“…after 40, very few comedians are very good. Very few anybodies are any good at anything. The focus really goes.” – Frankie Boyle
41-year-old comedian Stewart Lee has over 20 years experience as a stand up and is seen as an influential figure on the comedy circuit, but according to the quote above there’s little hope for him now that he’s over 40. Or is there?
I think it’s safe to say that a large percentage of the sell out crowd at the Key Theatre in Peterborough would associate the venue with pantomimes and Sooty Live rather than stand up comedy, but it proves to be a decent venue. Stewart Lee greeted the crowd and thanked everyone for attending, pointing out that this is the first time he’s experienced a sell out in Peterborough.
He stated that, against everyone’s advice (“Don’t do it, Stew. It’s not worth it!”)he kept plugging away and finally he was rewarded with a capacity crowd of 250 people. Following this, he went on to explain the format the evening would take – 20 minutes for the support act, 15-minute interval and about 70 minute main set from Lee. He pointed out that if the show ran on for longer than 70 minutes it reflected well on the crowd, and if it ran for shorter than that it would reflect badly. This brief introduction set up the evening nicely and was followed by the introduction of the support act Tony Law.
Stewart Lee gave Law a warm introduction by stating that he was one of Lee’s favourite comedians and that Lee should really be supporting him. This was my first experience of Tony Law and I was very impressed. The Canadian comedian’s material is often surreal and his hyperactive style that includes numerous tangents acts brilliantly as a warm up set for a comedian such as Lee.
Topics covered included orchestrating a fight between a black bear and a tiger shark, which involved painting the shark to look like a salmon. The pace was relentless and he won over the majority of the crowd in the short amount of time he was on stage. Although there are numerous tangents, it’s clear that there’s a lot of structure to Law’s set. Following the set, I have watched numerous clips of his online and regret not picking up his DVD on the night.
Following the brief intermission, during which Bee Thousand by Guided By Voices (ace album!) was played, Stewart Lee took to the stage and launched into a routine about Caffe Nero which includes a number of hilarious props, one of which is brilliantly hand painted. He finds the crowd’s level when a “my foot!” punch line that follows a joke about a pirate’s busman’s holiday fails to raise laughs from a large portion of them, but Lee rubbing the microphone over his painting gets huge laughs from the audience.
Once Lee’s gripes with Caffe Nero are dealt with, he brings up (38-year-old comedian) Frankie Boyle’s quote and goes on to highlight that he’s far from losing the anger that he’s often associated with, although he’s not quite as angry as the young Frankie Boyle. After all, Lee is a father of a two-year-old boy and conversations about the Queen’s haunted vagina rarely come up at the playground.
There are digs to Mock The Week contestants – someone who looks like a musketeer and someone’s nephew who’s just happy to be there – before he targets the sources of his anger and goes to great lengths to explain why they anger him so much. The targets are emigrants (yes, emigrants!) and the cast of Top Gear and, specifically, Richard Hammond. I’m sure these targets wish that Stewart Lee had lost his anger and focus when he hit 40, but it’s perfectly clear from his material that he’s a long way off losing his edge. If anything, he’s getting better.
The last segment of the set is taken up by an old family phrase that has been used in a Magner’s advertising campaign. I saw a shorter version of this segment performed by Stewart Lee at Are You Taking The Peace at the Bloomsbury Theatre earlier in the year. The segment has been fleshed out considerably and is a fitting finale to an excellent set.
In Stewart Lee’s excellent Comedy Vehicle show that aired on BBC2 earlier this year, the unhinged nature of Lee’s performance was apparent with him climbing into crowds, throwing himself to the floor and such like. To illustrate his disgust at his family phrase being stolen, he threw the mic to the floor and wandered into the crowd and continued the set sans mic. Cue uneasy expressions on audience members’ faces and Lee shouting, “DON’T YOU DARE LEAVE!” to someone who chose the wrong time for a toilet break. The young ushers, who decided it would be a good idea to have a conversation at the rear of the room, also got a dressing down by Lee.
Overall, this was a fantastic night of comedy and I would strongly recommend attending one of the numerous remaining tour dates. This is an excellent set by one of the finest British comedians working today and if you do see the show; you will even get to see the last taboo in comedy broken – and it might not be what you’re expecting.