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COMEDY Stewart Lee, Oxford Playhouse/Touring

'World's number one stand-up comedian' lives up to some of the hype

STEWART LEE is a master of challenging, and at times hilarious, rambling satires. And he starts off his Snowflake/Tornado show as he means to go on with an oblique punning quip about Julian Assange — ironic, as Lee is a columnist for Assange’s nemesis, the Guardian/Observer.

Unsurprising, though, because Lee is one of most talented ironists around, with every utterance and gesture imbued with multiple meanings.

He doesn’t spare himself in the irony stakes either, as he begins a repetitive motif of being the “world’s number one stand-up comedian,” according to the Times, before immediately locking horns with the audience.

Spotting someone on a mobile phone, he marches up the aisle and confiscates it. Back on the stage, he secretes it down the back of his trousers between his bum cheeks.

I’d previously assumed that these confrontations with the audience are pre-arranged set-pieces but on this occasion I know it’s spontaneous — the hapless victim is a friend of mine.

Observing the reaction, Lee engages in a mocking divide and rule as he plays off one part of the audience against another as no-one else can.

At times, in his ability to will the audience to follow him on the most surreal ramblings, his mastery is complete.

The cumulative repetition and his ability to balance different strands of narrative like a performer spinning plates on sticks is breathtaking.

Yet it doesn’t always come off  — sometimes Lee’s wilful extension of his line of thought fails, leading to awkward silences and some of the routines outstay their welcome.

His Ricky Gervais parody, initially hilarious, loses power by the end.

But in turning his fire on different British towns and cities, the class structure, comedians in general and US comedians in particular, stand-up comedy as a genre and the bullshit mediascape that has us all narcotised, Lee is a bracing tonic in a world turned upside down.

Touring until July, details: stewartlee.co.uk.

 

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