Stewart Lee is described as the comedian’s comedian. He hasn’t got any jokes, rambles on about crisps and is one of the funniest men on the planet according to some and a bit hard to get a handle on according to others. On June 23 he will appear at Salisbury City Hall for his new show Carpet Remnant World. The Ocelot had a chat with him.
Your new touring stand up show is called Carpet Remnant World. Why?
Well, the idea of the show is that as a 43 year old comedian and dad of two all I ever do is drive around motorways doing gigs, going past all those massive warehouse type shops, or look after children, so I haven’t had time to write anything apart from jokes about things I’ve seen out of the window of the car. Of course, this is just a dramatic device and in the end it all ties together beautifully and turns out to have been a devastating critique of society. There’s also a load of old carpets in it which are quite expensive to transport around so that explains the high ticket price.
So being a father has changed your stand-up?
Yes. But for the better. Looking tired and dead suits my act. Also, because I’m too tired to learn anything verbatim the shows are more discursive and naturalistic now, which is good. Also, I used to be very cynical, but when you have kids you can’t take any pleasure in the abject failure of the world. You have to hope, for their sake, that things get better, which is an interesting place to do stand-up from.
In your TV series you said you had no jokes. Is that true?
Yes, but people do laugh. I do stories and odd ideas really, not jokes as such. If I do a joke it sort of breaks the spell of the show and sticks out like a sore thumb.
What difference has being on TV made to your stand-up?
I don’t know. More people are coming. But I don’t know if they’re coming to see me, or just someone they’ve heard is on the TV. It doesn’t seem to make the shows go any better or worse. There’s still people in that don’t get it. There’s just more people generally in the room.
You must have been pleased to win two British Comedy Awards last year?
It was a big surprise. I was happy for about ten seconds and then I just started worrying about whether people would come to see me expecting ‘award winning comedy’ and then just hate what I do. I couldn’t go to the ceremony as I was working. When I got home I put the TV coverage of the aftershow party on. I saw a load of skittles with the faces of comedians on. They had all fallen down apart from one with my face on. And then a woman in a red dress ran up and kicked it over, very violently. It was all quite strange really.
You caused a lot of controversy when you wrote Jerry Springer The Opera....
I didn’t write it. I co-wrote the words with Richard Thomas. It was his idea and he wrote all the music. I’m fed up of talking about it to be honest. A far right pressure group called Christian Voice made up a load of lies about its content and stirred up 65,000 people who hadn’t seen it into wanting it banned for being blasphemous, so it basically closed and we never saw any money really for five years’ work. The guy in charge of Christian Voice, Stephen Green, even the Daily Mail won’t talk to him these days. I was very proud of the piece but the stress means I don’t really like thinking about it.
In the 90s you were something of a sex symbol, but now you’re grey and overweight. Does this make you feel sick?
I find that question quite offensive to be honest, but I will answer it anyway. It works better for my comedy to be old and decrepit, but I do miss being fit and thin. I have to suffer for my art I suppose, and so do my audiences.
What can people expect from you in the future?
Well the audience numbers I’m getting now are big enough to do stadium gigs like all the famous comics, so I’m wondering if there’s a way of making that idea interesting or subversive. I’ve signed up for martial arts and contemporary dance classes for when this tour is over, and I’ve been talking to some people at The Circus Space in East London about what is entailed in being shot out of a cannon. I want to study kung fu with the Shaolin Monks. I’ve also been doing Neuro Linguistic Programing studies, to try and control the minds of audiences to laugh at what I want them to, and mass hypnosis ideas, thinking about how Hitler and Stalin manipulated crowd responses. I’ve been trying to see how far I can spit ping pong balls, and trying to contact that guy who used to dance with ferrets down his tights on TV at night in the 80s. It’s all good stuff. Also, in the 19th century the Hippodrome in London had a show with elephants in a water tank. I don’t think you’re allowed to do that sort of thing to animals now but I saw a show where someone swam in a tank with a python in Paris and these are all the sorts of things I’m thinking about for the next big tour, which won’t be until about 2016, so I’ve got lots of time to learn all these skills and get fit.
For tickets for his gig at Salisbury City Hall visit http://www.cityhallsalisbury.co.uk or call 01722 434434.