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Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle, BBC Two

Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle, BBC Two

Welcome return of the wonderfully surreal and inventive comedian

Stewart Lee: So good that they've named a genre for him

One of the great pleasures of being a critic is watching a career develop, and Stewart Lee’s is one that I’ve had the pleasure of, so to speak, for many years.

I’m not a Stewart Lee completist but I enjoyed his early days on television with comedy partner Richard Herring in Fist of Fun (just about to be released on DVD for the first time) and This Morning With Richard Not Judy, his solo stand-up shows, his work on the wonderfully subversive Jerry Springer: The Opera and much, much more in between.

I missed him in the early Noughties when Lee took a rest from stand-up and rejoiced when he returned to the form, revitalised, in the middle of the decade. But it was his 2007 show What Would Judas Do? that made us - fans and critics alike - sit up and really take notice, because we realised he had all but reinvented the genre. His cerebral comedy and deconstructive storytelling, surreal and pedantic by turns and using constant repetition and pointed callback, has led critics to describe what he’s doing as meta-comedy. But enough wanky critiquing, and on with the review.

Last night’s opener to the second series of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle started with an, ahem, departure; the opening scene was a black-and-white sequence shot in the empty cabaret space that the show is recorded in. The comic was telling an off-camera Armando Iannucci, a sometime collaborator in Lee’s career, that online forums had accused him of not telling any jokes in his first series and of just “going on about stuff”. But Lee has cracked it for series two: “I’ve got four jokes. It might be three. But it’s four more than in the first series.” He wasn’t being helped by Iannucci, a genius who is responsible for some of the greatest comic creations of recent times - not least of which is The Thick of It - suggesting jokes along the lines of “What’s brown and sticky? ... A stick.”

The subject of the opener was charity, and those familiar with Lee’s unforgiving attacks on anything self-serving, pretentious or false might have expected a full-frontal attack on those entertainers who take large fees for appearing at “charity” gigs. But no, Lee told us he does a lot of charity gigs where comics such as Ed Byrne and Simon Pegg might appear, the latter to do his 1990s material talking about Britpop. Lee doesn’t do the gigs out of altruism, but for reasons of self-worth, he said. And to nick the crisps from the Green Room afterwards - 41 packets (four flavours) was his record haul after a Help a London Child gig.

What followed was an explanation of why Lee nicks those crisps - to give to his Chelsea Pensioner grandad, an invention from earlier shows. Prior knowledge of this gag may have added to your enjoyment, but ignorance of it would not have left you any less wonderfully bamboozled by Lee’s surreal and detailed invention about his life, involving a home made from a nest of Remembrance Day poppies, a giant attacking moth and a Japanese superhero dinosaur.

Written like that, it sounds like glorious nonsense, and on one level it is. But on another it’s superbly intelligent and inventive comedy with just enough borderline dodgy references to the Japanese, war heroes, the old, people suffering from bowel disorders and celebrities doing good works to make you stop and think, and of course smile knowingly between the laughter. Long may Stewart Lee just go on about stuff.

Watch a clip of Stewart Lee

‘It’s superbly intelligent and inventive comedy, with just enough borderline dodgy references to make you stop and think’

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Brilliant comedy, loved it.

Superb comedy. It's just so refreshing to hear and see Lee perform. Saw him live last year and generally I don't normally go to watch live comedy and can count the amount of stand-up's I like on one foot! But Lee was a real master at being funny, calm, not annoying and intresting/thought provoking.

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