Stewart Lee – Much A-Stew About Nothing

Stewart Lee – Much A-Stew About Nothing – Mayflower Theatre, Southampton – September 15, 2013

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Honestly, this isn’t going to be much of a review. Stewart Lee is one of the best comedians around, but he operates on such a different wave length to anyone else, I’m not sure I can adequately sum either him or this show up. Much A-Stew About Nothing is actually 3 episodes of Lee’s forthcoming 3rd set of episodes of his BBC2 series Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, and this was an opportunity to hone the material before that films.

Lee has previously stated an aim of producing a show without any punchlines whatsoever and a segment which involves him repeating the line “If you say you’re English they arrest you and throw you in jail” about 8 times shows how through context and inflection it’s possible (for him) to make almost anything funny without relying on the traditional structures or formulas of comedy. However, I am deeply aware this doesn’t read well.

Anyway, the show overall is incredibly funny and leaves me awaiting the the arrival of the new Comedy Vehicle. In the meantime, below you can find the first epsiode of the first season.

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Lucy Porter – People Person

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Something struck me early on in Lucy Porter’s latest show, People Person, and that was the lack of cynicism, anger or snark, all of which seem to infuse so much of modern comedy and comedy performance. It is something which is even more noticeable come the end of the show and the big reveal. Something that Porter could very justifiably be angry about is instead presented as quirky and cause for a little introspection.

The lack of cynicism was something which, initially, I found a little disconcerting. Isn’t modern comedy there to rail against in insanities and inanities of modern life? Isn’t it about fighting back? About blowing off steam? But it was refreshing to see a show which, even when dealing with the crude sexism of hecklers, was bright and positive.

Porter is a delightful stage presence, not an out-and-out gagsmith and just about the polar opposite of a Jimmy Carr. There’s barely a line you can take away and tell your friends to illustrate her skills, but skills she definitely has.

People Person is structured around one long anecdote of a chance meeting with a ‘new friend’, but with many other diversions along the way. In fact, the new friend may be the destination but the journey primarily deals with motherhood and how her life has changed since the arrival of her “Irish twins”, as well as distractions such the reader reviews on the Argos website.

Porter has a keen narrative sense, keeping the story moving and pulling out details where necessary – the trip to John Lewis with her gay friend being a particular stand-out. The show is never dull and the audience – smaller than the show deserves – is always laughing.

All in all, People Person was a very entertaining hour and a half in the company of an unusually likable and pleasant performer. However…

… there are moments when you glimpse what could have been. Short detours into the world of stand-up comedy clubs, being a support act for puppetry of the penis, hecklers and the casual misogyny that can follow women anywhere shows that Porter has both the insight and the makings of material to produce a show which could say something a bit more. It’s hard to shake the feeling that while People Person is very entertaining, it is, in many ways, caught up in some trivialities and that lurking in the corners and recesses of the show there is something bigger that could be said.

For the past year, a friend of mine has been running the Bristol-based female only (performers, not audience, all are welcome) comedy nights under the title What The Frock, something which has blossomed while also being on the receiving end of some ludicrous bile due to the ‘sexism’ of not employing men as performers. Before my friend did this, sexism in comedy was not really something I paid much attention to. Now I’ve started to notice how male dominated many panel shows tend to be (look at Have I Got News For You or QI as notable examples), though those on Radio 4 tend to do better, especially the Sandi Toksvig hosted News Quiz.

I bring this up because the bits of the show that stood out to me were those detours that started to examine the sexism unfortunately often inherent in the job. That said, she does highlight how being pregnant or having children can come to define a woman. This can be a bit of a standard trope, but it’s the way in which Porter brings something fresh to it that makes you long for her to take the subject further – Porter is, in the eyes of a journalist, no longer a comedian but a mum-edian, leading her to query whether, if she decided to off him there and then, she would be seen as a mum-derer – but this line of enquiry is soon dealt with and we move on with the narrative.

But these complaints are minor, and perhaps spring more from my own interests than the needs of the show. Equally, it may be that Lucy has dealt with these issues at length before (there’s certainly reference to them in the clip at the foot of this page), so maybe I should just shut up about it, or watch more of her older material. Indeed, I do want to stress how enjoyable the evening was and that my other half enjoyed the show even more than I did. While this was just the first time we had seen her perform, rest assured we will be there on the next tour, and the one after that.

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And here’s a link to a short snippet of Lucy Porter live, some years ago. Unfortunately it seems Lucy (or her people) have disabled embedding of this clip, but it’s worth clicking through to:

http://youtu.be/XjIGGEOzyTU

Henning Knows Bestest

Henning Knows Bestest, Henning Wehn – Nuffield Theatre, Southampton – April 28, 2013

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Coming towards the end of a run of stand-up comedy I’ve seen, Henning Knows Bestest was probably the show I laughed at the most, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was the best show.

I’ve heard Henning make contributions to plenty of radio shows – Fighting Talk, The Now Show, The Unbelievable Truth – as well as appear on a couple of TV shows like QI, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I know what to expect from a live show of his, and one of the most delightful things in stand-up comedy is to be taken by surprise, which, I think, is the key to why I found this so funny. But let’s back up a little first…

So, Henning Wehn is a German who came to England 10 years ago to work in media & marketing (I think) before taking a chance at stand-up comedy, a concept that was pretty alien to him. An initial burst of publicity centering on the (self-promoted) ridiculous idea of a German stand-up comic perhaps pushed him a little too far too soon, but now he has easily caught up and is able to sell out good sized venues such as the Nuffield and leave the place shaking with laughter.

However, there are two types of comedy on show here. The first is the one that deals with his origins and links to the titles of previous shows of his – German Comedy Ambassador, My Struggle, No Surrender, The World Cups and One World Pope. These are the jokes that centre on his German-ness and make the kind of cheap and easy punchlines that most people could complete themselves. They are drawn from the easy laughs to be won from a Jongleurs audience filled with mildly xenophobic stag-dos and can be related to the type of cake or cock related humour from Jo Brand and Graham Norton respectively – the type of comedy that says “You’re going to insult me for this thing I am, so I’ll do it first and steal your thunder”. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for a more sophisticated audience who aren’t judging the performer based on size, sex, sexuality or nationality, it can become a little tiresome.

Fortunately Henning Wehn does, indeed, know bestest and uses these jokes as a way to hold a mirror up to the audience, steering us into territory which exposes any xenophobia we may have and questioning many aspects of our society. Why are the British so obsessed by the war? First he points out that, despite the plethora of wars that have since then, we all know which war is “The War”. Then, he brings up the fact that the war was nearly 70 years ago and is basically irrelevant to a modern society. The majority of those who sing about two world wars and one world cup weren’t alive when any of them happened, certainly not the first two. Are we obsessed because, he argues, it was the last time this country was relevant on a world scale? And it’s hard not to agree, at least in part.

Living in Britain we can be very blinkered, buying into the view that, after America, we are the country that matters most, and Henning is here to burst our bubble. Far from merely pandering to the crowd with jokes about the British rivalry with Germany which allow us to go away with our world view intact (“England v Gemrany is always a big game. For Germany there are usually bigger games to follow”), he tries to recontextualise our position (“We don’t have sterotypes of the British like you do of the Germans because we don’t really care about you.”). And while there is a shared comedy language between America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK, it is fascinating, enlightening and, frequently, hilarious, to hear a fresh voice with a fresh perspective.

Henning Knows Bestest isn’t a perfect show, but it suggests that one day Soon Henning may come up with a show which is. In the meantime, this will more than suffice.

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