Stewart Lee (St George’s Hall, Bradford 1 March 2012)

Lee chooses the music that plays while the auditorium fills up prior to his coming on, so the use of “Autobahn” by Kraftwork, going into something by Neu, gives a pretty broad hint that there might be some element of repetition, and this is of course picked up later in the show.

I saw Lee’s act a year or two back and this one picked up on familiar themes from that previous gig and from his tv shows – Jeremy Clarkson, right wing abuse, misleading reportage, ‘The Big Society’, the persona he’s created as a right-on-but-oddly-misinformed leftie – but this act was much refreshed, and to good effect. As usual, there was much about the thematic nature of the routine itself, picking up on his TV exposure to mock sections of the audience’s supposed inability to follow it due to only having been brought by friends, who might be so naive as to expect ‘jokes’, and referred to his relationship with the audience as ‘a war of attrition’. A section in which he read out internet abuse he’d found, much of it calling him ‘smug’, was particularly funny, both highlighting his lack of appeal to the mainstream and puncturing the accusation of smugness whilst playing up to it. There are layers upon layers in this act.

The venue itself seemed to have a warmth and character, much more suited to comedy than the starker stage of the West Yorkshire Playhouse where I saw him previously and, despite Lee’s mock complaints about how badly the act was going down, the audience seemed more receptive to it, at least from where I was sitting. There were sections which dragged a little, in which a joke seemed to be stretched beyond its usefulness, but Lee does this very deliberately in order to set up bigger laughs later on; nothing is wasted, the act is very lean.

He also has several pops at a variety of big-name comics, though we aren’t expected to take this too seriously, it simply being another riff on his own pretended failings as an elitist act. Even so, this is comedy for people who do like to think while they laugh, who don’t want to switch off when being entertained.

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