"I can [do standup], I can do it really well, actually. I'm so good at it, one of the things that I do, I make it look like I can't do it, but I can. And if you're sitting there, having been brought by friends, thinking I can't do it, the question you have to—I've been on stage thousands of times, literally—the question you have to ask yourselves up there, people's friends, is, 'How many times have I been to standup and what kind of acts have you seen?' Maybe four or five times, you haven't seen the right sorts of people, you have no context for me, so—you're not in any position to have an opinion about me. (beat) Good, that's warmed the room up."
—Carpet Remnant World
Stewart Lee is a British stand up comedian, writer and director. Early on in his career he wrote material for Spitting Image and Weekending before teaming up with Richard Herring to write material for The Day Today's radio predecessor On The Hour. Lee And Herring later started in their radios sketch showLionel Nimrod's Inexplicable World (Radio 4) and Fist Of Fun (Radio 1) and presented three series of Lee and Herring on Radio 1 which mixed sketches which music chosen by the duo themselves. They later starred in a television version of Fist of Fun and a live Sunday afternoon show called This Morning With Richard Not Judy. Lee then moved away from performing to concentrate on directing shows for fellow comedians The Mighty Boosh and Simon Munnery before co-writing and directing the notorious musical Jerry Springer - The Opera which attracted a prosecution for blasphemy. He then returned to stand-up and, in 2007, was awarded the dubious honour of being the 41st best Stand Up Comedian (which he took as the title of his next tour). He returned to television with Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle, a mixture of stand-up and sketches which has been green-lit for a third series.Stewart Lee's comedy is noted for his extensive use of Deconstruction and Lampshading (to the point where he is likely to lampshade his deconstruction of a piece of lampshading and then deconstruct himself doing so) and his ability to mine over half an hour's comedy from the most mundane of subjects.He has so far released five stand up DVDs: Stand-Up Comedian (2005), 90s Comedian (2006), 41st Best Stand Up Ever! (2008), If You Prefer A Milder Comedian, Please Ask For One (2010) and Carpet Remnant World (2012)He wrote a novel called The Perfect Fool, and a book called How I Escaped My Certain Fate which is a sort of DVD Commentary on his first three DVDs.
Tropes associated with Stewart Lee
Biting-the-Hand Humor: Lee thought nothing of making fun of BBC Radio 4 comedy on his BBC comedy series, and once wrote a drunken sarcastic riposte to the Foster's Comedy God Poll while drunk on Foster's.
Breaking the Fourth Wall: A running joke in his TV series had Stewart Lee speaking favourably to his studio audience; and then turn round to the camera and berating the tv audience for not being at a live gig.
" My Grandfather built his house out of old discarded poppies...now remember that because I'll be coming back to my Grandfather and, um, his nest of poppies and it'll be, um, extremely satisfying.
He usually structures an entire two hour show around a series of ludicrously convoluted callbacks. His most recent tour, Carpet Remnant World, goes so far as to lampshade this technique, as he repeatedly states that there is no running thread or theme to the show but he is planning a series of callbacks at the end which will give the illusion of a unified whole.
Cannot Tell a Joke: He can, but his on-stage persona is that of a miserable failure, and so he takes great delight in pretending to tell awful jokes, when the comedy really comes from his despair.
He will also frequently tell a joke that is different from his usual style and then berate the audience for liking it, because it was shallow and simple-minded.
Season 2 of Comedy Vehicle drives this home. He's told if he wants a third series he needs to put more jokes in it. So he comes up with 4 jokes, and within the first episode, he tells three of them. They aren't great jokes.
Crazy-Prepared: The opening routine of his fourth DVD 'If You Prefer A Milder Comedian, Please Ask For One' has a classic example. Ostensibly he starts by complaining about a piece of officiousness from Caffe Nero refusing to recognise that he has enough stamps on his card for a free coffee. However, the routine would constantly fail due to the fact that no-one in the audience could see what was wrong with the card (there were three stamps in blue) which made it look as if Lee was complaining about absolutely nothing. However, he would suddenly reveal that this was all a set up by going off stage and coming back on with a huge painted mock-up of the card painted by himself to show the three blue stamps.
Creator Breakdown: "41st Best Standup" is deliberately based around him supposedly having one of these. To the point that he ends up standing in the audience yelling without a microphone about how he wasted his money on a insect costume for a TV pilot that wasn't picked up.
At the end of "Milder Comedian" he has a minor one over a pear cider advert.
"Carpet Remnant World" has him slowly descend into anguished desperation because his life is so mundane that it hasn't provided him with any material.
Crossing the Line Twice. One of his favourite devices, pushing a particular routine as far as the audience will take it, and then further. invoked
Deconstruction: Lee loves to set a joke up or a particular set or style, completely ruin it, then spend the next 20 minutes explaining in detail every aspect of the joke and why it is funny.
Disposable Sex Worker: He rips into the Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn for displaying this attitude, imagining Littlejohn travelling the UK carving "Prostitute... not someone who works as a prostitute... I hate women. Obviously. Sincerely, Richard Littlejohn... cunt" onto the graves of such victims.
"P.S: Not someone who works as a cunt."
Don't Explain the Joke: Lee's humour often revels in subverting this comedic rule, sometimes deliberately pushing it deliberately to reveal the absurdity of the jokes, other times just to save Daily Mail journalists a long and pointless email correspondence. His book "How I Escaped My Certain Fate" is basically him dissecting his routine and explaining the thought process behind each joke.
Taken to the extreme in "If You Prefer a Milder Comedian, Please Ask For One" when he deconstructs an entire satirical routine involving irony; by speaking atrociously about how he wishes Top Gear's Clarkson and Hammond suffer and die horribly, he follows it up by promptly making a forced, poor apology about how he doesn't think that. Cue Lee then looking straight into the camera and explaining the humour and the structure of the joke itself, before mentioning it's a shame to break character but entirely necessary as some Top Gear fans will definitely send him hate mail if he doesn't.
Genre Deconstruction: Reduction ad absurdum is frequently used to highlight the hypocrisy of whomever Lee happens to be railing against. For instance, in Much A-Stew About Nothing, there is a routine in which the anti-immigration argument is taken to its absurd logical conclusion, suggesting that everyone who has ever immigrated to the UK is a foul wastrel merely trying to take our jobs. By the end of the routine, the UK is devoid of human life.
Happily Adopted: Several of his routines touch on how he was adopted at birth. Despite some bitterness he seems relatively relaxed about it.
Hypocritical Humour: From 'How I Escaped My Certain Fate'. "I'm sick of reading on Daily Mail message boards that I am 'one of these foul-mouthed modern comedians' when I am absolutely not. Honestly, who are these cunts?"
This is one of Lee's defining characteristics. As Sean O'Hagan put it during an interview: "He operates out in that dangerous hinterland between moral provocation and outright offence, often adopting, as in this instance, the tactics of those he targets in order to highlight their hypocrisy".
Incredibly Lame Pun: In a routine about interviewing Ang Lee about his making of TheHulk, Stewart Lee milks a joke about 'Don't make me Ang Lee. You wouldn't like me when I'm Ang Lee' for all it is worth (finishing with another incredibly lame pun about him going to the dentist at 2.30).
Money, Dear Boy: The reason for his appearing on a stream of quiz shows in 2006 was to pay for his wedding.
One of Us: He has an encyclopediac knowledge of Marvel comics, particularly the Incredible Hulk. (He once challenged an audience member to ask him a question about The Hulk comics strip; when the audience member jokingly asked him what colour he was, Stewart Lee correctly replied that he was grey for the first few issues).
Present Company Excluded: Real Life example, when Lee won the City Limits New Act of the Year competition, the judge told him 'Well done, we'll show those Oxbridge wankers like Rob Newman and David Baddiel what real comedy is". The judge then resorted to this trope when Stewart Lee informed him that he too was an Oxbridge graduate.
Quote Mine: Lee frequently subverts this both as a form of Self-Deprecation and as a Take That against his critics. For example, the posters for his latest show proudly display "A True Artist of Comedy" from The Observer alongside "A Slimepit of Bitterness" from The Daily Mail.
Screwed by the Network: This Morning with Richard Not Judy was jostled around a bit and at one point the show was moved from its normal Friday slot to Thursday, only nobody at the BBC told anybody involved in the making of the show about it and the episode wasn't yet edited to be shown. So Lee and Co had to rush around to find an editing suite to get the show done in time.
Also there is the infamous failed BBC show. That was commissioned and given the green light for a pilot. Then the BBC had a change of heart and required the pilot first before the series would get commissioned. Before finally being rejected a year after being commissioned with no pilot filmed.
Self-Deprecation: ...No, not Terry Christian that other one, Mark Lamarr, but he’s really fucking let himself go.
Speaking Like Totally Teen: His TV routine about rappers: "You know the rappers that they have now, on the top of the pops? And outside the shopping precincts."
Take That: Chris Moyles, Dan Brown, Jeremy Clarkson, Jim Davidson, Joe Pasquale...the list is endless. When discussing common traits of his comedy, he mentions that it often involves "disproportionate hatred towards relatively innocuous figures."
Lee even has a special section of his website called Plagiarists' Corner dedicated to various people who have ripped off his material over the years. Considering his humour, it's unsurprisingly an ironic venture, in that most of the material has only passing similarities which get more bizarre as you go through the list.
Tom O'Connor comes in for massive mockery in the 41st Best Stand Up Ever, due to his mother's love of him. He also rips into Channel4 and E4 whilst simultaneously lampshading how this will stop them buying the routine for distribution.
Although this is subverted later when he discovers that his mother was actually talking about a completely different comedian. Also, Stewart Lee has noted that when he finally listened to Tom O'Connor's routines, he quite enjoyed them.
Taken Up to Eleven in his rant about the countryside from his Comedy Vehicle series; when he mentions the countryside has nothing but has-been celebrities, he mentions that Paddy McGuinness will undoubtedly turn up "with his joke", before moving on and mentioning that the horse in the field he was previously discussing noticed a flyer for McGuinness' appearance, and it responded by slowly killing itself over four hours by sawing it's neck on a barbed wire fence.