Baconface – Edinburgh Fringe review

Stewart Lee’s alter-ego Baconface is a fascinating new chapter in his career …

Baconface

The first thing to say about Baconface is that it is Stewart Lee. He doesn’t try to hide this fact particularly onstage, but there seems to be quite a few Lee fans who don’t that Baconface is the latest chapter in his comedy career.

And a fascinating one it is too. Fascinating for Lee fans, I hasten to add, baffling for anyone who hasn’t seen him, I would imagine. Baconface is a Canadian comic with a Mexican wrestling mask on which is draped in bacon, which occasionally falls off or flops in front of his face. The accent is pretty convincing, the bacon a scene-stealer.

I see Baconface as a sort of anti-heroic comic book character that Lee has concocted, quite possibly because he has taken his own style of comedy about as far as it can go. Time to shake things up. There’s also perhaps an overt influence of his wife, comedian Bridget Christie, in Baconface – in that Lee is adopting an absurd persona, complete with silly costume, for satirical purposes.

The difference being that Christie’s satirical targets have always been specific and plain to see, Lee’s targets with Baconface are more foggy, and that undermines the character somewhat. It’s become so difficult to tell when Lee is being sarcastic and when he’s not, you never know whether you’re over- or under-thinking his shows. You get the feeling he enjoys throwing people off the scent like this.

With Baconface, he appears to be poking fun mainly at bitter, unsuccessful comics who did everything first but have got no credit. An entirely different angle to that which Lee usually takes. What muddies the waters is that some of the techniques Baconface employs are typical of Lee as well, such as repetition (in his responses to a seventh day adventist), deconstruction (analysing how he came to use Margaret Atwood as a reference) and bloody-minded self-commentary (explaining that he won’t be updating any of his Canadian references for the Edinburgh crowd, and happily picking up fallen bits of bacon to re-drape). All of which makes you wonder if Lee is also still being the “alternative” comedian, upsetting the rules of conventional comedy.

It’s a conundrum in that respect, because one of the funniest things about Baconface is that it’s such a thin veil of bacon, Lee is so close to the surface, partly because he’s a shit actor – in the same way that watching Jerry Seinfield in his own sitcom is so funny, he’s not even trying to be convincing. But Baconface and Lee seem to pull in different directions and that does undermine the act.

Still, it’s a pretty new character, so it’s interesting for Lee fans to see him almost starting again with a new persona, trying to work it out. Old habits die hard, it seems.

Anyway, the gig. I enjoyed it in fits and starts. I love the idea of a grizzled comedian desperately trying to entertain people despite being pathologically unable to suppress his own resentment, and I enjoyed the character development more than the actual routines. Such as his poking fun at north American comics for having no stamina (though again, is this Lee or Baconface speaking now?), or pointing out that the “switcheroo” or some other comic device was pioneered by him in some obscure Canadian club in 1983. “There’s no credit for being an innovator in this game.” he repeats, as much a catchphrase as his official one, “it’s all bacon!” which is delivered very much without the exclamation mark.

His opening routine about winding up the Seventh-day Adventist on his doorstep gets a bit tiresome but I enjoyed his closing routine about encountering a bear on a hiking trip that shows Lee’s knack for timing and pacing a story. My favourite line of the whole show being the incidental “and with no real enthusiasm …”

Who knows whether Lee will pursue Baconface or not. It still feels like a work-in-progress, but I’d be up for second helpings. Anyone who isn’t an existing Lee fan though, I’d skip it.

3 stars
Review written by Paul Fleckney
• Baconface: It’s All Bacon is at 1.20pm at the Stand Comedy Club I

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