Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy review: Stewart Lee: A Room With A Stew, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Claire Smith.
Some comedians choose reggae or punk as their intro music, some declare their grandiosity with a blast of opera, but Stewart Lee brings us into the room with some cerebral, complicated jazz.
He deliberately screws up his announcement from behind the curtain – which is another clue as to how complex and multi-layered this show is going to be.
A few years ago Lee wrote a show around a comedy routine written so it was impossible to steal. In this show, with its deliberately naff title, he breaks all the unwritten rules about how a comedian is supposed to behave. He cultivates a sneery obnoxious persona, he consults his notes, he shares his inner monologue about how long each particular segment is supposed to take.
For the comedy nerds he digresses to provide overblown academic descriptions of the anatomy of a joke.
Ostensibly Lee is trying out material for his new television series – but he has already performed these routines more than a hundred times on his national tour.
Despite the “work in progress” label, this is a highly controlled, highly deliberate and highly theatrical performance about the nature of laughter and the art of stand-up. Lee pulls his audience into his game to act as his collaborators – while leaving them wondering which of his attitudes and opinions are real.
He claims that all he is doing is “reading the room” – quoting a possibly fictitious old jazz player.
But this is a very big room. And despite all the intellectual posturing, the greatest laughs are found in the most accessible and most idiotic moments.
Whether he is talking about fairies at the bottom of the garden, listening to foreign radio under the covers or being haunted by dead comedians, Lee has the ability to reduce his audience to helpless spleen-splitting laughter.
The Assembly Rooms (Venue 20) until 30 August / listings
Published in The Scotsman on 21 August 2015
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