Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle Review: Mighty Mouth

March 16, 2009 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews

STEWART LEE’S COMEDY VEHICLE, Monday 16th March, BBC2, 10.00pm Alert Me

My Dad is a better comedian than Stewart Lee.

He does the same smart arsed, out-of-touch, grumpy old man routine and I always laugh at him. But anyone who tries to pass off a repetitive four minute long monologue about “those rap singers? as cutting edge comedy, needs to have their head examined.

In the first episode of ‘Comedy Vehicle’, the theme of the week is books and the format is of a live stand-up routine peppered with pre-recorded “What would happen if…? style skits. In his typical bemoaning fashion, the bulk of Lee’s comedy is based on slating other people, most notably sardonic talents like Chris Moyles and Jeremy Clarkson, both of whom, incidentally, are immeasurably funnier than Lee.

Chris Moyles’ labels the second volume of his autobiography a “toilet book? (Noun: book to be read whilst using the facilities, as a means of passing the time, not to be confused with toilet paper). Lee is vehemently critical that Moyles has not attempted to write The Bible: Part 2 or something equally noteworthy. “Oh the vaulting ambition of the writer,? he snipes, “Oh Icarus, fly not so near the sun lest they waxy wings should melt.?

Lee elevates his sense of self with his own callous brand of intellectual elitism, casually name-dropping historical literary figures like William Tyndale (the first man to translate the Bible into English) and Johannes Gutenberg (inventor of the printing press). Yet, even people who are avid readers will feel like Lee is launching a personal attack on them, unless they are blessed with his level of acute pomposity.

In many ways, I do see Lee’s point. Books, for the most part, are no longer intended as works of art in the same way that they were centuries ago. Modern literature has become saturated with thinly-veiled feeble attempts to make money.  Just look at Charlotte Roche’s, ‘Wetlands’. Shock tactics sell, Lee says so himself. What I take umbrage with is Lee’s superiority complex: his material is just satire for snobs.

The one sketch that actually made me chuckle was the tragic lives parody, “The Teats That Wept Tears? by Paddy McGinty’s Goat.

But other than that, the laughs were few and far between.

Sally McIlhone

So Lee’s comedy was too snooty? Trust us – it’s no better at the other end of the taste spectrum. Make sure to read Sally’s brilliantly scathing review of the new sketch show from the BBC’s muppets-de jour, Horne and Corden. Or why not get in the Guinness-swilling spirit by checking out our list of the Top 10 Irish Films To Watch on St. Patricks Day. You’ll love it, to be sure.

willy2fly says:

Sally Mcilhorne…. You are to reviewing what Katy Price is to music. Nothing at all. Stewart Lee is a legend and one of the funniest men on the planet whilst you are a review with the writing skills if a boiled egg. Put the pen down sweetheart and go fetch my paper. Theres a good girl.

Robbie says:

“steph says:
March 18, 2009 at 7:33 pm
He was pompous…fair enough if he follows it up with good comedy. However, he picked upon obvious factors to mock. And not factors which were funny to mock, there’s nothing intelligent/funny about saying “Chris Moyles’ friends asked him what the book was about, as would most people?. There’s no insight here, and his snobbery puts me off further.

I could easily take a copy of this show, stand in front of an audience run the tape, and pause it at moments such as the aforementioned and highlight the simplicity and superiority of his jokes. I could, but I wouldn’t want to be boring!”

Yet you still managed to be boring. Pretty sure the audience would be laughing as Stewart’s audience were.

steve says:

this reviewer has completely missed the point.

lpsfsrvp says:

it’s a bit tautological to describe Clarkson and Moyles as being ‘immeasurably’ funnier. how could they be measurably funnier?

redredbeard says:

Stewart Lee is intelligent and subversive. He appreciates irony. Cut off his arm and “irony” will be running through him, like Blackpool Rock. More than that, irony is his bitch, his marionette. He plays with irony to make you question your beliefs. He appreciates the irony that many modern, so-called ‘liberal’ comedians espouse egalitarian beliefs, whilst deriding unfashionable sections of society, as the “Chav” Zeitgeist aptly demonstrated.

Enjoying or not enjoying a television programme is no thing to get angry about, but debate is healthy. We can all learn something from informed dialogue with each other. If you are offended by what he is saying, examine why he is saying it. If you’re still offended just move along. He’s probably not for you. Which is fine.

But it also doesn’t necessarily make Stewart Lee bad at his job. He has more than paid his dues on the circuit and is now a real master of the comedic craft. Very few comedians could write and execute a show of this calibre. He is even brave enough to parody Monty Python and highlight the ultimate absurdities of surrealism in Art, even as reflections of this strange life.

The reviewer prefers Jeremy Clarkson and Chris Moyles, finding them immeasurably funnier. Your cornerstones are probably Spike Milligan and Peter Cook. Such is the rich tapestry of life, people. It is not nice to get anglee or make fun of the perceived shortcomings of others, wherever you might judge them to be.

Andrew says:

“Yet, even people who are avid readers will feel like Lee is launching a personal attack on them, unless they are blessed with his level of acute pomposity.”

I didn’t feel like that. I am not pompose. Sorry to deconstruct and demolish your frightenly simple 2-path theory in two quick swipes. I love the fact that this ‘reviewer’ has missed the point. It’s just comforting proof that people like Stewart Lee, myself and the other dissenters on here aren’t mad…..the world really is going to sh*t – with so-called educated people such as Sally McIlhone seemingly blind to art-forms out there that might actually challenge the viewer/reader/listener and secondly, require some effort in understanding the message.

Gustav says:

“his own callous brand of intellectual elitism”

Rather than, say, your own brand of dishwater-dull, unengaging banality?

I think you’ve completely missed the point on this one… I’d be happy to pay a licence fee to watch this.

Lewis says:

‘Tobias’, that is my brother’s name.

Tobias says:

Rubbish comedy (if you can call it that).

No im not a fan of Little Britain either, but the second show was just painfully embarrasing to watch. I wonder how much the crowd are getting paid to laugh at these attempts at jokes.

Richard says:

If you Google her name you’ll find that Sally McIhone is now known as “The World’s Worst Comedy Reviewer”(tm).

Still it’s only the internet, and any mouth breathing idiot can write on that.

Ang Lee says:

Stewart Lee, that anti-taiwanesse idiot. What does he think, the world revolves around him? He’s certainly big enough. I have met him, he called my girl-friend a marxist and showed her his rump. But, in all seriousness, even with those things against his name, i am a film director of some note who has very few heroes in this world. Unfortuntely for Stew he is possibly the only one who is still alive. He also regards in high esteem drinking guiness, i was once told. Buy crouching tiger, hidden dragon on dvd, i also directed sense and sensability, which some of you may not know.

Matt says:

I saw the “rappers” bit live last year at the Edinburgh Festival and have to say that I have never laughed harder in my life.

Quite happy to pay for that mate.

HRamachandran says:

Mike:
“You complain about lees snobbery and fey intellectualism and ‘name dropping’. You miss the point. THIS IS PART OF THE JOKE. Look back over the whole of lees career, at any or most of his stand-up, he acts like that FOR EFFECT and does so with a wink and a nudge to let you know its PART OF THE JOKE. The whole point is that only a superficial observeer would go “OMG, what a snob, how terrible.? Which is exactly what he wants. The point is that the content of his act is in tension with the method of presentation, in that his broard criticisms are valid, but earnestly bleating on about it isnt funny, but playing the grumpy self important intellectual whilst doing it and feigning fuddiness and confusion or whatever is. The method of presentation is PART OF THE JOKE, albeit a knowing one in that you cant be an idiot who takes it AT FACE VALUE. Like you do.”

Obviously you don’t realise that when Bernard Manning did his racist jokes his sweaty racist persona was PART OF THE JOKE, that the essential dichotomy of the performance is in the juxtaposition of racist jokes against the fact they were being told in the late 20th century.

If your idea of a great night’s comedy is going through three layers of meta-jokes via what certainly looks like the same boring material everyone else did 5 years ago, then I’m glad I don’t have to share a remote control with you. Just because he knows that his material is out-dated (ooh, adults reading Harry Potter books), and he knows that referring to Tyndale and Gutenberg and Icarus in a superior way makes him look like a pompous pr*ck, and he knows that long repetitive beat-poem interludes (with lots of pauses, taking the piss out of people who are out of touch, or think they’re really in touch, or laugh at people who are out of touch, or something) are dull and lose the audience, doesn’t magically make it funny/cool/interesting/clever.

Matt:
“As for the ‘repetitive four minute long monologue about “those rap singers?’, OK, that might not have been the out-and-out funniest part of the act, but it was surely the gustiest. It was clearly a deliberate move to lose the audience with an unsettling, surreal detour. I found it quite unnerving, and a huge relief when he finally reigned it back in. Good for him, though! Great comedy surely should be challenging, and not necessarily an unbroken series of belly-laughs.”

If you like people being pseudo-intellectual in an ironically motivated, but ultimately unfunny, way – learn to spell, numbnuts! Any comedian who deliberately bores the audience, and expects them to learn to laugh at it via some kind of twisted mental gymnastics, is not worthy of any intelligent person’s time.

I’m afraid you’ve both fallen into the trap of liking something because you think it’s the kind of thing intelligent people like, that liking it makes you a bit edgy, a bit off the mainstream, a trend-setter who likes a better class of comedy that the mainstream thickos will never be able to get their poor little heads round.

You will actually pay money to be bored!

Lewis says:

Glad to see Lee back on our screens. I’m a fan of his and the self professed ‘cylce of fame’ that he has, in which he goes through uniform spurts of being in the public eye and then back out of it, rings true.

His stand-up is, at its foundations, about comedy. His drawn out rapper segment was the funniest part of the show for me, it was ironic and annoying but that is what makes Lee’s material brilliant. He’s a fan of Ted Chippington and you can see the influence of Chippington throughout. I think the reviewer possibly missed the underlying foundations of Lee’s comedy qua comedy. Nevermind, at least somebody at the BBC sees it fit to give him some airtime, long overdue too.

Georgie Buns says:

Jonas – I can’t stand Chris Moyles, and am happy for people to call him out, but not as a substitute for comedy!

Disliking Chris Moyles does not = liking Stewart Lee’s stand up routine

Georgie Buns says:

I totally and utterly agree with the reviewer on this. I think the guy had some good material, but his miserable, snobby style reminded me of comedians like Marcus Brigstock and Jon Holmes, who seem to be more interested in grinding an axe and slagging off people than ‘pulling back’ for laughs. And that 4 minute period about the rappers… help me God, it was terrible.

How did this guy get his own show? No wonder so many people turned off before the end of the show.

Jonas says:

I think Sally McIlhone should re-consider her career choice as a critic with any esteem if she honestly believes that the “sardonic” comedy of Clarkson and Moyles is worth defending in a television review.

Stewart Lee targets EXACTLY the right individuals in this show and his disection of each case in point more than justifies each selection. Even if you were unable to see past your baffling fondness for Chris Moyles, nothing should be sacred in comedy or satire! For God’s sake, Chris Moyles makes crude and unfunny generalisations about homosexuals and Polish immigrants. Why shouldn’t someone identify him as the talentless cretin he clearly is.

graham says:

the reviewer completely missed the point. it’s not humour for everyone, but Lee is by far the most innovative comedian working in the uk today, and it’s great that the bbc have given him a little bit of airtime to this, to counter all the lowest ommon denominator humour the reviewer probably enjoys…!

Matt says:

I caught this first episode on iPlayer last night and loved it: the most intelligent, confident, ballsy stand-up I’ve seen for years. But what a terrible review! In fairness to Sally McIlhone, if (and this is a big if) I had managed, somehow, to miss the irony, sarcasm and hyperbole used throughout his act, I too might have jumped to the conclusion that Stewart Lee is a pompose, intellectual elitist. But I didn’t.

As for the ‘repetitive four minute long monologue about “those rap singers?’, OK, that might not have been the out-and-out funniest part of the act, but it was surely the gustiest. It was clearly a deliberate move to lose the audience with an unsettling, surreal detour. I found it quite unnerving, and a huge relief when he finally reigned it back in. Good for him, though! Great comedy surely should be challenging, and not necessarily an unbroken series of belly-laughs.

Can’t wait for the next show.

Lave says:

He’s not saying that books need to be highbrow. He’s criticising the fact that these people who have been given a platform for nothing more than being famous have pissed it away.

I thought it was brilliant. Though to be fair, I’m clearly biased as I’m a big fan of Mr Lee. In fact I went to see this show being filmed. And whilst this episode was the weakest of those I saw, it was still superb.

steph says:

He was pompous…fair enough if he follows it up with good comedy. However, he picked upon obvious factors to mock. And not factors which were funny to mock, there’s nothing intelligent/funny about saying “Chris Moyles’ friends asked him what the book was about, as would most people”. There’s no insight here, and his snobbery puts me off further.

I could easily take a copy of this show, stand in front of an audience run the tape, and pause it at moments such as the aforementioned and highlight the simplicity and superiority of his jokes. I could, but I wouldn’t want to be boring!

David says:

Stewart Lee himself has said that he wants this show to be the opposite of the fast-paced sketch shows that currently dominate UK television comedy. I like those shows, but there’s more to comedy than just quick fire sketches. I thought Lee’s show was very good. It wasn’t perfect and I didn’t find all of it funny (The Teats that Wept Tears was my least favourite section) but it was refreshing to see another part of the comedy landscape on one of the main TV channels. Refreshing too to see someone who isn’t embarrassed to come across as intelligent and articulate.

Richard says:

Not “Cutting Edge”? You mean it wasn’t arrived at by ironic hair sporting, you-tube creaming, hipsters who still parrot the psalms of Janet Street Porter having failed to even come up with their own sound bites after 30 years of comparing navels?

No doubt it needed more men dressing up as women and terribly ironic queer jokes.

nathan giles says:

this was just not funny painfull to watch and not original in any way.
just smacked of jealosy to me.how this made it to bbc2 i will never know i guess its not what you know but who!!i felt the audiance felt emarressed by the rapper sketch.i fail to see how this “invites us to step back and examine our own values and preconceptions”.at its basic level this is just playground bullying ie pick others before they pick on you.and for the record little britian’s first episode was funny but six joke does not make a series

SB says:

It was very funny, and spot on.

Marie says:

I watched this tonight with my partner on iPlayer, and I can fully understand the criticism levelled at Lee over the rapper segment. It was a Marmite sketch in that you get it and love it, or you don’t. I think to find it funny, you need some prior knowledge that Lee’s stand-up often deconstructs the notion of what is funny and deliberately teases a joke out beyond its natural limits as experimental comedy, and also that it plays with culture lines – a middle-aged middle-class paunchy white man talks about “rappers” like they’re a new phenomena, before revealing that as someone who grew up on Public Enemy and N.W.A in the ’80s he knows and understands a lot more about hip-hop than someone who spent their youth in stage school.

I thought it was hilarious. It left my boyfriend cold, but then he isn’t pretentious.

Mick says:

I thought the show was brilliant. I suspect the monotonous rapper bit in the middle may have switched a few viewers off, according to the guardian the ratings dropped about then. I have seen Stu before and whenever he does the self satirising monotony stuff it gets painful, then he perserveres, then it becomes funny – I think that is the point.

I am sure Stu realises his style does not suit everyone however I hope he never dumbs it down for mass appeal as it is spot on as it is.

Andrew says:

‘He does the same smart arsed, out-of-touch, grumpy old man routine and I always laugh at him’. Well why write such a poor review if you laugh? His method of analysing an idea or an opinion or cultural norm (often in a juvenile way, clearly at odds with both his own intelligence and that with which he credits his audience) until it collapses under it’s own weight, invites us to step back and examine our own values and preconceptions. To become defensive and claim ‘intellectual elitism’ suggests insecurity and leaves your own abilites open to question; there are plenty of people who are comfortable with his approach.

It’s good to see Stewart back on TV. Moves like this remind me that without the BBC and Channel 4, televised comedy would be in a sorry state.

Grammar Boy says:

*After that, Stewart Lee should jump from the nearest cliff with his stupid jokes shackled to his leg. Never, ever, ever to be heard again. Seriously, gaw those ‘jokes’, hohnestly……..hang that head in shame Lee.

*I actually didn’t watch it.

I liked Lee and Herring though.

So….um was it any good?

G-Bwoy

Becky says:

I’m sorry, but i just don’t understand this rabid, fanatical following that Lee has somehow magick-ed up. I saw it and thought it was just the condescending, sneery jibes of a bitter old g*t.

And back at Jamie: that would technically make the first sentence read:

“Your mum isn’t a worse stoic than Richard Herring.”

And that wouldn’t make any sense at all.

We all know he’s just a couple of years away from being the token ‘Jack Dee’ of the new Celeb Big Bro.

Paul says:

Oh dear, the reviewer really doesn’t get it. This was funniest thing I have seen in a long long time.

Mike says:

Sally, you ave utterly misunderstod lee’s comedy.

You complain about lees snobbery and fey intellectualism and ‘name dropping’. You miss the point. THIS IS PART OF THE JOKE. Look back over the whole of lees career, at any or most of his stand-up, he acts like that FOR EFFECT and does so with a wink and a nudge to let you know its PART OF THE JOKE. The whole point is that only a superficial observeer would go “OMG, what a snob, how terrible.” Which is exactly what he wants. The point is that the content of his act is in tension with the method of presentation, in that his broard criticisms are valid, but earnestly bleating on about it isnt funny, but playing the grumpy self important intellectual whilst doing it and feigning fuddiness and confusion or whatever is. The method of presentation is PART OF THE JOKE, albeit a knowing one in that you cant be an idiot who takes it AT FACE VALUE. Like you do.

Jamie says:

Oh, Sally McIlhone. It’s like everything you’ve written could only make sense if you understood these words with the exact opposite meaning that they’re supposed to have.

JK says:

To Chrass: You should probably learn to write before you sl*g off someone who has a career as a writer. There’s this thing called punctuation – you should look it up.

Re: the show. Meh. It was alright – better than the Horne & Cordens/Catherine Tates of the World, but not exactly as groundbreaking as everyone here is making out.

Chrass says:

Is this the worst review of all time. Complete and utter bilge from someone who probably thinks little britain re-invented comedy. It was a fantastic show and surprisingly similar to his stand-up, something I thought the BBC would shy away from. They didn’t and hats off to them, although I presume it won’t be long until they axe it due to poor ratings. Sally, I hear there’s a new series of little britain on the way and it’s called Little Britain go to the sea side. Essentially it’s the same tripe they’ve been churning out since day one but on the plus side, you won’t have to think.

Mantecanaut says:

The reviewer is a fool. Typically, she found the least funny ‘bit’ the most amusing.
Furthermore, the review is written very poorly.
Bad.

Andy Fisher says:

Lee is by far my favourite stand up and last nights show was nothing short of genius. Admitedly I find Brand amusing also and even sometimes enjoy Moyles on radio 1. But they will never be in the same league as Lee whose timing, intellect and general presence on stage give him every right to be regraded as a comic legend.
This is exactly what TV has been missing and I can only praise the BBC for commisioning this excellent show, and finally offering us something funny, unique and thought provoking.
Mcllhone, you have so missed the point and are emphatically wrong.

Jak says:

Sally McIlhone, have you ever thought of writing your own toilet book? This review was a pile of sh*te. Stewart lee is the man!

Stu says:

Jesus, are you guys pretentious much?

The reviewer even notes that she found some bits of it amusing. I agree with her to be honest – I’d rather have someone laughing with me, than down at me.

Phil says:

“Lee’s comedy is based on slating other people, most notably sardonic talents like Chris Moyles and Jeremy Clarkson, both of whom, incidentally, are immeasurably funnier than Lee.”

Anyone who seriously holds this opinion is not qualified to pass comment. I can accept that Stewart Lee isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but to say that Moyles and Clarkson are “immeasurably funnier” is just incredibly stupid. I admit that Moyles and Clarkson are sometimes amusing but Lee is a true artist.

Toilet book? No. Toilet review. Yes.

I see this as a great toilet review.

Jason says:

Lee’s show was pure genius, the sketches felt a bit clunky because if you’ve seen his stage show he is a master of conjuring imagery through words and so I guess the sketches where a sup to the medium of tv, however they where funnnnny, nobody can lampoon the beeb like Stuart Lee and bravo to Armando Iannucci and the beeb for giving him this platform to do so.

No says:

No. You’re so wrong

Piers Gladhill says:

I’ve gotta agree with the other commenters. Stewart Lee’s basically been my favourite comedian since Fist of Fun and This Morning with Richard not Judy. His thoughtful, sneering brand of comedy is totally different to any of the other British comedy out there at the moment. Yes, he is laughing at you, me and everyone me know – but frankly he has every reason to.

Genius.

Dan says:

Yeah Stewart Lee was a fantastic breath of fresh air, completely unexpected, sharp, clever and surreal. Unfortunately his intelligence is simply over the head of the reviewer here. She’s clever enough to realise that he’s laughing at her (and start feeling defensive about snobbery), but not enough to understand the jokes.

NGJ says:

It’s a sorry predicament that the reviewer here seems to have taken umbrage to literary references, intelligence, thoughtfulness, and a mocking of vapid celebrity culture. I hear Little Britain and The Fast Show are available on DVD – why not just watch that forever instead? Lee’s show should be cherished. No doubt it will fail in the ratings, or get slated by those who hold up Little Britain as the very definition of good comedy, and BBC2 will never have the gumption to commission its like again.

mike says:

The Stewart Lee show last night was very good indeed. Why is it such an outrage these days to have something of intellectual worth on tv rather than the futile bleatings of ‘comedians’ such as Alan Carr, Russel Brand, Michael McIntyre who are now so popular it seems a sin to laugh at anything that requires any logical thinking behind it.

If you honestly think Clarkson and Moyles are funnier than Stewart Lee then I guess you are entitled to your opinion but you should be made to realise it is wrong. So very wrong.

Will Blake says:

The sardonic McIlhone is quite correct. How dare they allow someone more intelligent than me to be on tv? Political correctness gone mad.

me says:

Deary me, it appears Lee’s superiority complex is almost exactly proportional to your inferiority complex…

chris says:

Couldn’t disagree more. This was so funny. Never seen Stewart Lee before last night and I feel like I’ve missed out. It’s the conviction, the confidence of the man not to dumb down his material for the Sally Mcllhone’s of this world.
How can you get so defensive over Chris Moyles? that was the funniest part of the show and you wasted it worrying about the guy’s feelings, as if he cares, its only comedy, take the joke.