Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Why I love Stewart Lee - and why I hate myself for it.

Oh no - another personal "me" ramble. As if the internets hadn't enough of them. Once again, servers, routers and internet interfaces groan with unwanted familiarity to the grating digital scape of another weathered soapbox and its ill-edited magniloquence.

Anyway. Just watched Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle (for those who merited a life, catch it on IPlayer if you get the chance) and it was a reminder of why I love the man and how disappointed he makes me feel in myself.

Stewart Lee (for those who only limit their interest to the 40 top stand-up comedians) is best summed up by his own continuity propaganda. A cop-out on my behalf - I'd only end up fawning, looking for smart hyperbole to convey to others that subjective quality of belly-laughs that he instills in myself. See? Doing it already - I never belly laugh, though I wish I did. And if I did, I would like it to be at the hands of Mr Lee. And there goes the fawning.

I'm sure we've all got someone that we look up to so much the blood drains from our heads and we are resolved to chitter-waffle our admiration. Stewart Lee is one of mine. It's not a fanatical fixation with the man. I can go many days, weeks, months and years without passing a thought to his brilliance, nor do I clamber to own all merchandise revolving around him. In fact, so far as supporting his vocation, you could say I'm a piss-poor admirer, offering no fiscal remuneration for his entertainment (well, I did see him at Glastonbury in '98, but I doubt my ticket price really propped up his bank account).

But it's not about being a fan. I don't rush around quoting the man, nor, as I have said, have I invested in a shrine to the guy. I simply admire him. I admire him for being me.

Now, that's a comment which could take any reader down two dissecting paths. First off, given he is seven years older, Stewart Lee being a copy of me would really be a hard argument to sustain. Secondly, I'm not putting myself above or even near his identity. Quite the opposite. He is, I suppose, what I would liked James McLean to have been. If James McLean could have really had any real meaning to this universe, I think it would have been as a person with the mind and legacy of Stewart Lee.

See now I sound self-effacing. I am pretty happy with who I am, and chuffed with what I've been blessed with. I'm not brain-blastingly ugly (if such a term or such a man exists - and woe be the case if either does), I've been gifted with an artistic eye, a reasonably astute mind and some achievements that many would be proud of. Okay, I'm not the most charismatic gentleman at times, I've had my share of failures and mistakes, but the point is I'm not defacing the history of James McLean. I'm not looking to put myself down or douse myself with the pity bucket.

I guess what I'm saying is when I listen to Mr Lee, more often than not, his stand-up reflects my opinions and feelings on life. In some ways its quite cathartic to have someone manage to express similar observations more effectively than you do. We all get that when we see any oratory, be it comedy or serious - and as a meandering side-note, I think what I always find a little weird is seeing someone express observations that are similar and more effective than yours, that you hadn't even considered previously. It's one of the wonders of seeing stand-up; having a comedian express ideas that resonate that you had never considered until that moment. Hardly a revelation of an observation, but one that seemed pertinent.

I think the horror of having such admiration for any person is you know you could never possibly meet them. The same goes for any crush I suppose. Any unrequited crush has the very real risk of leaving the crusher unable to bolster their ego enough to a) be themselves and b) treat the other as they would anyone else. And the more one tries, the more one will fail to create an honest rapport and instead will build a horrifying non-representation of the person you want to convey. It's a sad but natural state of affairs given any meeting is so horribly imbalanced; the quiet discomfort of the admirer and the admirer to find any common ground.

So in the end, my admiration - until now - has been relatively silent. I wouldn't mind if it didn't make me feel so dirty. Like some creepy invisible lovesick teen-puppy gushing from the sidelines.

Watching Stewart Lee on his new show was a reminder of all these little partially connected musings. It reminded me of how so much of his material resonates with me - and how thankful the same can not be said about the Al Murray's Pub Landlord. Which raises an interesting point: given I do not know Lee, could such affinity not be with the man but his comedy persona? Just like if I resonated with the Pub Landlord's xenophobia I wouldn't necessarily be connecting with man behind the mask. In my case, I don't think it matters. The product that Lee produces touches me, regardless of what the man behind it truly thinks. There is restrained, frustrated intellectual eye to Lee's "product" that I fell in love with in the early 90s that perhaps spoke for me with more humour, insight and - well - facts than I ever could possess. Perhaps that's what's so great about a comedian whose social comedy "speaks for you", be it Stewart Lee, Al Murray or - god forbid - Roy Chubby Brown - social comedy gives you the illusion of ideological validity: the comedian gives a sheen to your own personal beliefs - they say what you believe in a cooler, more amusing and often more enlightening way than you probably could.

And Stewart Lee's comedy output has done that for me for well over a decade - he's basically helped me define me better than I could do myself. A lot of 'Me' there. A big Me blip on the Me-dar.

Which perhaps leads me to refine my original statement: Why I love the comedic product of Stewart Lee, and why I hate myself for not being able to match it. Not quite as catchy. Yes, his comedy persona would have been what I would consider the perfect James McLean. But then, James McLean would have been lost to admire himself, Stewart Lee. So perhaps this is the best way. Let Stewart Lee do what he does best and I'll happily let his produce express what I'd like to say better than I'd ever need to say it - because I have Stewart Lee to say it for me.

So next time you want to know what I think, save me the time at having to read up, learn facts and find a suitable mode of self-expression by going and seeing Stewart Lee says on stage. I'm sure it will be close.

Now go watch his new stuff on IPlayer. It is very good.