‘After 40, very few comedians are very good. Very few anybodies are good at anything. The focus really goes’ – Frankie Boyle
Stewart Lee is 41. He’s still very focused. He’s still very good. And in an hour and a half he destroys Frankie Boyle’s idea with unbelievable ease.
There are very few major focal points in the show and his chosen topics may seem a little unfocused but a passionate anger and disappointment are running through all of them. It’s adverts. It’s living in the countryside. It’s Top Gear (and a now infamous Richard Hammond routine).
It’s also other comedians. Boyle understandably comes in for a hard time, Lee questioning his ‘anger’ over the various topics he jokes about. He’s not the only one though as several other milder comedians including Michael McIntyre and, in Lee’s words, ‘those new Russell comedians’ also take a bashing. It’s unusual watching one comic criticise another from onstage but perhaps Lee has earned the right? As it happens these digs get some of the biggest laughs of the night – he definitely knows his audience.
But perhaps what’s most impressive, as if to highlight his focus, is that nothing Lee says is ever wasted. Even what may seem like throwaway lines have just as much relevance and humour as any of his major set pieces. For instance a reference to himself not being ‘a madman who thinks everyone else is stealing his ideas’ seems like a vague aside and gets little reaction but given his recent, if brief, attempt to shame joke thieves on his website, it seems purposeful. It’s skills like this that add extra dimensions to his jokes and to him as a comedian.
Even his set-closing song, which he admits could be a risk (so often used as an easy trick to add variety without being especially funny), sits expertly between sincerity and hilarity. It’s the summary to his final, perhaps best executed, routine regarding the advertising campaigns of a famous cider manufacturer, with particular reference to the music used in their ads and their ‘100% Pear 0% Disappointment’ slogan.
Without wishing to coo too much, over recent years it’s become a real pleasure to watch Lee’s consistently excellent shows. It makes you wonder, age regardless, how any other comic would react after seeing this performance? Whether he likes it or not, as a slogan, ‘100% Perfection 0% Disappointment’ couldn’t be more apt.