Stewart Lee – Content Provider
Northampton Royal & Derngate, March 2017
Regarded by many as a trailblazer at the top of the UK's comedy ravine, with 'Content Provider' Stewart Lee has surpassed even his own superlative standards and delivers what must be his most crafted and by far funniest and best show to date. With masterful structure and the perfect balance of self-effacement and aggression, conscience-pricking and lunacy this show ticks every conceivable box for any comedy fan,- including value for money with over two hours of material at a very moderately priced ticket.
Blending familiar elements such as educating sections of the audience when they don't laugh and deconstructing a joke or two out of ironic sympathy with the strugglers he manages to add in a new pace to his delivery, perhaps choosing to dispense with the long uncomfortable pauses in which he has previously delighted on previous shows both live and on television. His use of popular, cultural and historical references is so smooth he creates the air of a man with the room, and possibly the world, in the palm of his hand. Yet perhaps unlike Stephen Fry who could make any statement seem believable we are acutely aware that Lee may well have fabricated every single strand of his research simply for comic effect.
This show brings a certain visual structure not really used by him before, not just with his basic set but also with some sections being germane to his narrative, in particular the ending which is a quite stunning piece of art and artistic comment. Also more developed this time round is his fearless name-ckecking of other comedians of whom he disapproves. This apparent arrogance is only surface-deep though, as with the entire construction of his set, his material is very critical of many aspects of his and our lives but this observational element to his work is not in itself the joke, as is the case with so many other comics, several of whom he derides. No, Lee selects his subject and criticizes it both truthfully and satirically at the same time, then just when it seems he is being serious he throws in some childishness or foolery, just when he appears to have finished with one idea he delves back into it from a completely different angle. It is this constant but barely detectable change of direction that keeps the laughter and interest going.
Comedians at the top of their game are able to deliver a real rollercoaster ride of comedy and this certainly qualifies without question. What makes Stewart Lee different (and different in a way that is most definitely better) is that somehow, long ago, he alone figured out how to actually drive the rollercoaster and has been perfecting the skill throughout his entire career while the rest of us assume the usual rails and control switches set all the rules and boundaries. But if there are no rules, who decides what is allowed? Who gets to choose what is funny and what isn't, and by what standards we should judge everything? He has the answer for that, too, and when you hear it you may well disagree, but you will definitely laugh. And that's kind of the point.