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Only The Lone Lee
Currently enjoying a renaissance and now rightly regarded as one of the greatest stand-ups of all time, at 43, Stewart Lee has mellowed somewhat and settled as a family man. But he’s still a restless soul, the daring, fiercely intelligent curmudgeon with a sharp slant on things. Ahead of his Irish dates, he opens up about grappling with his profession, dealing with controversy and his apathy for modern comedy.
Craig Fitzpatrick, 15 May 2012
A sneering tosser. Smug elitist liberalism. I find this guy hard to warm to. He’s a bit slimy. I hate Stewart Lee with a passion. He’s like Ian Huntley to me. Not my words, but ones taken from a rake of internet comments spread across the Guardian, YouTube and Twitter. All sadly missing the point, and missing out on one of the finest comedians of our generation. All posted on said comedian’s website as perverse badges of honour. And he’ll have a go back, in full flight onstage. “This isn’t for you,” he smiles knowingly at the paying audience, before instructing half of them to quickly exit the theatre.
It’s Saturday night in London, and Leicester Square has been laughing for two hours. No-one wants to leave, but they do, when the sharply-dressed, Morrissey-esque comic tells his last gag and brings the curtain down to rapturous applause. I find him in the foyer, graciously signing books and merchandise for his true believers. He stays until the last bespectacled teen walks away contented, autograph in hand, and I make my approach. Rather than cut me down to size with a one-liner, he strolls to the bar, grabs us a pint each, and leads me to the dressing-room. “If I don’t seem with it,” he offers as an ultimately unnecessary pre-apology, “it’s because I’ve been up since six with the baby.” Life as a working father. Copies of his two latest published works are placed in my hands, and he starts to change. The smart suit gives way to a hooded top, his trademark quiff falls slightly, and he collapses on a sofa. The act is over for tonight, now it’s time to talk. And there’s plenty to talk about.
Born in Shropshire in 1968, growing up in the West Midlands and going on to read English at Oxford, Lee fell in love with the idea of making people laugh (and think) during the ‘80s and the rise of alternative comedy. He began performing in London and soon met long-time friend and comedy partner Richard Herring. The pair found fame as Lee & Herring in the ‘90s, writing material for Chris Morris’ On The Hour and creating and starring in cult TV shows Fist Of Fun and This Morning With Richard Not Judy. It was a time when comedy was being dubbed ‘the new rock ‘n’ roll’ and other British duos such Newman and Baddiel were playing stadia. As things tapered off towards the decade’s end, the two split and Stewart left the stage. He went on to co-write Jerry Springer: The Opera with Richard Thomas. Debuting in 2003, the controversial – and Laurence Olivier Award-winning – production provoked outrage from the Christian Right, with the huge attention persuading Lee to return to the microphone. When he did, he found a ready-made fanbase of comedians, comedy-lovers and critics. Every year since his 2005 comeback ‘90s Comedian, the audience has consistently increased. But that brings its own problems...