Endless laughter in Birmingham as Stewart Lee brings new tour to Symphony Hall - review

You would not have thought that you could suffer from an ear worm at a comic’s gig.

Stewart Lee
Stewart Lee

But that’s what happened at Stewart Lee’s two hour show in Birmingham.

A short song played with acoustic guitar at the end of the set, with a message about voting for Boris Johnson did it for me and I couldn’t get it out of my head for hours.

It came at the end of a marathon set, split into two hour-long sessions on his Tornado/Snowflake tour.

It was typical Lee with his usual false self-deprecation (who cares what some little fat, greying middle-aged bloke with high blood pressure has to say,) topical references to coronavirus and why we were all there and savagely dismantling fellow comics.

He takes no prisoners and is all the funnier for it.

He teases the crowd with their lacks of enthusiasm - understanding of his gags - and generally wishing he was somewhere else.

His act, with a mixture of endless repetition, cerebral references and a bit of slapstick and yes, even a bit of music. His act been endlessly analysed, but in the end it has the key ingredient – it is funny, that narrative style endlessly drawing low key laughter and occasionally full blown belly laughs.

The first part, Tornado, included predictable jokes about how he wished the show had been cancelled after the latest coronavirus advice, and he bet we wished it had been too.

And then we were repeatedly assailed with tales of sharks.

In fact ‘reports of sharks falling from the skies are on the rise again. Nobody on the Eastern Seaboard is safe’, is a misquote about his previous show on Netflix, and is actually about an obscure movie Sharknado, in which sharks fall from the sky having been swept up from the sea by a tornado. He turned this into a sea creature theme for the rest of the show.

He also took aim at other comics, notably Ricky Gervais, Jimmy Carr, the reason for Josh Widdicombe being on Channel 4’s The Last Leg and a surreal dismantling of US comic Dave Chappelle.

Chappelle's love of rotisserie chickens for his gigs was skewered, literally, with lines about Hitler’s hens and Pol Pot poultry, and being late on stage.

Add hilarious skits, I hesitate to say quips, about a meeting in Nottingham with a baked potato seller with the name of Robin Hood Baked Potatoes, where he pointed out that potatoes weren’t around in the days of Robin Hood. Surreal, at times infantile, but hilarious too.

The second set, Snowflake. takes aim at political correctness gone mad, the deifying of Ricky Gervais and his Afterlife show and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, she of Fleabag.

Also in the firing line again was Jimmy Carr and former revolutionary enfant terrible, turned Tory gob on a stick Tony Parsons and his use of grammar and swear words.

Gervais gets it ‘for saying the unsayable', an excruciating slapstick routine about not actually saying anything at all, that, given Lee's high blood pressure, had you fearing for his life.

But the best lines were reserved for Waller-Bridge and her involvement with the latest James Bond. Her style of delivery was ferociously lampooned as was the whole James Bond (or John Bond as his nan would say) franchise with references to his tiny manhood and what a thoroughly unsavoury character 007 is or was.

His nan was also used as a vehicle to deconstruct claims of political correctness gone made, with some hilarious, but sadly recognisable racist tropes. He makes no apology for political correctness, but recognises the world we live in the the people we are governed by.

Cue the song, a fitting end to an uproarious, brilliantly constructed two hours of thought provoking comedy.

The Gervais spoof stretched you patience, but the biting sarcasm, challenging of the audience and interspersed slapstick made it a glorious couple of hours.

And despite having grown up just down the road from the venue, there was no mawkish homage to his home town, just endless laughter.

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