Thursday, 13 January 2011

Comedy Vehicle

Most of my "real" friends have never heard of Stewart Lee. Or Comedy Vehicle. But my friends in the comedy scene look upon it with great reverence. And rightly so. When it was announced that the BBC had commissioned a second series, we couldn't contain our excitement. Well, we pretended we could so as not to embarrass ourselves by looking like excited girls in front of all the other "cool" comedy geeks, but we were all really wanted to whoop and dance with glee. And squeal a bit.

If you haven't seen it before, here is a great clip from the first series.

I was at a Soho pub waiting for my (then) iPhone hating friend - (oh it's all changed now since I wore him down and he finally got one. I shall forever cherish one of his texts to me: "I'm sorry I ever doubted you") -  when the news came through on Twitter that tickets were available. I immediately applied which was quite frustrating with a really crappy Internet connection and texted my friend Rob to do the same. A few days later, both of us had 4 tickets.


So on the Tuesday I had arranged to meet Rob, Richard and Sir Bob at the venue. It's a great little working men's club in Newington Green called The Mildmay Club. (Is that patronising? I think it may be. But it's not meant to be.) We met a good hour before the doors opened and I ended up only 6 from the front. There was a bit of a worry when Rob Sedgebeer explained that SRO Audiences often give out a large amount of priority tickets so I had almost assumed we wouldn't get in and had thought of seeing Mark Steel at the nearby Hen & Chickens.

But the doors opened. We were in. All the people who couldn't be bothered to get to a previous SRO recording on time had their special pink wristbands, but we, the true fans, had the scummy green ones. We were directed by a lovely and incredibly camp man to the bar with a free drink ticket each. Luckily we were so close to the front as the queue for the bar soon became enormous, but I got a bottle of cider and we grabbed a table. There was a TV set up in the bar which was showing a live feed from the main room so I presume that the people who couldn't get in had the option of watching it here.

The barmaid was very efficient at collecting empty bottles. She approached my bottle and I explained there was some in there and went to rescue it. She decided to help out by filling up my glass and pouring the rest of it all over my iPhone. That's a new method of customer service I hadn't seen before. Anyway no damage done, and the priority people were called in. Soon afterwards the green wristband scum people (us) were called in and again, we needn't have worried as 60 of us were allowed in. (We were numbers 7-10)

Well I'm not going to put any spoilers in here, but Stew came straight on to do 2 x hour long sets with a break in between. There was no warm up act which was quite an unusual move for TV comedy, and it did mean that the audience were a little quiet for the first 10 minutes or so. Topics included his grandad's obsession with crisps, commenting at length on Adrian Chiles and Russell Howard's efforts to raise money for charity, moving to the countryside, visible otters (including a 15 minute one way conversation with an estate agent about how the show was going), a rant against emigrants (massive prawns!), and Mock The Week.

Stew, as in the first series, used an off stage cameraman to directly address the TV audience at home, the assumption being that they were hating the show and having to explain any difficult material to them. This worked a treat on the first series and there was a point where the cameraman was shaking with suppressed laughter which has to be a good sign. No warm ups, no retakes, just a great 2 hours of comedy with none of the usual faffing that is often the case with TV recordings.

We went to a pub the other side of Newington Green afterwards to wind down and headed off home. Now Rob had never seen Stewart Lee before and is coming again tomorrow. I'm going to tweet that I have spare tickets and if you are free and have any sense you will come along too.


Bob and Richard couldn't make the Wednesday show, so I had two tickets to get rid of. I never thought it would be so hard to offer people free tickets to see Stew, but it was a bit of a trial. My brother was going to come but since his mobile phone stopped working it's been difficult to get hold of him, so eventually I managed to give my spare ticket to my friend Marco. he did tell me that he didn't "get" a lot of comedy so I was slightly worried as Stew isn't really an "entry level" comedian. I needn't have worried though because within 10 minutes of the show I was worried that at any moment he would accidentally spit a mouthful of beer over the person in front of him. (Incidentally I ended up sitting behind Sideshow Bob which I found rather typical and irritating.

So I got there again with plenty time to spare and was again right at the front of the queue. I had decided to wear my Richard Herring "Virgilio Anderson" t-shirt as some sort of subversive act. Marco and Rob joined me and we got into the bar rather quickly. Now, as I said, they have a TV set up in the bar so that anyone who can't get into the live recording has the option of watching it, but they had set out the seats in rows already which, bearing in mind how packed the bar was yesterday seemed like a mistake. However the bar seemed much quieter which was weird. However within 15 minutes it was heaving. They had been letting people into the venue much slower this time which certainly helped the congestion at the bar.

We got seats in the third row; the same row as yesterday, but this time towards the left and much more face on to where Stew was standing. This time, the camera he would address the viewer was stage front rather that stage left which was just in front of where we were sitting. The first part of the first set was a routine we saw yesterday about moving to the countryside, and this time his imaginary conversation with the estate agent took a rather different direction. Next was a discussion about how comedy today is different to comedy in the '80s: "In the '80s all the comedians hated the Tories, now they hate their electrical appliances", as well as a great routine about Al Qaeda, and how he finds them rude  - "I can't bear them."

This set was enlivened by 3 walkouts. Now I've since seen it reported on Twitter that people had stormed out, but in reality I think they were simply desperate for a wee. Stew however had a lot of fun with this with a very bemused response about having never, in all his days, seen people walk out of a TV recording. One was bad enough, but by the time the third guy tried to sneak out in a rather optimistic hunched way, the audience erupted with laughter. Stew later told us that he would try to include this in the final edit, as it would make a change form the usual Live At The Apollo cutaways where you see Lulu pissing herself! He finished this set with a song I wrote about in my last Stew blog about hack lines used by lazy comedians.

The interval came and went. Rather uneventful. Nothing to report.

The first half of the second set was his long story about his grandad and his love of crisps again. Stew seemed distracted and we could see the odd smile and smirk on his face. He stopped the routine for a few minutes and picked up an empty bag of crisps from the front row of the audience and said he had to move it as whenever he saw it he had to stop himself laughing. The end of the night saw a long story about how he thought he was friends with David Cameron when he was a student and how he organised pop groups for parties held by himself and other Bullingdon club members. This was a lower key set with fewer laughs and more poignancy but when they did come it was really worth the wait.

In fact you need patience when you see Stewart Lee. He delights in his silences, and pauses far longer than any "normal" comedian. This of course, as well as the anticipation of the punchline is often funnier than the punchlines themselves!

At the end of the show someone in the front row (not sure it was the same person with the crisps) dropped their glass, which smashed on the floor. Stew asked for it not to be cleared up so they could get a close up and asked the person to stay in their seats at the end to get a close up of their feet.

A very funny, unusual, odd and satisfying night.

Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle will be broadcast at some point in the future. I'm guessing spring time. Watch it!

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