Stewart Lee (Tornado & Snowflake) at Malvern Theatre 12th February 2022
With an understated entrance: “oh, Stewart Lee has let himself go.” The paunchy comedian ambled on to his stage to show off the craft that has earned him genuine plaudits and metaphoric tomatoes for a number of decades.
The pandemic has taken its toll on all of us. Not least on Lee and his perspective on comedians and life. As Lee confessed… “I’m now bald, fat, deaf, have high blood pressure and according to the local GP only capable of chair based activities.” He clearly has had time to think, reflect and re-evaluate…
The first show Tornedo saw the stand-up comedian explore the premise of miscommunication and being misunderstood. All the while, deconstructing the craft of the comedian – highlighting the fact that T.I.M.I.N.G is all important – as ever though, I think Lee’s desire to force the audience to think is paramount. The rhetorical devices, techniques and repetition are at times what receive the greatest laughs. Only Lee can stand silently in front of a sell-out theatre for a casual age for the audience to infer and write the narrative of the joke themselves.
Lee has honed the ability to really laugh at himself and openly mocks his persona to great effect. Just read the quotes on his website. The final anecdotal story of the first show explored the introduction of the multi-millionaire comedian late to the stage who blamed Lee for the reason. The voice, behaviour and facial expressions alerted the audience to how he dealt with the situation, badly – true tragicomedy.
The tragedy unfolded further as at the end of the comedic vignette Lee found himself outside a certain Comedy Store. The poignant confession that some of the comedians he worked with, had given up, or had sadly passed away did not go unnoticed by the compassionate majority. True pathos.
Amplified bathos greeted the final act as the “most expensive prop used for a three second joke” was employed for memorable effect.
Snowflake, the second half show is a work in process having been written and worked on over the last two plus years and this is obvious. The seeming chaotic scattergun approach of verbal concentric circles has been polished to an impressive performance. Although, as ever his determination to corrupt the medium ensures we knew the ending before the show gets under way.
Reviewers and detractors maintain his jokes are laboured and convoluted with a punch line every twenty five minutes is a clichéd and misguided view of Lee’s art form. Conversely, his visual use of a lectern – twice – to mock another “supposed comedian” was a joke of minimalist distillation.
Lees, intelligence snows in and the insistence on playing with polysyllable words and academic references works with his erudite audience. It is not enough to state he was drunk, the phrase “I didn’t calibrate my drinking” will be employed by many on-lookers I am sure. In polite Malvernian society the C-bomb is strictly taboo. However, Lee knows his audience and the determination to utter and repeat the expletive ensured complicit laughs and a routine that took nearly twenty five minutes to get the punchlines. Lee’s comedy vehicle keeps on giving…
He even found time for a little crowd participation…is the firebrand mellowing I wonder?
Given we knew the ending, the faux-mawkish ending was even funnier when the prop snow failed to find its target. What was just as humorous was the triptych of jokes questioning Johnson’s achievements in the final act. You have to concur that Stewart Lee, regardless if you see him as a “Smug Bastard” (Peter Fears, on Twitter) or “Stewart Lee is not funny and has nothing to say” (Daily Telegraph)…or you see him as a deft exponent of his art, Lee is as wonderfully unique as a single snowflake.
By: The Swilgate Scuttler