Lee has an opinion. And it’s not about how funny ties look on men, but about nationalism or language or free will.

I have friends who don’t get Stewart Lee. They don’t share his general amused disappointment with human beings, and clearly nor do some of the miserable commenters on his post. He deconstructs comedy until it becomes an abstraction. Lee has enough kindred spirits to sustain him, though, even if we’re written off as leftie-liberal Central London poseurs just for our ability to appreciate his displays of sentient thought.

I’ve been a fan of the comedian for a long time, but the refinement of his art has been brave and complex, through to his masterful book on comedy, ‘How I Escaped My Certain Fate’, which shows how you reinvent yourself for new times without betraying your soul. He’s now well into his reinvention and on his third series for the BBC, where he has really hit his stride (again), combining dry wit, honesty and a staggering ability to make us wait – he’s the master of slow-burn repeated dialogue – so here’s a hopelessly unrepresentative clip. Stewart Lee, comedy God.