Stewart Lee‘s distinctive style and appealing delivery were in plentiful supply at Oxford Playhouse this week after a two year absence, his deadpan, weary and resigned delivery keeping us permanently chuckling behind our masks.
Taking this opportunity to not only perform again, but mix up two previous shows (SNOWFLAKE and TORNADO,) Lee also managed to reflect further on developments in the ‘cultural wars’ and the physical impact of living in lockdown.
An oxford student himself in the 1980s, lee plays up to the University audience with references to mathematics, literary theory and ‘magic realism’
His act ebbs and flows, both linguistically and visually, starting with funny, quiet reflections (usually about his own experiences, including his vacillating weight) and moving into semi-serious social and political observations, before erupting into an hilarious, violent explosion of polemic, mowing down fellow comedians, ‘national treasures’, politicians and journalists alike.
It works well because he progresses, then retreats, returning to themes, adding new themes, cross fertilising ideas and characters until we arrive at his surreal conclusions.
Sometimes Lee starts at the end and works backwards: in the first section ‘Tornado’ he confronts us with the absurd fact that for two years Netflix described his show as ‘reports of sharks falling from the skies are on the rise again. Nobody on the Eastern Seaboard is safe.’ He seeks to relate the unrelatable and even contemplates building raining fish into his act, on a tight budget. The inexplicable is taken seriously and rendered more absurd.
“Even linguistic philosophy gets a look in, with Lee being compared to the Oxford philosopher J.L. Austin – a man capable of a joke himself”
A student himself at Oxford in the 1980s, he plays up to the University audience with references to mathematics, literary theory and ‘magic realism’.
Even linguistic philosophy gets a look in, with Lee being compared to the Oxford philosopher J.L. Austin – a man capable of a joke himself, calling one of his books Sense and Sensibilia, after Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (well I think it’s funny).
Lee is also clever with language, showing the physical contortions of trying to say the unsayable, and deconstructing his scene setting, explaining how comedy works, which is painfully funny to watch’
Now in his 50s, Lee attracts a healthily mixed audience, ranging from fans of his early years to current students, and adults often sitting with their children, which was apt, as Lee examines the domestic battle between ‘Snowflake’ child and ‘Anti-woke’ parent!
Overall, the night was a splendidly dexterous comedic experience. Only one word of caution: one scene has a repeated use of the ‘c’ word may be inappropriate for young teens in what is otherwise a clever and subtle show.
Stewart Lee is at Oxford Playhouse until Saturday 22 January. Book at https://www.oxfordplayhouse.com/events/stewart-lee-snowflake-tornado