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Stewart Lee – Much A-Stew About Nothing Review

Mark Jorgensen visits the Lowry for an alternative comedy experience

Written by . Published on October 8th 2013.

Stewart Lee – Much A-Stew About Nothing Review

IF comedians were films – which granted, they aren’t - Stewart Lee is the type you’d watch at the Cornerhouse rather than the Odeon.

He is the only comedian in the world who can tell you the exact time, content and rationale of a ‘joke’ well in advance, yet still make it funny. 

He is the only comedian in the world who can tell you the exact time, content and rationale of a ‘joke’ well in advance, yet still make it funny. 

The cover of his book, How I Escaped My Certain Fate – The Life and Deaths of a Stand-Up Comedian, proudly features two quotes; one from The Sun referring to him as the worst comedian in Britain, while the other from The Guardian dubs him the best.

While my opinion is more than firmly pitched with the latter, there is a distinct divide with Stewart Lee that either you ‘get him’ or you don’t. 

It’s worth noting, of course, this is very much intentional on Lee’s part.

His act is meticulously and brilliantly crafted with an intentionally anti-comedy steer, leaving him often (over)dubbed a ‘comedian’s comedian’.

Much A-Stew About Nothing is Lee’s latest tour and his introduction at the Lowry explained that this show will comprise of three main segments which will go on to form the new series of his excellent BBC3 show Comedy Vehicle, along with “seven minutes of optional encore”, written on a piece of paper.

Stewart LeeStewart LeeThe suggestion of an ‘optional encore’ underpins how Lee approaches the audience. For an act to introduce at the start that he has an encore lazily prepared “if you want it”, illustrates Lee’s intentionally sneery-yet-almost-sneakily-affectionate approach to his show. It’s a monologue that you are there to observe, rather than participate.

With this in mind, he explained that the last time he played at the Lowry, the show was ruined by a “crazy Maltese gentleman” in the crowd, resulting in Lee having to personally pay back the audience ticket fees. Whether this is true was unclear, but it gave the perfect base to craft his inimitably tongue-in-cheek contempt for the audience and his surroundings.

Although perhaps an unlikely yet earnest slip of the tongue, ‘accidentally’ referring to being in Manchester as opposed to Salford (which he later referred to as being “Just a couple of museums and a dock – not even a book shop”), he used both qualms brilliantly as sarcastic reference points throughout the show, casually and almost sympathetically, later referring to Greater Manchester as a ‘racially-divided EDL heartland’.

The subject matter for the show included politics, Thatcher’s death, artisan alcohol ‘connoisseurs’, a wildlife piece about Johnny Morris, but undoubtedly the stand-out part of the show was a section on UKIP deputy leader Paul Nuttall’s comments on skilled and educated Bulgarian migrants who come to the UK for low paid manual labour work.

Lee recalled Nuttall (or ‘Nuttalls’ as he perpetually and intentionally mispronounced) suggesting they should stay at home for the benefit of their own country (“as we all know, one of UKIP’s fundamental objectives is a commitment to the development of the Bulgarian economy”).

Using the old ‘they come over here taking our jobs…’ adage, he expertly ridiculed the comments using gradually increasing and repetitive fervour; from the Huguenots of medieval France, to the Anglo-Saxons, Neolithics, to the first fish to ever set fin onto land before finishing wonderfully on grey matter.

“Before there was nothing, a void, and we liked that. Then you come over here, with your big bang, forming the basis for everything that has ever existed, ever.” He concluded that with his level of insight, perhaps Nuttall(s) should have stayed in Liverpool for the better of the city, much to the approval of the Manchester, sorry Salford, crowd.

The second half of the show in particular was Stewart Lee at his very best.

The ability to take a relatively innocuous statement or notion, pick a standpoint (usually the opposite to what he actually thinks), lead the audience on a bizarre journey of repetition - with the odd nugget of intelligent detail or insight casually dropped in just to confirm if you weren’t already aware that he knows exactly what he’s talking about – almost past the point of being funny and back again, is what makes him arguably the finest stand up in the country.

On the strength of the material in Much A-Stew About Nothing, the next series of Comedy Vehicle promises to be as good as I hoped it would be, and I really can’t recommend enough you getting tickets next time he’s in Manchester.

Sorry, Salford.


Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkJorgy

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

JimOctober 9th 2013.

Probably my favourite comedian and I've seen him a lot. However I thought this show was a bit weaker than his last two. Still obviously a lot funnier than anyone else out there Good review though.

MGSOctober 9th 2013.

Spot on. Loved it!

Fitz LinsonOctober 9th 2013.

Morrissey has let himself go.

AnonymousOctober 9th 2013.

General Ratko Mladic has let himself go, too many pints of Wizard's Sleeve

Poster BoyNovember 25th 2013.

"He's very clever isn't he...?"

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