Comedian with 'no life' back in Cornwall
STEWART LEE admits he's managed to become one of this country's biggest stand-up comedians by stealth.
Despite being one of the bright young things of Nineties' comedy (Fist Of Fun and On The Hour) and hitting the headlines with the libretto of Jerry Springer: The Opera, Lee has never been more popular than he is now.
He told me, in that familiar wry monotone: "I've just played to 4,000 people in Manchester but I'm totally not known by people who would hate me.
"Most would view me as quite popular but generally regard me as an obscure failure, yet I played to 60,000 people in London over Christmas, which is four O2's worth.
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"It's quite funny because my hardcore followers are now complaining about the sort of people coming to my shows – they drink and shout things.
"The running joke about me is that I appeal to Guardian readers but, ironically, I'm now getting people in the audience who take against the political element – how dare I make fun of UKIP."
Following the sell-out Carpet Remnant World, Lee presents the frankly unnecessarily named Much A-Stew About Nothing on a UK tour, calling in at the Hall for Cornwall on Saturday, October 26.
He added: "Normally I tour with a two-hour show, with a beginning, a middle and end where the character of 'Stewart Lee' has some sort of epiphany – there's a narrative that ties it all together. The purpose of the two-hour show is to destroy the character of me.
"These new shows are to work on material that will make up six half-hour episodes for my next TV series – so there will be three or four half-hour sections. There's no over-arching concept and less chance of aggressive lecturing."
Instead, expect parental alcoholism, justifiable shoplifting, urban foxes, vasectomies, Helena Bonham Carter, Anglo Saxon poetry and Judith Chalmers.
"It keeps changing – for example, up until this week I had the perfect half-hour but then I had to drop a bit to make room for something new. By the time I get to Cornwall it should all come back into focus."
Stewart told me he has performed 900 minutes of stand-up in ten years – only four minutes of which he didn't write.
Surely it must get harder to come up with new material, especially as he has become more prolific in the past five years?
"It definitely gets harder – it's important not to repeat yourself stylistically. With more gigs, more driving to those gigs and having children I have less experience of life and less adventures."
In typically dour Lee fashion, he added: "Nothing ever happens to me. I go from hotel rooms back home to the kids. I don't have friends or a social life, I never go out.
"For instance, after I took the children to school the other day, I heard a hilarious interview with a member of UKIP on the radio. That is my material now."
Stewart, who wrote one of the best treatises on stand-up comedy How I Escaped My Certain Fate, stressed that he would never use his children as material.
"That would be exploitative – I would like to be out of the public eye before they're teenagers.
"This is the endgame for creative talent. You're expected to write something for a website for no pay in return for publicising your product. Being paid for content is coming to an end.
"However, there is no algorithm for getting people in a room and making them laugh, so hopefully I'll still be able to do that when I'm 65 or 70. I see it as a corporation between me and the audience."
And you won't be seeing him on Have QI Mock The Week anytime soon.
"Those comedy panel shows are men trying to be wittier and faster than each other – it's just competitiveness. Lee Mack wrote that it's the television version of blokes in the pub trying to outdo each other. That's a social situation I'd remove myself from.
"Those Michael McIntyre package shows have been good for comedy in a way, but they favour a certain kind of stand-up who is very good at pleasing lots of people.
"It's a pejorative term of old – alternative comedian, but I am probably part of the alternative today, which I see as a positive.
"I haven't got seven minutes to do on the telly – I've got three hours. I do comedy about comedy, so I've burnt my bridges where that's concerned."
For tickets to see Stewart Lee head to www.hallforcornwall.co.uk
Alternatively two What's On readers can win a pair of tickets and copies of his Carpet Remnant World DVD.
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