I don’t get out much, what with running a mini-Internet empire from a flat above an old Rumbelows, fighting off lichen and greenfly with a selection of random chemical composites and eating whatever can be sourced from the bins behind Lidl, but when I do go out I like to tell people about it. You know, so they don’t think I’m some weird hermit.
So the other night I went out to see a comedy show at the local corn exchange, and it was a very enjoyable night. Join me as I talk you through the things what I done the other night…
Stewart Lee is one of my all time favourite comedic types, and probably along with Richard Herring, Armando Iannucci , Chris Morris, Tommy Cooper and Monty Python (and maybe a bit of The Goodies, mostly Tim Brooke Taylor) one of the primary sources of inspiration for how my humour developed in my formative years, so when I read that his new tour was coming to a town near me I waited anxiously for the box office to start selling tickets, and on day one (I think we got through one minute after opening) we secured front and centre seats. To give you a good idea of how good the seats were I’ve included this picture my friend took on her camera phone. I’m good like that. See a visual thing and it helps paint the picture. I also got spat on, thanks to the fact that I was in a great position to take into account the trajectory of spittle.
So I got the tickets and then tried to find someone locally who would want to go along with me – acting as both taxi driver and evidence that I’m not some creepy hermit that lives in a flat above a deserted electronics retail store – but it wasn’t easy. I could have taken *anyone* really, but I wanted to take someone along who knew of Lee’s work, and appreciated his craft. Sadly all of these routes ended up being dead ends so I had to go with my friend Amy. She hadn’t heard of Lee, but did get on Google and watched some sets on YouTube, heck she even read his Wikipedia page. That’s the sort of commitment I require from an acquaintance.
So with a travelling buddy in tow we set off for the near-by town of King’s Lynn, which according to it’s Wikipedia entry is a hot bed for tourism:
“Tourism in King’s Lynn is a minor industry and attracts a relatively tiny amount of tourists each year.”
What a place eh? Oddly I think it’s quite an attractive town, and worth visiting, and the fact that a relatively tiny amount of tourists visit each year could be a major selling point as the chances of bumping into an obnoxious American family are reduced significantly.
Unless Wikipedia is wrong.
Not that that ever happens…
So, we made our way through Lynn’s infamous one way systems without fault, and parked up in what my friend described as ‘The maddest car park ever’ – which wasn’t that mad, but when it is near empty it looks a bit odd to park diagonally. Or something. Either way the point is that she found it to be odd, and that’s fine. I toddled off to get a parking ticket and was delighted to see that it would only cost me £1. One quid! Better still, and I genuinely considered taking advantage of this, we could have stayed there until the following morning, and when I pointed this out to my friend she made a slight joke of the ‘Nudge Nudge, Wink Wink’ variety, leaving me the perfect opportunity to attack her for her slack morals, suggesting that if all it took was a £1 ticket, then maybe she should reconsider her direction in life. I wasn’t as linguistically talented as this at the time though, so I think I just called her a slapper. Or something to that effect.
Entering the King’s Lynn Corn Exchange we were struck by a smell that was immediately familiar, but didn’t make sense at all. The whole place smelled of wax crayons, and if I were to attempt to be more precise I could be pressed to say, specifically the smell of a Burnt Sienna Crayola crayon, the kind of dark orange colour first introduced to the world in 1949 and with the Hex Code #EA7E5D. Not that I need to be *that* specific, but if pushed, then that’s what I would probably say, but no I wouldn’t actually say that.*
So with our nostrils imbued with the stench of wax-based colouring crayons we decided to look around the foyer and get a feeling for what kind of audience Stew had attracted.
Now if you have never heard of Stewart Lee I must insist that you view this video before we continue, just so I know that you are at least in some way aware of the kind of act that he puts on. In the clip, taken from the If You Prefer A Milder Comedian Please Ask For One tour DVD, Stew looks at Top Gear in a routine that grabbed headlines in papers that employ fucking idiots:
So, that was about fifteen minutes long, but it should now have put you in the right frame of mind to envision that sight that was laid out in front of me in the foyer of the King’s Lynn Corn Exchange last night. There were a lot of beards, a lot of pairs of glasses and one guy with a shoulder bag with a Supermarine Spitfire on the front. Now ‘Middle Class’ is a word that I feel has lost much of it’s meaning over the years, but I suppose that if you were to look at a cross section of comedic show audience members, the folks in the foyer of the King’s Lynn Corn Exchange last night would probably fall into the category of ‘Middle Class’.
Especially the guy with the Supermarine Spitfire on his satchel.
We ordered drinks with five minutes before the doors were opened, and despite ordering a ‘regualar Pepsi’ I was given a pint, and Amy ordereda J2O, with no real specific taste in mind so was presented with something wet and purple. Both drinks were very nice, and as we made our way to our seats, with our ice cold, freshly served drinks to hand we were informed that we would need to have plastic cups if we wanted to take the drinks into the theatre. What sort of person serves a pint of ice cold Pepsi five minutes before a show opens in a recepticle that isn’t allowed into the auditorium? A twat, that’s who. So, not wanting to waste the £3.20 I paid for a pint of ice-cold Pepsi I downed three quarters of a pint. This had two rather unfortunate results, firstly that I was now suffering brain freeze and a pain in my chest that felt like I’d just sucked off Mr Frosty – he’s so much fun, he make’s treats for everyone. The second issue wouldn’t come until later. Watch out for that.
So now we’d looked like the least hardcore drinkers in the world, downing our soft drinks like a pair of Glaswegians in a park as a PCSO strides over to ‘enforce’ a dispersal order, we headed back to our seats at the front of the room, you know, the ones that I put a picture up of earlier in this post – feel free to scroll back up the page while I wait here, I have got a pencil that needs sharpening, I’ll wait.
Right, are you back? Sitting comfortably? Good.
So, sitting in our seats we were blissfully unaware of the events transpiring behind us as the hall slowly ‘filled’ with people. I use those inverted commas there to place emphasis on the word filled as the hall wasn’t filled, not by a long stretch. Not that it mattered to us in our glorious seats with the blinkered nature that comes with it. As we sat waiting for the show to begin we looked at the back drop for the show, which for this particular tour was a selection of carpet remnants propped up against a wall. The carpets were of various colours and pile, but all had a familiar flecked patten that I joked made it look a little like a city scape – of course if I were *really* on the ball I’d have made the link between this carpet remnant cityscape and the title of the show – and that if *I* were Stewart Lee I’d have definitely stuck a smoke machine on and stomped around like a giant Japanese Kaiju monster – which given his recent series of Comedy Vehicle wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. It was at this point that the night was almost sent hurtling off course, as I noticed a small piece of gaffer tape had become attached to the curtains that make up the sides of the stage – I forget the name, so we’ll call them the side flaps – and it was right in my peripheral vision. I couldn’t really look at the stage without it calling out to me, much like that scene in Austin Powers: Goldmember when they meet the kid from that ‘hilarious’ body swap film from the 80’s with Judge Reinhold in it, Vice Versa, with a mole on his face. Luckily for me the show would have such a commanding performance that I’d soon forget the piece of tape – which I’m not entirely convinced wasn’t some sort of brilliant piece of marketing for the upcoming Boy With Tape on His Face show. So sat next to a guy in a space hopper T-shirt I sat back as the lights dimmed. The show was about to begin, King’s Lynn was about to face the wrath of a stand-up comedian on fine form.
As the smoke machine kicked in I felt a tinge of excitement as I knew that in a matter of seconds an idol of mine would be within grabbing distance, and before I had time to formulate some elaborate excuse for why I jumped up and grabbed his leg, the infamous Mr Lee strode out onto the stage to the pangs of some heavy music, making a joke about it being too much, and requesting something ‘funny’ in the second half. Now as I’d mentioned the corn exchange was only about a third full, but a master of the art Stew took it in his stride, using it as a launch pad for all manner of insults, insular self-degredation and ranting. Just how we all wanted it to be. He moaned about people brining friends along to the show, stating he’d rather play to a smaller group of people who knew who he was than face the blank faces of the bemused companions before going on to do some localised humour, which always goes down well, as well as having a lot of fun dissecting the upcoming events in the King’s Lynn Corn Exchange calendar, pointing out that most acts on stage are tribute acts, and when he appears on stage as himself, he gets a half empty house. All very good. Now I’m not going to go over his routine, as he is one of those comedians who works to a plan and to give you a run through would be an act of criminal negligence – do try to see the show, or at least get the DVD at Christmas – but I’ll summarise the points. Essentially there was ‘no structure or material’ as Stew had spent the last year either travelling to and from gigs, or looking after his offspring (via the ever pleasing medium of Scooby Doo viewing). The show’s title is ‘not connected’ to the ‘lack of material’ and the whole thing would probably be a pointless exercise in futility. Being Stewart Lee though the use of inverted commas should give you a clear idea of how he works it out. There are routines about the press, the reaction of ‘civilised societies’ to the killing of Bin Laden, Jungle Vine Bridges, Dog (DOG?) and more, but all rounding out with a sublime routine about shop names that, coming after an attack on the ‘Russell’ comedians on the telly, works all the better. The acerbic wit and banal banter interwoven into the show leaves you unsure of whether or not you are witnessing great writing performed brilliantly or the slow decline into inanity that besets many comedians when the inspiration bug doesn’t bite.
Having read up – after the show, naturally – on responses from other audiences along the tour route, something that I am very keen to do to get an idea of how the act develops on it’s way to the Fringe and the inevitable DVD recording, it was interesting to see that some material was already being omitted and that is precisely why Lee is a master in the craft, and why he should definitely be bumped up from being the 41st greatest stand-up as soon as is humanly possible. The fact that the gig was performed to a smaller crowd was – in his own words – preferable, as he likes the intimacy of that, and I agree wholly. I am no fan of stadium tours, it’s easy to bury a bad joke in a stadium, but with an audience of a hundred you have to hit the mark, it is a trial for the comedian, and a challenge that Lee is clearly confident enough to take on, in fact at one point – and I’m still not sure yet if it was a planned moment – Lee pointed out that he usually ends a half on a gag that didn’t go down massively well. Promising to not be intimidated he went on to do another fifteen minutes of great material that leads me to either think that he planned the ruse, or that he was reacting well to a misfire. Either way it worked, brilliantly. Towards the end of the gig there was a great moment when a know-it-all in the crowd shouted out the name of a piece of defunct office equipment, a Dymo if you are interested, and put Lee right off track for a moment, before he straddled the horse again and turned the mood around quickly, pointing out that over all of the gigs he’d performed, no-one had named it, and frankly he preferred it that way. (I did know what it was, but I was under the impression that the elongated descriptions of the items in question was part of the joke, and didn’t want to rock the boat. Seems I was right.)
Now, earlier I explained how I had downed a near full pint of Pepsi prior to the show and that a second effect would kick in. Well, here it comes. See, I keep those promises.
See, I suffer from a digestive system illness that ensures that if I eat or drink the wrong thing, in the wrong way, I can end up in crippled pain, and half way through the second half – which did start with funnier music – I felt a shift that made me wince. The combination of side-splitting laughter and gaseous beverage had generate a lot of pressure in my stomach leaving me convinced that I was going to throw up, which given that I were sat directly at the front I couldn’t get up and leave without opening myself up for abuse. I sat through the close of the show and toddled off to the toilet as Stew shot off to sign merchandise and chat with folks – living up to his joke earlier, “If I had time after the show to thank you all individually, oh wait, I have!” I ended up in the tiniest cubicle known to man, and being a chap with broad shoulders I struggled to squeeze past the paper dispenser, unclipping my braces and laying them over it while I sat down to, for want of a better word, dispense some gas. It was over pretty quickly, and as the ripples of relief passed through me I stood up but my braces got tangled on the loo roll holder, and pulled tight. I was stuck. Trousers half mast and no idea how to release myself I considered calling out for help, but I really didn’t want to have to explain myself so I performed some nifty moves that resulted in my hand *almost* ending up in the toilet , but freed me from my panic-inducing predicament. Realising, as I exited the gents, that Amy had been waiting I considered calling her bluff by declaring the fact that I’d dropped a massive log, but instead decided that the truth was actually quite funny, so we laughed and queued up to get something new, shiny and autographed. I went for the second series of Comedy Vehicle on DVD, while Amy opted – well opted is the wrong word considering what she wanted sold out right as we got to the desk – for Lee’s second transcript book. To shake hands with and chat to an individual I held in such high esteem was the perfect end to the perfect evening, and as I posed for a hastily photo taken on a camera phone I think it’s clear in my eyes that the whole toilet braces incident was already a distant memory. We drove home discussing our favourite routines, the annoying audience members and the local farm shop.
Sitting here now I can’t think of many shows that I have enjoyed being an audience member of more, with the possible exception of Ross Noble’s Things tour, and that’s only because I became one of his ‘targets’ throughout the show. Lee may not be a staple of the Saturday night ‘Live at the Apollo’ stand-up circuit, but that’s what he, and many other comics out there are about. It’s about the comedy, and it was clear that night that Lee enjoyed performing as much as we enjoyed going along for the ride.
So there you go, a thing what I done did.
* Yes, I would say that.