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Stewart Lee - If You Prefer A Milder Comedian Please Ask For One [DVD]
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TV's Frankie Boyle has declared that no-one over 40 should do stand-up, as the old comedians lose their edge and their anger. Stewart Lee is 42 and Frankie's heartless Scottish words have made him wonder if it's worth carrying on. Undaunted, the furiously baffled comedian tries to win round the legendarily harsh Glasgow audience with a crowd-pleasing Mcintyre-style routine about coffee shops, but is distracted by scores of imaginary pirates; he tries to talk about every day middle aged men's concerns, but is drawn into a forty minute rant against Top Gear and all it stands for; he attempts to find some common ground with happy childhood memories that he and the audience can share, but is instead consumed with loathing and despair as a result of a Magners' Cider advertising campaign. He screams from the balconies, stumbles in the aisles, and ends with a country and western song. If You Prefer A Milder Comedian Please Ask For One is a vast and all-consuming epic of stand-up comedy, exploring the absolute formal limits of the art form. There are also some jokes.
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The material at times feels over-stretched, but this is very much a trademark of Stuart's - he likes to play with his audiences, and isn't worried about losing them during his routine. In fact, he actively tries to lose them for periods of his shows, so that he can win them round again - it gives him something to fight for, he says, and he finds the changes of dramatic tension exciting; that sense of the unexpected, of no-one knowing what'll happen next.
The focus of his ire this time around is 'Top Gear' and Michael McIntyre - two targets that I'm glad to say I find equally as annoying as he does (but of course he puts it so much better than I could do - which is very much part of the fun of it). However, he deliberately continues expanding upon his theme for a very long time - past the tipping point, as it were. It doesn't always work, and the audience don't always feel comfortable (which is what he sets out to achieve).
I share his sense of humour, and love his stuff - I'm even the same age - but I feel that there wasn't enough substance in the subjects he chose for this show to make that approach work this time. The footage of the performance gets 3.5 stars from me, because there were points where the show didn't quite recover from his deliberate crowd-losing moments.
HOWEVER, I *really* enjoyed the extra - an interview with the actor Kevin Eldon, and I'd give 5 stars for that. They've known each other for a long time, and they have a really relaxed and amusing conversation for 30 minutes (roughly), where Stuart talks about why he does what he does. Some quotes:
"A live performance is about things really happening in front of you - it's not TV, and it's not something you can pause".
"Why leave the house to see something that you could see somewhere else?"
"I was worried that having done TV, there wouldn't be a fight to get people to like the show"
This is what he's all about - you can go to a venue to watch him, and you will never know what you're going to get. I'd say he's a brave performer in that respect, but he actually enjoys confounding his audiences, so maybe 'perverse' is a better description.
In the interview he talks about hearing a joke, and wondering whether he could make a 30-minute routine out of that one joke - it's a telling remark, because it feels that he's tried to do that on this DVD, and it doesn't always work.
He says that "With this show, I tried to see if I could make 'worse' things sound normal", and he does push things to extremes; but I found that by parodying the offensiveness and "the hypocrisy of the Top Gear attitude to the world", he had found a source for his humour that, even by reflecting it in his own inimitable way, wasn't ever going to be a lot of belly laughs - it could reveal the ugliness of Top Gear humour very well, though, for example. Satire can sometimes too closely resemble it's subject.
He ends the show with a Steve Earl song. He says in the interview that "I'm going to do more songs, because it's genuinely embarrassing to do, and the audience find it embarrassing. That feeling of unease was great fun."
When he goes off on one, he's hilarious. There are times on this DVD where he undercuts the energy and tension on stage to the detriment of his delivery, and it does at times feel a bit lifeless. There are other times when he goes way too far over the top I'm still not sure whether any of these things are deliberate or not - but this is Stuart walking his tightrope, trying things out, failing, falling, and at times brilliantly succeeding. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Highly recommended. He's pushing boundaries, thinking outside of envelopes - and boxes, and providing quality live entertainment. Go and see his shows if he ever tours again - you can be part of it then, rather than staring at a screen in your front room.
What with this now getting a release and Stewart Lee also getting a second BBC series next year, I can only hope that he gets the wider audience his thought-provoking, literate and intelligent comedy so thoroughly deserves and continues making us laugh for a long long time. I can't recommend this highly enough.
On a side note - from a personal story about Stewart Lee and what his comedy means to me. I went for a meal at an Indian restaurant with some friends - well acquaintances that I knew through work - not necessarily people I liked or disliked if anything I was indifferent to them.
Anyway they were all talking about the TV they watched - Xfactor, big brother, I'm a celebrity etc. I didn't really contribute anything to the conversation as these programs didn't really interest me. Someone noticed this and said, `So, Ian, what do you watch on TV' - trying to include me in the conversation.
I said, `Well I watch documentaries and a bit of comedy - I particularly like Stewart Lee at the moment - from Stewart Lees Comedy Vehicle.' As soon as I'd finished speaking there was no reaction - nothing - complete silence. They stared at me with blank faces - a slight breeze blew an onion bhaji across the table... the tension was unbearable.
Anyway, eventually someone did break the silence and said something like - who do you think will win Xfactor and they carried on.
Anyway it's sufficed to say that I wasn't invited out socially with that group of people again.
That's what I like most about Stewart Lee - not only is he able to refine his own audience but he can simultaneously refine my own friend base as well. Thanks Stew!!!
Having never really heard a great deal of Stewart Lee's material prior to watching the above, I was extremely impressed by both '41st Best Stand Up Ever' and this, Lee's latest offering.
Most will no doubt have heard about his Top Gear/Richard Hammond rant; brilliantly executed and supremely wry, it's certainly the highlight of this set alongside the memorable closing routine.
Overall, 4 1/2 stars and the best DVD I've seen for a few years. Lee is clearly the leader of the stand up pack right now and stands head and shoulders above the Mock The Week crew.
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I enjoy his full length show more than the comedy vehicle episodes as, it give him so much scope to do what he does best - and that's play the audience,...Read more