Stewart Lee is a clever man. A clever, funny man, cleverer than many of his contemporaries but not always as funny and certainly not recognised by the public in the way Lee Evans or Michael McItyre are. It sometimes feels like Stewart Lee really doesn't like this.
I've interviews Stewart Lee a couple of times on my radio show. He comes across as a thoughtful, intelligent, deep individual who has a knack for mining the absurd and a way with words. He's sometimes called 'the comedians comedian'. That probably irks him, the last man to be gifted with that title was Bob Monkhouse. Heaven knows what Lee made of Monkhouse, who wrote much of his own stuff but also used several other writers.
Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle - his most recent television show - is a wonderful thing. I enjoy it immensely, Lee is a very clever stand up. Two things: 1. the show is script edited by Chris Morris, which given Lee's abhorrence of anyone else's voice (ie another writer) infecting the pure thoughts of the stand up seems at odds with his philosophy and 2. It's very very clever but it's not always very very funny.
There, I've said it. He's not always hilariously funny. But here's the thing - that doesn't matter. What Stewart Lee has going for him is an intellect that allows him to explore areas other people don't - but not always in a funny way. Between the punch lines there are lots of other words that are aimed at making people think but not necessarily laugh. And that's fine.
But. Sometimes I want to laugh. Really laugh. Out loud.
If I want to laugh like a drain at less intellectually demanding material, consistently funny material, over an hour - or more - then I'll go see someone like Michael McIntyre or buy his latest DVD. And while I'm watching I m not thinking 'he didn't write that bit', that's not a pure comedic thought that kept him up last night as he polished it into a sparkling nugget of hilarity.
I don't buy this 'purity of thought' argument.
The first time I met Stewart Lee he was being targeted by religious groups for his so-say blasphemous libretto to Jerry Springer: The Opera. The BBC were worried they'd have to smuggle him into the studio past the outraged people with placards, there to hiss at him, spit and threaten - some people had got very hot and bothered about the swearing and the depiction of Christ. Lee had answers to all their objections. He intellectualise their concerns and shot them down in flames. Les Dawson (who wrote most of his own stuff) never had to run the gauntlet, did that make him less funny?
I can't say I enjoyed Jerry Springer: The Opera. It seemed to me to be swamped by so much swearing the cussing just got in the way, I found it repetitive (of course it was, that's what Operas are!!) I know, but I got (oh dear) bored with it. Didn't make it to the end. I know, I am a pygmy in a land of intellectual giants but I didn't find it funny. And I know - because so many people told me so - I should have been rolling in the aisles. Well, one man's meat is another man's bicycle.
Enough people disagreed with me to make Jerry a short lived sensation. Stewart Lee prodded and poked and did something original. And that's what he strives for - originality. God bless originality.
If you're paying to see your favourite comedian you want him or her to be funny. Very funny. And for the guys who regularly do big tours that means they have to collaborate - goddamit use writers!!!!
Since the 80's and the rise of the alternative comedian we want our stand-ups to be funny and thoughtful, we want a political edge, non racist or sexist routines that shed light on the human condition. The best of the post 80's comics are very good - many are ordinary. I'll say it again, what most people want when they pay to see a comedian is a laugh - many laughs, a shower, no tsunami of laughs.
Some would argue there is a difference between a stand-up and a comedian, the latter more of a performer. In the end they are both trying to get a laugh and if some of those laughs are generated by writers what's wrong with that. How does that sully the words in their mouths?
The idea that a comedian who 'performs' other people's material - specially written for them as apposed to gags ripped off from other comics as was the case pre 80's - is somehow the lowest form of life on the circuit is frankly bollocks. Great comedians have collaborated with writers for years.
Dave Allen - the grandaddy of alternative comedy used writers - here was never a funnier man.
I've just read a columnist who says she 'misses the comics who offer sincerity as well as laughter'. Why does speaking someone else's words have to be insincere? You think all those sincere politicians are writing their own speeches? Duh.
I don't believe any old writer can write for any comedian but I've written for a number and the material that works best is that which fits their persona as well as their mouth.
The Beatles wrote their own songs. Elvis didn't. So what.
I have to be in the mood for Stewart Lee. I'm always in the mood for Mike Mcintyre, Peter Kaye...and the sainted Doddy.