Words by Helen Knott / Pics by Idil Sukan
On Monday 27th and Tuesday 28th March, Stewart Lee brings his new show, Content Provider, to the Symphony Hall.
Doors open at 7.30pm, with tickets priced at £25 (including £3 booking fee). For direct gig info, including full venue details and online ticket sales, click here.
After four critically acclaimed series, the BBC finally wielded its axe and killed off Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle. If you never saw it, Comedy Vehicle featured a half hour Stewart Lee stand-up routine, interspersed by interview segments of Lee examining his performance, joke writing abilities and career. It was a clever, insightful and funny show, but it’s hard to imagine it had mass-market appeal.
Anyway, it’s gone now and Stewart Lee had some unexpected time on his hands. The result was Content Provider, an anthology of selected short prose from the columns he writes for The Observer ‘every time that David Mitchell was away’. First published by Faber & Faber in July 2016, Lee is now taking Content Provider out on an 18 month UK tour as his new stand up show.
This is Stewart Lee’s first full-length show since 2011’s Carpet Remnant World, with his most recent tours testing out 25 minute segments of material for his TV work. As such, the axing of his BBC show is perhaps a blessing in disguise for Lee fans: a full-length show is arguably a better channel for his carefully constructed, reflective and analytical comedy.
As Stewart Lee is a fully paid up member of the metropolitan liberal elite, it’s safe to expect Content Provider will contain left-leaning attacks on the Tories, Trump and Brexit. However with the need to keep the show topical for a long 18-month stint, Lee‘s focus will also be on consumerism, narcissism and their role in today’s society. Hopefully at the Symphony Hall, as a local boy made good, there may be some Birmingham jokes too (Lee was born in Shropshire before growing up in Solihull).
But with Stewart Lee there’s little middle ground – most people either think Lee’s the best stand-up comedian in the country, or can’t stand his long, repetitive speeches and smarmy persona. And for all his five star reviews, Dominic Cavendish (Daily Telegraph) made public his decision to walk out of a Stewart Lee gig in 2013:
‘If Lee had a shred of interest or insight into the working lives of other people, he’d realise that those who give up an evening at the end of a week to see him deserve his thanks not his toxic scorn.’
Of course, you could argue that Cavendish missed the point; Lee is playing a character, he’s pretending to be scornful to be funny, and he’s pushing the confines of comedy as far as he can. But it can undoubtedly get under your skin if you don’t take it for what it is. And with all the bad reviews and negative social media comments that Lee posts on his own website, I don’t think that he would want it any other way.
Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle Series 4 – ‘Telegraph Review’
Stewart Lee performs at the Birmingham Town Hall on Monday 27th & Tuesday 28th March. For direct gig info and online tickets sales, click here.
For more on Stewart Lee, visit www.stewartlee.co.uk
For more from the Town Hall and Symphony Hall, including full event listing and online ticket sales, visit www.thsh.co.uk