Glasgow Comedy Festival review: Stewart Lee: Basic Lee, King’s Theatre, Glasgow

In his new show Basic Lee, Stuart Lee riffs on his repertoire and reputation with a verve that is infectious, writes Jay Richardson

Stewart Lee: Basic Lee, King’s Theatre Glasgow ****

Billed as Stewart Lee’s most “streamlined” show in a decade, Basic Lee is anything but. Even by his standards of deconstruction, this is a show with considerable baggage, tossed around lightly, as he archly picks apart the art of stand-up, while playing with his relationship to it.

He opens with and occasionally returns to one of his routines from 1989, in which he’s doorstepped by an evangelical Christian, revelling in the audacity of performing 34-year-old material, dated references intact. Topical, political routines are a fool’s errand he mutters, now that his tours significantly outlast Tory governments.

Stewart Lee PIC: Steve UllathorneStewart Lee PIC: Steve Ullathorne
Stewart Lee PIC: Steve Ullathorne
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But he grudgingly has a go, with a perverse conflation of the more bizarre aspects of mourning the death of the Queen, getting professionally sidelined as the TV schedules were cleared, and his baser instincts – which still pale in comparison to those he attributes to Prince Andrew.

His supercilious persona is keen to show that he’s mastered every aspect of stand-up, from Live At The Apollo-styleobservations, to (out of character) extended crowd interrogation, to emotionally deeper stuff. However, he barely does more than allude to his early life before he was adopted, and an engagement that foundered on differing views of indie film director Hal Hartley, before claiming he invented the soul-baring style.

As ever, he’s keen to place himself in the pantheon of comics, with snipes at Kevin Bridges, Frankie Boyle and his former double-act partner Richard Herring; he projects himself as the great sad clown Pagliacci and casts Barry Cryer, Sean Lock and Daniel Kitson as bit-part players in his close miss at pre-empting Phoebe Waller Bridge’s huge success with Fleabag.

For the most part it’s all very tongue-in-cheek, even as he artfully negotiates JK Rowling’s trans controversies, Brexit and mental health issues in oblique, inventive ways.

At his (affected) grouchiest, Lee is clearly having fun, invoking jazz as he riffs on his repertoire and reputation, with a verve that is infectious.

Stewart Lee: Basic Lee is at the Stand, Edinburgh from 11-20 August, www.thestand.co.uk

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