Stewart Lee: Joyfully Surreal

Posted On 20 Feb 2020 at 3:59 pm

Stewart Lee
Snowflake/Tornado, Brighton Dome February 2020
“I can write jokes, they just don’t interest me” Stewart Lee says part way through this show. Stewart Lee’s Snowflake/Tornado has no need to rely on Lee’s interest in writing jokes. Instead, the audience are taken on a hilarious and deeply detailed journey through a vast and often bizarre landscape of subject matter.
After three decades in the business, award – winning comedian Stewart Lee was last year named by The Times as the “world’s greatest living stand – up”. His current tour is selling out fast and in his own words has “got better reviews than ever.” He’s clever, fearless , crowd – pleasing and an utter joy to watch and listen to in this new show.

The show itself consists of two one – hour long sets. These were both more than supported by signer, Donna Ruane. Lee refers to her throughout the show and the audience are treated to some genuinely funny interplay between the two of them, as they work as a team.

We begin with ‘Tornado’ where Lee begins in front of a red velvet curtain. His trademark and infinitely listenable voice begins with his self- deprecating humour and sarcasm before reading out the Netflix listing which is the backbone of the piece. For two years Netflix has Lee’s stand up show billed as one in which live sharks are falling from the sky across America. This wild and bizarre inaccuracy sets the tone and the audience are loving every hilarious return to the subject of shark – based peril. And I was holding out for the shark – based payoff at the end of the piece which definitely didn’t disappoint. (Wait for it!).

Throughout the piece, Lee returns to another subject; his perceived disparity between self – worth and his status as a comedian. He is fearless and hilarious in his takedowns of other comedians throughout both halves of the show, and whether or not the audience included fans of Phoebe Waller – Bridge, Lee’s story – telling style and physicality during this particular derision was undeniably utterly hilarious. His literal dissection of reviews too, is hilariously sharp and pedantic, one being read out in a verbatim and scholarly style as Alan Bennet, who means well in his review, but as Lee hilariously points out is literary and niche to the point of alienating rather than drawing in a crowd.

The takedowns do not stop at other comedians, however. The audience are definitely not spared and members daring to leave their seats are given a grilling which, although feels slightly harsh, falls shy of being too uncomfortable.

The second half of the show ‘Snowflake’ although less marine- focused took the audience on a rich journey where the subject matter slipped from the serious to the surreal. These were the best sections for me. Lee’s physicality and voice throughout these moments coupled with his propensity to stay with a line or voice for as long as it takes to settle the audience into the story, locking them in to this bizarre micro – world until many around were helpless and hooting with laughter- unsure where the story would go next but willing to stay with Lee. Of course the payoff was always more than worth it.

Stewart Lee, as a self- proclaimed ‘snowflake liberal’ then crosses over to the subject of ‘Political Correctness gone mad.’ Although in a recent interview, Lee proclaims never to change his material dependent on geographic location, in ‘woke’ and PC Brighton, this was absolute gold dust for the audience. As Lee discusses how other comedians (yes – more take downs!) profess to ‘say the unsayable’ he then proceeds to give us a full, detailed and literal demonstration of what this might look and sound like. Again the audience stayed with his every sound and movement, which just kept getting funnier. Watching the signer during this section was also a thing of real joy. Similarly so as Lee enters a section exploring the perceived link which the older generations appear to see between ‘Political Correctness gone mad’ and ‘health and safety.’ Lee continues throughout the show to strike an undeniably expert balance of political commentary, searing wit and surreal humour.

We are left with Lee playing us a song on his acoustic guitar (which at the beginning of the section he invites us to eye suspiciously), he does this in his usual sarcastic and tongue – in cheek manner but on this occasion is supported by both the signer and also by a guest; the well – known local musician and composer Nick Pynn on violin. The effect rounds off the two hour long show so well, it is the payoff that the audience never even knew that they wanted. At the start of the show, Stewart Lee points out that other comedians tend to ‘ quip’ or otherwise ’ serve up’ , or ‘deliver’ their jokes. Lee does none of these things, and it just works. This show is such a treat, and can be seen in various locations around the UK until July 2020.

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