tue 16/04/2024

Lee Nelson, touring | reviews, news & interviews

Lee Nelson, touring

Lee Nelson, touring

Chavtastic tea leaf sells his brand of love and benefit cheating nationwide

Simon Brodkin as Lee Nelson: How wide is the distance between satirising and celebrating the chav?

There’s just the one joke with Lee Nelson. When I caught a short slice of him earlier this year the joke more than filled the available slot. Nelson has since been granted his own show on BBC Three. Now that he’s out on tour, the question arises of how much celebration of chavs, benefit cheats, petty tea-leaves and other totally amoral representatives of Broken Britain you can stomach before the grin starts to get a little fixed.

In the world view of Lee Nelson, a chirpy south Londoner in a baseball cap and knee-high kecks, women are all happy slags, especially the ones in the front few rows (even if pregnant). Voting is what you do on Saturday nights when The X Factor’s on. Foreigners, meanwhile, variously abduct, imprison and stone women and children. Not that he quite believes the recent story about an Iranian woman being stoned to death. “How much weed...?” he says.

Nelson is a subtler creation when laughing at himself rather than encouraging us to laugh at others

Nelson is demonstrably the X-rated bastard offspring of Loadsamoney and the junior partner of Al Murray’s Pub Landlord. He is the invention of Simon Brodkin, who even looks a little like Harry Enfield. In previous outings Brodkin has been able to ration access to Lee Nelson by playing other characters. Here he has to stand on his own two feet. It’s a cleverly multilayered performance. On the one hand Nelson's always trying to best the audience: he’s been caught speeding for going faster, had sex in more inappropriate places. On the other he lets slip that he ejaculates prematurely and is thick enough to ask for clubcard points when shoplifting. And while the character makes a cheerful display of his self-serving wants and needs, Brodkin gives him little nuggets of social commentary. Glasgow, he unknowingly notes, must be the UK's most tropical city given the number of people sleeping outside.

He riffs off the audience sharply. One young man claims to have come with his uncle. “Did he meet you online?” goes Nelson. You worry, though, about the distance between Nelson as an amusing construct who pokes fun at Neanderthal attitudes of those who spray city centres with vomit and the behaviour he stimulates in his audience. People coming in late to the Bloomsbury Theatre in London were, with the laughing consent of the audience, derided for being overweight. Three blokes who came in clutching two beers each were forced, to synchronised baying, to down them before taking their seats. All very amusing, but when is a bear pit a witty commentary on the ugly herd instinct and when it is just a bear pit?

Now and then you see Brodkin peer out from behind the mask. One person in the back row of the circle was twice caught with his phone on and testily advised to turn it off. “For all you know you’ve got a dad,” he said, a deft echo of Clement Freud’s more elegant version of the same put-down: “Was your brother an only child?” A couple of times the audience was berated for not keeping to its part of the bargain: “You gotta tell me stuff else I can’t make you look like a dick.”

Another of Brodkin’s signatures as Lee Nelson is to tell jokes that wouldn’t work at the Royal Variety Performance: not only Iranian women being stoned, but Brazilians being shot on the tube for running too fast, children being abducted by the Portuguese. And we’re surely through with jokes about the Prince of Wales’s wife resembling a quadruped. Never mind the taste barrier, Nelson is a subtler creation when laughing at himself rather than encouraging us to laugh at others. The encore lifted a feature from Lee Nelson’s Well Good Show, the grimly named "peer pressure challenge". A volunteer stumbled up from the audience to dance and strip to his underpants. Call me elitist, but a talentless man flashing a puckered anus is fundamentally not entertainment. If he went too far, he could point an accusing finger at the headline act.

Watch Lee Nelson on marriage:

When is a bear pit a witty commentary on the ugly herd instinct and when it is just a bear pit?

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