Chris Morris, context, actual jokes … a few thoughts on this rather excellent series
1. The dream-like end sequences
From the twinkling Mildmay Working Men’s Club where the show is recorded, to the smoky interrogations of Stewart Lee inbetween routines, Comedy Vehicle has always been a beautifully shot show. But the final sequences that knit together some of the ideas and images of each show are especially attractive. They’re like little short films, trippy, melancholic, understated and dream-like, and solve the problem of how you round off 30 minutes of Lee, who isn’t the sort to build to a heady climax of go-go dancers and fireworks. Two highlights are Kevin Eldon portraying an early fish being batted away from the English shore by a bowler-hatted Ukiper, and Paul Putner shouting abuse at a tree in a forest while Eldon (as a football referee) soberly officiates. Hats off to director Tim Kirkby for these.
2. The jokes
“I can write jokes, I just choose not to.” That’s right, Stewart Lee actually drops in a few jokes in this series. Albeit he tells them in a mocking, arch manner (you’re never going to get everything).
3. The Chris Morris substitution
Armando Iannucci was a hard act to follow as Lee’s “hostile interrogator”, but Chris Morris makes the role his own in series three, and the extended interrogations on the DVD bonus disc are eerily addictive. Iannucci’s mischievous, occasionally surreal style has yielded to something more hard-nosed and withering from Morris. It makes their exchanges feel more like a therapy session, or a confessional, with Lee reaching out for help. “Sometimes it’s better to stop talking,” says Morris. Lee obliges.
4. The Context
The series is best known for its lengthy Ukip routine, in which Lee points out the absurdity of a British person being anti-immigration. It’s not one of his most funny or elegant routines, but it is a powerful, uncompromising one. However, for me episode three, Context, about offence and stereotyping, is the winner – thought-provoking, very funny, and so much more than just a stock liberal rant. His chicken/jazz extended metaphor, and the opening routine about his black imaginary wife and gay imaginary wife (see episode for the all-important context), are just magic.
5. The final blow to Stewart Lee’s “no more auteurs” argument
Ever one for a spot of ideological warfare, Lee proclaimed last year that with so many TV comics using multiple writers, the “writer-auteur-comedian” was dead. It was bollocks then and it’s bollocks now. Lee is unduly fixating on panel shows with this line of argument. Sure, they are ever-present on TV, and writing teams are perhaps necessary to generate enough good material to fill all that transmission time. But what’s also undeniable is the success of comedians – some of whom are far from the mainstream – who have become big names on their own terms, such as Tim Key, Daniel Kitson, Tony Law, Paul Foot, Dave Gorman, Ross Noble and, um, Stewart Lee – all visible, influential, and writing their own stuff, the lot of them. If the concern is that young comics only have mainstream acts and styles to aim for, then a quick look at the circuit, and the rise of (eg) John Kearns and Liam Williams, shows this is misplaced. It’s bizarre for Lee to posit such a theory, when every time he is commissioned a series or releases a DVD, it adds to the counter-argument.
• Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle Series 3 is available on DVD now.
• This is a sponsored article.