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Thursday 21 October 2010

So October is upon us and the one thing that is going to keep those Winter blues at bay is the knowledge that the Brighton Comedy Festival is running all month. Bliss! A reason to carry on living! Now in it’s ninth year, the stellar line-up includes Alan Carr, Frankie Boyle and Al Murray – but the man we really get all hot and bothered about is the great, irascible Stewart Lee.

For those of you who don’t know of Lee’s greatness …well, you should. He shies away from mainstream comedy, has famously never appeared on ‘Mock The Week’ (a show he delights in ripping to pieces throughout his act), and is generally an antidote to the populist, anodyne humour of, say, Michael McIntyre. Without getting too ahead of myself, what Lee manages to do is to break down your perceptions of what a stand-up comic should be; his shows do not rely on laugh-a-minute, grin-and-gag, punch line humour, but rather they are composed of meandering, hyperbolic anecdotes, sustained personal attacks (on David Cameron, George ‘Gideon’ Osborne, the men of ‘Top Gear’ and Adrian Chiles, to name but a few), and carefully constructed approximations of full-blown mental breakdowns. His last show ‘If You Prefer A Milder Comedian, Please Ask For One’, for example, concluded with a 40-minute, shouty, sweary, tour de force meltdown, apparently caused by something as simple as a recent ad campaign for Magner’s Pear Cider. Epic.

While that show was quite a feat to sit through – for all the right reasons, of course – his latest show, ‘Vegetable Stew’ is an altogether more relaxed experience. The purpose of Lee’s most recent tour has been, ostensibly, to try out new material for the second series of his BBC One show. So, he re-trod some old ground and revisited some of his older jokes, which was somewhat disconcerting for fans well versed in his back catalogue. But the main targets of his half-hour monologues (Adrian Chiles, crisps, and the government) were as random as you would expect, and his twisting, haphazard thought process served to take us on another unpredictable, unforgettable ride. Lee also brought along his guitar, and though he shared his thoughts on what he perceives as the ‘poor quality material’ of the musical comedians, we were nonetheless treated to a few songs of his own. This could have been a huge mis-step, but his heartfelt, singer-songwriter spoofs about the glory days of the Bullingdon Club and the limits of Christine Bleakley’s talent rounded off the evening perfectly.

Now, I am loathe to say anything bad about Stewart Lee, lest he decides to rail on me in a future show, tear me to the ground and bury Spindle magazine in the process (which I’m sure he could do), but I have to say that this show did not quite match up to his previous standards. It wasn’t quite as intense, nor was it as hilarious. I know he’s working out the kinks, so I have faith that he will tighten it up one way or another. All in all, he has delivered another great show, and if you haven’t discovered him yet, then I implore you to do so.

If you prefer a milder comedian, ask for one; I don’t, so I’ll stick with you, Mr. Lee.

Brighton Comedy Festival runs until 23rd October.