HE ONCE entitled one of his shows 41st Best Stand Up Ever after filling that ranking in a Channel 4 TV poll but Stewart Lee is undoubtedly one of the sharpest comedians in the business.
Lee is set to return to Galway and audiences can look forward to seeing him perform his latest show, Carpet Remnant World, at the Seapoint Ballroom on Saturday May 19 for a ‘Róisín Dubh presents...’ show.
Mellowing into middle age?
In his new show, Lee reflects dolefully on the proliferation of ‘Carpet Remnant World’ outlets and on the joys and travails of parenthood – which is where the Scooby Doo references come in. He explained this to me over an afternoon phone call which was further enlivened by the background sounds of his baby daughter gurgling happily on his knee.
“That routine started off as me saying I had no real material because I spend so much of my time these days watching things like Scooby Doo with the kids,” he notes with self-deprecating wryness.
“When I was younger I could go out at the weekend and go to parties and then talk about those adventures but as you get older and start a family you stop doing all that. And I end up knowing the titles of different Scooby Doo episodes and who wrote each one and all that which is probably a little unhealthy! But I do use the Scooby Doo references in the show as a metaphor to comment on wider issues.”
Formerly stand-up’s youthful iconoclast, the now middle-aged Lee describes how he passes his time gazing at TV and puzzling over the myriad retail outlets he sees while travelling to and from his gigs.
Throughout his career, Lee has become known, and celebrated for, his acerbic views on the state of the nation, other comics, and life in general. However, has parenthood mellowed Lee’s perspective on things?
“I suppose it has to a degree,” he acknowledges. “Once you have kids you naturally hope that life will be good to them and that they will grow up in a better world, so that does diminish your more cynical instincts.”
Born in 1968, Lee grew up in Shropshire, in the English West Midlands and first came to prominence as a comic writer and performer after moving to London in 1990. He wrote material for Steve Coogan’s celebrated Alan Partridge character and also won the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year competition.
In the years that followed he built up a loyal fan base without quite hitting the large stadium levels of comics like Michael McIntyre, but Lee would not have it any other way; he once joked that he would like to get rid of the public and “just have me and broadsheet journalists in a self-congratulatory loop”.
Lee also has many strings to his bow. His CV includes writing Jerry Springer: The Opera; the novel Perfect Fool; stage shows on Samuel Johnston and James Boswell and the Edward Lear poem The Owl and The Pussycat.
He has also written the autobiographical book How I Escaped My Certain Fate, which The Daily Telegraph called “a sophisticated demonstration of the poetics of comedy”; programmed music events at The Barbican; and produced much perceptive music journalism.
One of Lee’s favourite bands is The Fall and he has likened his own approach to comedy to Mark E Smith’s famously contrarian career.
“It’s for others to say how much of an influence The Fall would be on me,” he muses, “but I have always admired the way Mark Smith does his own thing and sort of wears people down eventually into liking him. My comedy is a bit like that, you could say.”
As well as his liking for post-punk, Lee is also a keen jazz devotee and once appeared on Celebrity Mastermind where his specialist subject was jazz-improv guitarist Derek Bailey. Lee came away from that programme with an impressive 26 points.
Say what you like about me
While Lee has his many ardent admirers who are drawn to his particular brand of comedy, which eschews easy jokes, he also provokes hostility in others. Yet he has never been daunted by those who do not get his act, or even by those who just downright detest it. Indeed such negative comments as come his way have often provided material for his stand-up shows, including his latest.
Lee has trawled Twitter and internet forums for examples of the venomous outbursts sometimes directed against him and has woven them into one of the routines in Carpet Remnant World.
“I think that is something that will change as my kids get older,” he says. “I certainly wouldn’t want them exposed to some of those tirades and comments, I don’t mind it so much now because they are too small to understand. But once they get bigger, I’d hope to be maybe doing fewer stage shows.”
Stewart Lee’s Carpet Remnant World takes place at Seapoint, Salthill on Saturday May 19 at 7.30pm.
Tickets are €28 and are available from Ticketmaster, the Róisín Dubh, and www.roisindubh.net