14th October 2010
‘A that time, the old order was collapsing; in 1987, the idea that anyone would look at a student show to discover huge comedy talent was over.” Thus Stewart Lee, remembering his early days when he read English at St Edmund Hall and did some student stand-up at gigs in the Jazz Cellar beneath the Oxford Union.
With a new DVD out and a well received book published this year (How I Escaped My Certain Fate: The Life and Deaths of a Stand-up Comedian), Lee might seem to be a confident success. But in an interview lasting much longer than the usual 15-minute chat, there were many pauses for thought and introspection and finding the right words.
Before doing a TV series next year, Stewart Lee is setting out on an 18-date tour to venues where he believes he has a “trusting” fan base — and the Regal in Cowley Road is one of them (typically he’s now not too sure about two other places, but it’s too late!). He’s testing us with new material in a show called Vegetable Stew because at the moment much of it remains unwritten and what there is is a bit chaotic.
But it did all start for Lee in Oxford, where he met his first writing and performing partner, Richard Herring [see Page 5], with whom he soon started writing for radio. Was there an immediate affinity between the two of them?
“Only by virtue of not being like everyone else. We both had an idea that we didn’t want to write sketches where people came in and out of offices and sat down and discussed things at tables. Back then, the BBC was really good at spotting new writing talent and that’s because the Weekending programme had a system whereby there was a meeting for the regular writers, and then there was another meeting for non-commissioned writers.
“So you literally went to Broadcasting House, said you wanted to go to the non-commissioned meeting on the second floor, went up and there’d be 30 or 40 people there. And the producer would tell us the areas they wanted covered. As simple as that.”
Lee and Herring were in at the start of the Chris Morris-Armando Iannucci radio hit On The Hour and struck out on their own in shows for Radio 1. Then Lee hit the stand-up circuit. “I was doing then much the same as I do now: quite slow and thoughtful. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Eventually, some people began to realise that what they hadn’t liked wasn’t a mistake: it was what I actually wanted to do! That’s when reviews of me went from saying I was boring and monotonous to hypnotic and captivating!”
A crucial time in Lee’s career came with his involvement in Jerry Springer — The Opera, which he co-wrote and directed and about which there was an unholy row in 2005. It was thought by some to be blasphemous and there were thousands of complaints, but Lee, clearly still angry, apportions the blame quite precisely.
“People tend to say that there was religious and specifically Christian opposition to it, but there wasn’t. There was an enthusiastically organised protest against it by an organisation called Christian Voice. Among their Christian policies is promotion of English national identity, asking if Islam should be allowed in Britain, anti-gay and anti-cervical cancer smear tests for teenage girls. “If journalists had done as much research into this group as I did, they might not have taken the protests so seriously either.”
But that phase is over and Lee is now very much back in the stand- up groove and what works and what doesn’t (he talked to me of the “hanging cadencies” in Dave Allen’s TV work and the shortcomings, as he sees them, of the sort of shows fronted by Michael McIntyre). If he gets all the ingredients of his Vegetable Stew together in time, next Wednesday at the Regal should be very interesting indeed.
Fancy an evening of smugness with Stewart Lee? He was one half of 90s comedy duo Lee & Herring, has collaborated with everyone from The Mighty Boosh to Johnny Vegas. And tomorrow Stewart Lee will be gracing Newcastle’s Journal Tyne Theatre with his presence. KAREN WILSON speaks to the 42-year-old comedian.
Oct 14 2010
PEOPLE of Newcastle, you’ve been specially hand-picked by Stewart Lee for one of just 18 dates on his new Vegetable Stew tour. He usually does 120-odd dates you see, but with a new TV series being filmed in January he wants to hone his material into six 20-minute routines. And you are his guinea pigs. “When I started again in 2004 the audience in Newcastle built up again really quickly,” says Stewart. “There are 14 which are places I’ve done before and really liked because audiences really got what I was doing.”
His previous jaunts in the toon involved boozing with Simon Donald of Viz, who Stewart says “seems to be regarded as a kind of defacto mayor of Newcastle”. “It’s the sort of place where weekends are really raucous, but it’s never threatening,” he says. “I like the fact that age is no barrier. There are gangs of middle aged women running around having as much fun as all the teenage girls, which is really nice.”
Variously described as “a comedian’s comedian”, “a crumpled Morrissey” and even “as funny as the bubonic plague” by The Sun, Stewart Lee is something of a Marmite comedian. The broadsheets love him and the tabloids tend to hate him, as he’s unashamedly highbrow. Not for him the standard comic’s fayre of being a dad or indeed the contents of the man drawer. But this polarisation can have its downsides. “Sometimes people aren’t expecting something quite as boring as what I do, which is why I always try and put a bad quote on the poster,” he says.
A typical example? “His whole tone is one of unbearable smug condescension.” This tends to deter the weekenders who want “90 minutes of jokes” and would be happier at a Tim Vine gig. “I don’t want to waste people’s time,” he explains. His style is more low-energy nonchalance with long build-ups – some jokes taking 40 minutes to reach their climax. A tantric comedian if you will. As you can imagine, his style didn’t go down well at a recent dinner for sponsors of the Edinburgh Fringe Society. “It went to silence for half an hour,” he says. “They didn’t heckle because they didn’t think I was a comedian at all!”
As he’s never had a ‘proper’ job (just fact checking for a book about gardening while gigging at night in his early 20s) Stewart can’t really relate to his audience’s everyday life either. So it’s all about ideas rather than personal material. But that could change. “Every time I do a new show I try and do something that’s uncomfortable for me,” he says. “On the last tour it was singing. In the next few months I might try and write 20 minutes of personal stuff – but it won’t be true! Or I might do a dance or take a clown course. The last thing you’d expect from me is to do anything nimble.” Another possible future project is collaborating with wife Bridget Christie, a comedian who he has a three-year-old son with, on a show about their honeymoon in Shetland, which was “like being on an oil rig”.
Although Stewart abandoned stand-up in 2000 (“even if a gig didn’t work, I didn’t really care”) he was still directing others and had huge success co-writing and directing Jerry Springer The Opera, even though financially he “would’ve been better off doing £50 gigs in pubs.” After taking part in a few TV panel shows in 2006 – a platform entirely unsuited to his style – Stewart returned to stand-up more sure about the kind of comedian he really was.
“I was a bit broke so I did all the ones I got offered,” he says. These included Have I Got News for You, Never Mind the Buzzcocks and Eight out of Ten Cats, which prompted one punter to flog his gig tickets on Ebay because he was so bad. “I don’t do small jokes and I’m not very good at joining in with things,” he laughs, by way of explanation. Mojo rediscovered, 2008 saw him back on BBC2 with Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, which was nominated for a BAFTA.
Now he reckons stand-up is one of the purest art forms. “In every place people’s sense of humour can be different. Sometimes the first word you say, you know the whole night is lost. Every time you step out, it’s as exciting as jumping out of a plane.”
Despite his self-deprecating demeanor, Stewart seems pretty comfortable about who he is. He wouldn’t want to be more famous (fans twittering about his whereabouts make him paranoid) and he finds the Russell Brand level of fame bizarre when fans go bananas and treat comedians like rock stars. “There’s a glass ceiling on my popularity because what I do is just too irritating and boring,” he says. But he’s in it for the long haul. “I’ll tour every two years till I die,” he says. “There’s something funny about a petulant old man doing stand-up, while a petulant young man can seem rather irksome!”
Stewart Lee’s last tour “If you’d prefer a milder comedian please ask for one” is now out on DVD.
Stewart Lee: A funny thing happened to comedy... It is now big, big business. But does that mean the safe middle ground will become ever more crowded?
November 28th 2010
For decades, stand-up comedians entered the palace of entertainment by the tradesmen's entrance. Now the red carpet is rolled out, but do we have any idea what to do next? And where did this change in our status begin?
In 1993, after David Baddiel and Rob Newman became the first comics to play Wembley, Janet Street-Porter declared comedy "the new rock'n'roll". Like the naïve pop bands of yore, in whose soiled footsteps we trod, young stand-ups like myself hit the road in transit vans full of lager to embark on expensively promoted tours from which we saw little, if any, of the takings. In this respect at least, comedy was the new rock'n'roll. Today, the death of recorded music and the tyranny of The X Factor means that even rock'n'roll is no longer rock'n'roll, just a stringy facsimile made of cat guts, navel fluff and hair gel. If this travesty is rock'n'roll, then stand-up comedy could be too, for latterly it's equally adept at fleecing vulnerable people out of hot-dog money in cavernous barns.
Takings for live stand-up comedy have increased tenfold since 2004, most of those tickets being sold at 40 or 50 quid a time for big TV names in stadiums and 1,000-seater-plus venues. And while all this may be good for the bank balances of agents, promoters, venue managers and stand-up comedy's heavy hitters, is it good for stand-up comedy itself? Does the possibility of enormous reward necessarily encourage creativity?
When I first helped invent all modern-day comedy in the late 1980s, when comedy was still good and everyone involved was a living saint, I shared bills with Anthony "Iceman" Irving, who melted blocks of ice while making puns about ice, and Lyndsay Moran, who sang funny songs on the accordion, wore a tutu and danced. Neither of these acts, for example, had designs on the O2, not least because it hadn't been built, and neither did I.
The most commercial, least open-minded, venues you might hope to play would be The Comedy Store, and the lone outpost in Battersea, south London, of the subsequently massive Jongleurs chain. Even these places were pretty good. Nobody was hemmed in by the possibility of riches. It is inevitable, surely, now that the template of the multi-millionaire, multi-million selling stand-up exists, that ambitious young people will try to develop an act to fit a demand, rather than creating demand for a new kind of act. And nothing good ever comes of that approach.
There's a deeper argument to be had here about whether the stand-up comedian, who shares anthropological roots with the holy fools and tricksters of myth, should even be a success. Aren't we supposed to be outside society, looking in, poking fun?
In the late 1990s, when he became quietly massive, Frank Skinner charmingly sidestepped this dilemma, as had Billy Connolly before him, doing routines about film premieres and such like, as if he were the bewildered incomer, reporting on our behalf. But success normally limits the comedian, creatively. After a quarter of a century, Jerry Sadowitz remains that last word in supposedly offensive comedy, having contrived, by ill-luck, poor genes, or cunning design, to be one of society's eternal outsiders, thus given comic licence to denigrate everyone, from the bottom up. This is not the same thing as doing jokes about the handicapped in a £3,000 suit to a stadium full of fans, even if both might be funny.
Inevitably, the money that's on offer to the big-name stand-ups will affect the quality of what you see on your TV. Rhod Gilbert is a very good stand-up who can play massive venues. The rumoured advance for his last 70-minute stand-up DVD was £250,000. For the sake of argument, let's imagine it's true, or that something like it is, maybe concerning someone else. £250,000 for 70 minutes of DVD stand-up is significantly more than one gets for writing three hours of comedy for BBC2. The top-name comics have no incentive to sell 180 minutes of good stuff to TV if they can make more out of selling 70 minutes on DVD. That's why you have me doing stand-up on BBC2 instead ("Stewart Lee is the worst stand-up comedian in Britain, as funny as bubonic plague" – The Sun), rather than someone better. Instead, the real talents host quiz shows, chop out old gear in six-minute lines on variety shows, and chip in on panels, floating the brand while keeping the uncut product for premium rate customers. That said, the so-called "comedy boom" has benefitted me enormously. The message board that follows the online appearance of this piece will no doubt be clogged with furious people who can't accept that I might be a comedian at all. They have my sympathy and I have never sought deliberately to waste their time or their babysitting money. But when the top acts are doing stadium tours, I can do 20,000 people in a 400-seater over two months around Christmas in London and still appear like some sort of obscure cult for cool people. In the slipstream of the mass popularity of stand-up, even the person who is supposed to be the alternative to stand-up can do reasonably well. All of us comics must offer thanks to one man, and one man alone, for this state of affairs. Michael McIntyre.
For it was Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow that convinced the public that they might like stand-up, en masse, and he has begun to make household names of some hugely worthwhile acts, who somehow managed to shine in the show's brutal showcase format. Though McIntyre's massively popular and super-evolved brand of observational schtick is regarded with baffled ambivalence by many comedians, he may, on balance, be a good thing for the future of stand-up as an art form. The skipping humorist's utilitarian ubiquity means that everyone knows what a stand-up comedian is now. And the idea of going to see stand-up comedy is now no longer something only those with very specialised interests do.
There's a generation of comics hitting the boards, influenced, without even knowing it, by stand-up comedy's velvet revolution, when the late 1970s Comedy Store and Comic Strip crew toppled the light-ent idols, or at least wobbled them a little. Michael McIntyre has handed them the keys to the Imperial Palace. But we don't seem to know what to do with our power and influence, and we run from beer endorsement to cash-in novelty book deal to Channel 4 vehicle like moths in a planetarium. With great power comes great responsibility. Will public demand force an evolutionary leap in the art form of stand-up, or will the potential money to be made mean the safe middle ground becomes ever more crowded? In many ways, it's out of our hands. You are the audience. You have the power. The future is up to you.
Stewart Lee's 'Vegetable Stew' is at Leicester Square Theatre until 18 December. His new DVD If you prefer a milder comedian please ask for one is now available. See stewartlee.co.uk
Popular and pecunious
The Michael McIntyre effect
Michael McIntyre performed unpaid until 2003, when he was nominated for the Perrier Best Newcomer Award at the Edinburgh Festival. Since then, he has become a regular face on television, sold out venues across the country – including the Wembley Arena five times, and the O2 Arena four times.
His 2008 DVD, Live and Laughing, was the fastest selling debut stand-up DVD of all time with almost 750,000 people buying a copy to date. A year later, McIntyre's second release, Hello Wembley!, sold 252,919 copies in its first week (just shy of the number of DVDs that Lee Evans sold for his Live At The O2 in December 2008 at 259,400 copies). His BBC prime-time show Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow was first broadcast in 2009, and has showcased three dozen stand-up comics in its two series. By the end of 2009, McIntyre was reported to be worth £8m.
Laughing all the way to the bank
Fewer than 100,000 tickets were sold for comedy gigs at UK arenas in 2004; in 2009 more than a million tickets were sold for the equivalent venues, according to Kay Martin of Glasgow's SECC venue.
2.26 million live comedy DVDs were sold in November 2009 – a jump of 38 per cent from November 2008, (source, British Video Association).
Peter Kay has broken records with sales for his 2011 Tour that Doesn't Tour. He sold 400,000 seats in three hours, outselling Take That and Oasis for their forthcoming tours.
Thank Michael McIntyre? I'd say Jimmy Carr and the acts on Mock The Week had a much bigger impact.
Stewart Lee's insider's take on William and Kate The secret behind the royal wedding – and it's more Wicker Man than fairytale ending
27 April 2011
The selection of Kate Middleton, a lowly commoner drawn from the very dregs of society, as Prince William's bride has been the subject of great speculation, much of it thinly veiled snobbery. But Britain is broken. Social mobility is at a historic low, state education and public healthcare are in crisis, and our own prime minister has blamed the truculent immigrant and his concealed wife for our lack of national cohesion. Once upon a time, royal marriages were political acts that forged links between different nations. Instead, William and Kate's wedding will bind this nation to itself, and in marrying so very far beneath himself, I believe the young prince has made a heroic and deliberate sacrifice to achieve this end.
Pause for a moment. Imagine being Prince William. Imagine knowing that the best justification most rational people could come up with for your heavily subsidised existence was that you were a symbolic figure. And symbolic of what, the boy must wonder. History? The land? The nation itself? A notion of refined nobility? Grace under pressure? Or perhaps some abstract idea of temporal continuity? Unable to escape being a symbolic figure, the prince's recent activities suggest he has chosen instead to embrace the role in the most profound way imaginable. And, I believe, this is why the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton itself seems symbolic on an admirable and unprecedented level.
Jessie L Weston's 1920 study of Holy Grail mythology, From Ritual to Romance, pictures Britain as a wasteland, an image appropriated by TS Eliot to describe the aftermath of the first world war. The Fisher King must search the devastated terrain for the Holy Grail, and drink from it to heal the land. Broken Britain is that wasted land. William is that Fisher King. Kate Middleton is that lovely grail, full not of the blood of the crucified Christ, but of the blood of the Middletons, who run a children's partyware business in Berkshire. And Kate's wedding to wise William is a ritual that may help to fix what David Cameron's vision of the Big Society so far has not. For in choosing Kate, a simple girl from a school near Swindon, as his bride, William is in fact taking each and every British subject – man, woman, old, young, black, white, Christian and Muslim – into his royal bed, and binding us all to each other in the white heat of his princely passion.
Kate was educated at Marlborough College in Wiltshire. It is a private school, yes, but it is no Eton, and its most famous alumni are little more than flannelled fools: the comedian Jack Whitehall, the children's author Lauren Child, and the pop musician Chris de Burgh, whose 1976 Christmas hit A Spaceman Came Travelling describes an alien being's disappointment in the shortcomings of human society – disappointments it appears William shares, and is trying to address in his own esoteric way. But his motives for plucking a bride from such an inauspicious establishment are, I believe, twofold, and we must admire and accept the occult reasoning behind his selfless choice.
First of all, Marlborough College, where Kate Middleton flushed into womanhood, is set in a magical landscape that has been declared a world heritage site, being only five miles from the exact centre of the Avebury stone circle. Perhaps Kate's growing body absorbed the magical energies of the region. Perhaps it did not. It does not matter. She is from, and she is of, the ancient wetland. The arrangement of the 6,000-year-old circle, and the stone rows, burial chambers and mounds that surround it, is explicitly symbolic, explicitly sexual and explicitly ritualistic, and as such it shares the same transformative agenda as Friday's royal wedding.
In Avebury, the West Kennet Avenue, a long row of erotically paired stones, uncoils snake-like from the circle, as if to penetrate nearby Silbury Hill, a fecund 37-metre-high female belly, which rises from the marsh to meet it. The prince has taken his lowly bride from within this charged landscape, where our ancestors celebrated the union of man and woman in stone and earth, and began the communal processes that forged a nation from their descendents, the broken nation that William the Fisher King must now heal. Our shaman-prince could not have chosen a better receptacle for his magical purposes than Kate Middleton, a peasant-spawned serf-girl, sodden with the primordial mire of the Swindon-shadowed swamplands.
Secondly, in choosing a commoner for his bride, William gives hope to millions of socially disenfranchised Britons. Only two Tory generations ago, the prime minister Margaret Thatcher was proud to proclaim herself "a grocer's daughter". A mere 20 years since she passed power on to John Major, a garden gnome salesman with six O-levels, it is impossible to imagine either in government today, composed, as it is, principally of former members of the elite Oxford vomiting society the Bullingdon Club. The state-schools system is stretched to the limit; the withdrawal of further education grants deters poorer students; and government contributions to the Bookstart scheme, which gives books to children who might otherwise have none, have been halved. It is not possible to imagine a Thatcher ever getting out of Lincolnshire today, let alone becoming prime minister.
But in snatching Kate from the gutter, William stooped even lower than he would have done had he chosen Margaret Thatcher for his bride. Kate's parents aren't even grocers. They sell novelty hats and paper plates. It's no coincidence that as genuine social mobility in broken Britain is eroded, so commoners turn to the National Lottery, The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent. Winning them represents the only chance real people have to change their circumstances significantly. It could be you. And, like some giant illuminated penis flying over the rooftops of suburban homes and frothing at random passing women, William has pointed himself at Kate Middleton, the Susan Boyle of social mobility. In declaring her his princess, he brings hope of real change to millions of people denied a decent education and the means to better themselves, to millions of tiny babies denied even books, that one day they too could be randomly rewarded with untold wealth and privilege.
The wedding of my wife and I was a small affair, with 40 or so guests. We were not required to arrange our day along magical or symbolic lines, though admittedly some aspects of the Catholic wedding ceremony confused me, and my wife is yet to explain the tradition whereby I have been obliged ever since to sleep alone each night on the toilet. But as a symbolic figure, poor Prince William's wedding is hostage to political expediency. Consider the faces he will see as he and Kate make their solemn vows.
From the world of government, the prime minister and Mrs David Cameron, and the deputy prime minister and Ms Miriam González Durántez, holding whichever suit the prime minister has chosen not to wear; from the faith communities, the Reverend Gregorius, Anil Bhanot, Malcolm Deeboo of the Zoroastrians, The Venerable Bogoda Seelawimala Nayaka Thera, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Optimus Prime, Yog-Sothoth, Captain Marvel and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor; and from the twin spheres of entertainment and sport, Mr Ben Fogle, Mr David Beckham and Mrs David Beckham, Mr Madonna Louise Ciccone, and Sir Elton Hercules John and Mr Sir Elton Hercules John. Candles in the wind all.
But as he gazes at this golden shower of dignitaries, it is William who will have the last guffaw. He knows that this was not so much a wedding as a psychic rescue operation, a healing ritual for broken Britain, a pantomime of hope for the terminally hopeless. In taking Kate Middleton as his bride, Prince William, more than anyone in any position of power in Britain today, has tried at least to do something to help. I hope sincerely that both of them are very happy.
• Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle starts on BBC2 on Wednesday, 11.20pm. A series of events called Stewart Lee's Austerity Binge starts at the Southbank Centre on 27 May. He is among artists performing John Cage's Indeterminacy in a short season he's programmed for the Cheltenham Jazz festival.
If five portions a day are so good, how come rabbits and slugs are so stupid? The E coli scare is proof positive that fruit and vegetables are inherently evil and should never be eaten
12 June 2011
The German E coli bean sprout scandal offers damning evidence that all fruits and vegetables are dirty beyond reason, toxic timebombs that have secreted themselves at the very heart of global cuisine in the form of trusted dietary staples. Yet government food eggheads continue to bray from their state-sterilised laboratories, demanding that we eat at least five portions of the crusty filth a day.
In the UK, the gustation boffins have even created a persuasive website showing a photograph of a bald man smiling at a pile of yams. But why? What evidence is there for the supposedly health-giving properties of these soil-encrusted tubers and these repulsive, squashy sacks of sticky juice and seed? Isn't it time we rejected fruits and vegetables?
I never eat fruits or vegetables at all, ever, and neither did my father before me, and while I am constipated, fat, breathless and weak, I am not yet dead. I can still manage to slither across the floor to my laptop every day to dribble out my interesting thoughts for money. Open your eyes! What actual evidence is there for the benefits of vegetables, the worms of the food world, scrabbling in the dirt, or of fruits, hanging limply from branches, like plastic bags full of dog excrement hurled into the trees of an East Anglian layby?
Indeed, humanity's relentless forward march of progress has been a journey away from the soil, away from the dirt, away from dependence on mere fruits and mere vegetables. When the futurists sang hymns of praise to velocity and volume, when the vorticists sought to stir up civil war among the peaceful apes, it is doubtful they did so with mouths full of leek and onion.
When the mighty, clanging factories of Matlow, Maynards and Trebor first rose out of the north to spew forth processed sweets – individually wrapped Black Jacks, Refreshers and, ironically, Fruit Salads – containing no natural matter at all, we were at last free of the tyranny of the dirt. And as our children's teeth gnashed into these angular and unnatural solids, they were tasting the future. But our masters would not have it so. They fear our freedom.
Google the words "David Cameron", "fruit" and "vegetables" and you will find literally thousands of fruit-and-vegetable-laden images of the barely elected nest-cuckoo. Taxpayer-funded public relations consultants guide their photographers to snap at the laughing leader as, like some cycle-helmeted Marie Lloyd, he sits amongst the cabbages and peas, encouraging his followers to guzzle these putrid foods themselves.
Secretly, Cameron exists solely on a diet of nothing but Eton mess, a dessert concocted from strawberries, cream, meringue, mess and pieces of digestives left over from the historic "biscuit game", still played in Eton dormitories on the day of the costly school's annual cricket contest against Winchester College. But, typically, while Cameron guzzles the mess of the elite, he expects you and I to suck our nourishment from the dirt.
Why this sudden national mania for fruits, this state-sponsored enthusiasm for vegetables, despite the warning emanating, as it has done so many times before, from Germany, historically the land of long shadows, where even the bean sprouts carry the curse of Cain? As usual, the blame lies with a predictable unholy trinity of big business, our old friends on the right in global politics and an immortal race of psychic space-squid committed to the destruction of humanity which, even now, slowly but surely, are drawing their plans against us.
Let me explain. Google again, but this time add to "fruits" and "vegetables" the names Angela Merkel, Silvio Berlusconi, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Robert Mugabe and Vince Cable and you will see a similar visual smorgasbord as before. Where once they would have cuddled babies or posed in front of war planes, now they nestle up to nectarines and pat parsnips.
The power brokers of the world are all friends of fruits and they are all in bed with vegetables, literally in the case of Berlusconi. (Though it must be stressed that the vegetables received no payment for the time they spent with the Italian president and were at his villa only to appear in a lasagne.) Our leaders promote fruit and vegetables and use state-subsidised health bodies to exaggerate the vile organisms' nutritional values, because they are in league with the real global superpowers – the supermarkets.
Tesco, Lidl and the Co-op are hellbent on flogging their valueless vegetables and their foul fruits to saps such as you and me for enormous profits. When Ahmadinejad gave planning permission to knock down Sheikh Lotf Allah mosque and build the world's largest Tesco, full to the brim of fruits and vegetables and slap bang in the middle of Isfahan's Naqsh-e Jahan Square, alarm bells should have rung at the emergence of the ultimate evil alliance. Instead, we sleep-munched our way to oblivion. Are you enjoying your celery? Yes. Idiot.
Understand this. It is obvious that those who most enjoy fruit and vegetables seem to have little to show for their sordid enthusiasms. Perhaps our ancestor the monkey's failure to evolve is directly linked to his fondness for fruits? The very name of the fruit fly speaks of a distinct lack of dietary ambition. The peach potato aphid likewise. Our enemy the slug is happy to live on purloined lettuce, dying cloaked in shame with little to show for its life. And a dedication to the cause of the carrot seems to have done little for rabbit civilisation, doomed to a network of stinking underground burrows or to degrading hutches in infant-school play areas.
Eating fruit and vegetables keeps you simple and stupid. It is no coincidence that they are the favoured foodstuff of athletes and sports people, simpletons who can be tricked into leaping and running upon the sound of a pistol, for no obvious practical purpose. And this is the way the Masters of the World want us dancing to their tune.
Ever wonder why our leaders seem so blase about global warming and the imminent collapse of the planet's ecosystem? It is because their seats on the shuttle out of here are already booked. The deal is done. The psychic space-squid orbit the Earth in vast clouds, protected from military attack on the understanding that they will preserve our leaders on some faraway world, while we obediently eat the vegetables and fruits our governments recommend to us, deadening our spirits, priming us for the first horrible probings of the tentacles from the stars. Eat your five a day. Eat them all up. There's a good slave.
On Sunday, at 2.26 in the afternoon, a man claiming to be the transport correspondent of the Daily Telegraph rang me up asking me why I had described Michael McIntyre as ‘spoon-feeding his audience warm diarrhoea’. I hung up, assuming it was some weird prank call, like the people who ring me at 3am asking when I am going to play Leamington Spa, and wake up the baby. I mean, why would the transport editor of the Telegraph be asking me about a line from a routine I did in 2009?
The next day in an article in the Telegraph, the transport editor David Milward, whose last three pieces have been about a flying car, mileage clocks, and bio-fuels, tried his driving-gloved hand at writing about stand-up. He explained how Michael McIntyre was unhappy about comedians making fun of him. I had declined to comment, apparently. It seems the transport editor of the Daily Telegraph really does have my mobile number after all. He probably has my PIN number too then and will delete important messages in the event of my murder. In the current climate, I now have to change my phone number. Bollocks.
What had happened, it transpires, was this. TV’s Michael McIntyre had been on Sunday morning’s Desert Island Discs, where the presenter Kirsty Young had confronted him, as evidence that he was hated by comedians, with a quote from my act, in which I said he spoon feeds his audience warm diarrhoea. The line comes 2,673 words in to a 27,190 word, 105 minute show, 2009’s If You Prefer A Milder Comedian Please Ask For One, which takes McIntyre, and the Frankie Boyle/Jeremy Clarkson offence model, as polarised extremes of comedy, between which I try to find a third way.
The show opens with me attempting to give audiences what the struggling stand-up Stewart Lee imagines they want, namely a McIntyre-style routine about high street coffee shops. I cast the audience in the role of baffled onlookers as I try to complete this normal routine, while being continually distracted, over a 20-minute period, by invective and Nineties style pirate whimsy.
When the audience fail to respond to me reading out a letter from an angry pirate, I say to them, in desperation: ‘You have my sympathy, you know? It’s 2010. It’s a weird time for stand-up. ’Cause you, you sit at home, don’t you, all of you, watching Michael McIntyre on the television, spoon-feeding you his warm diarrhoea. I’m not going to be doing that. I haven’t noticed anything about your lives. They’re not of interest to me. This is a letter from a pirate. It’s not about going to the shops or anything.’
I wasn’t being interviewed. I was in character. Context, Kirsty Young, you are better than this. As Morrissey said to you on air: ‘Your pretty face is going to hell.’
Later on in the same stand-up show, raging off mic from a theatre box as part of a 15-minute offstage freakout about how all my DVDs are downloaded illegally by hipsters, I call the millions who queue up to buy McIntyre’s ‘captured partisans digging their own graves’.
The case is overstated, for comic effect. I’m not going to pretend I like McIntyre’s work in of itself, and would hate this piece to be misconstrued as an apology, though I do find much to admire in him as a comedian, and the phenomena of the stadium-sized observational stand-up is, to me, both a fascinating and an amusing oddity. But the way the diarrhoea line was presented to him, shorn of set and setting, does make it read rather differently.
Doubtless someone with a search engine will turn up something horrible, but when I am asked about McIntyre in interviews, as all us comedians are now, I have learned to complement him on having converted a nation to the idea of stand-up as a viable entertainment option, and usually find a way to leaven any negative comments with positive ones, (though these are often edited out), even to the extent of expressing the genuine desire to be allowed to tour all his most famous routines myself, word for word, to see if their very familiarity would lend them to a tonal reinterpretation.
(Could the endless noticing of everyday quirks be delivered in such a way as to suggest they were the work of a vengeful and malevolent God, for example?) The on-stage Stewart Lee however, a more bitter man 20 minutes into a failed routine about coffee shops, thinks McIntyre is a purveyor of warm diarrhoea. As well he might.
McIntyre went on, on Desert Island Discs, to say how his attendance at the 2009 British Comedy Awards was ruined by comedians making fun of him, and how sad it was because his wife had bought a new dress, and he had won after all, beating me and Frankie Boyle for some spuriously defined gong. I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t there. I went once in 1992 and I’ve only been invited once since, when I was working anyway. It’s not my bag. I saw it on TV once and there was a big, frightened, unhappy snake writhing around on stage, and loads of drunk TV twats were laughing at it as it flailed miserably towards their coke-flecked tables.
Nevertheless, Monday’s Metro carried the following headline; ‘Michael McIntyre has told of his upset after fellow comedian Stewart Lee insulted him at the British Comedy Awards.’
I wasn’t at the British Comedy Awards, as I say, but by now the story seems to suggest that, in the moment of McIntyre’s triumph, I jumped up, banged the table with my fists, shouted something about diarrhoea, and tore his wife’s dress.
I wasn’t there, and yet I’m continually quoted as the focal point of the rudeness that upset him. Is there no-one who was actually there who could be named instead? Jonathan Ross mocked him from the Comedy Awards podium and Lee Mack had recently called McIntyre a ‘skipping cunt’ on stage in Canterbury. Why don’t they mention them instead?
For the record, I have met Michael McIntyre four times. In the Spring of 2005 he was hosting a show at the Tattershall Castle where I went to near silence, as I often did at circuit gigs, and he seemed keen and confident. A few weeks later I saw him in the street in Kilkenny, where he said he’d been ‘telling everyone how marvellous’ I was, like he was the Mayor or something. That summer, in Edinburgh, I stood near him and Jimmy Carr in a courtyard, but I don’t think we spoke. And at the BAFTAs last year, where you get a better class of TV cokehead, I shook his hand and wished him luck, even though his flamboyant manager, Addison Cresswell, had just whispered under his breath to me the half-serious threat: ‘Stop making fun of my boy or you might find your career peaks too soon.’
These days I mainly meet other comics at the 60 or so unpaid charity benefit shows I do every year, and I never see McIntyre at any of these, so I don’t know him. I don’t know anyone who knows him. I don’t know anything about him. I don’t want to. I want to keep him in my imagination as a phenomena. David Baddiel has warned me, in an unsolicited e-mail, that I am now too well known to do jokes about people because I will meet them and find they are all right, really. He has underestimated the full extent of my anti-social nature.
Anyway, today The Daily Mail has got hold of the story, so all sense and reason is out of the window now. Their chief rage monger, Jan Moir, censured in 2009 for her comments about the death of Boyzone’s Stephen Gately, wrote a column with the headline, ‘Heard the one about the right on comics who HATE the funniest man in Britain.’
There is very little point in trying to reason with The Daily Mail, and attempting to do appears to have driven Robin Ince mad. But once they have written a load of shit about you, it buzzes away in annoyance ruining your day, and you have to purge it somehow, and so thanks to Chortle for this opportunity to squeeze this one out.
Moir’s column about ‘foul-mouthed left-wing’ comics who hate Michael McIntyre is only to able to suggest two examples of this ‘cabal’, me and, bizarrely, Frankie Boyle, the paper’s default bête noir. Here we go, point by point, chop chop chop, Timber.
Firstly, I am not ‘foul mouthed’. I swear once in the 180 minutes of the first series of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, not at all in the 105 minutes of my last live show If You Prefer A Milder Comedian…, and only once in the 90 minutes of the previous live show, 41 Best Stand-Up Ever, when I describe Moir’s fellow Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn as a ‘cunt’, for saying the East Anglian sex worker murders were of no consequence. Michael McIntyre actually swears more than me.
Apparently I represent ‘a slime pit of unpleasantness’ and once again, a Mail newspaper de-contextualises one line from my 45 minute 2009 routine about Richard Hammond to prove this. The same routine also references the anti-PC brigade’s attempts to ‘upset the grieving relatives of Stephen Gately’, an explicit nod towards Moir herself, who either chose to ignore this, didn’t understand it, or hasn’t watched the piece. (You decide).
Ironically, because people like Jan Moir mean it’s impossible now to employ any degree of comic ambiguity for fear of them choosing to misrepresent it, the DVD of the bit actually ends with the line, to camera, “I don’t really think Richard Hammond should die. What I was doing there, as everyone here in this room now understands, just in case there’s anyone from the Mail on Sunday watching this, is I was using an exaggerated form of the rhetoric and the implied values of Top Gear to satirise the rhetoric and the implied values of Top Gear. And it is a shame to have to break character and explain that. But hopefully it will save you a long, tedious exchange of emails.’
Again, Jan Moir either chooses to ignore what is, essentially, a direct address to her, or else she hasn’t watched the bit.
Mail and Mail on Sunday writers who hadn’t seen the Hammond bit continually misrepresented it in search of scandal, as they did with Jerry Springer The Opera, which I contributed to, but when their own critic finally went to see the show he concluded; ‘In context, nothing Lee says [about Richard Hammond] is offensive.’ How about some joined-up thinking?
Moir continues: ‘Lee claims he was making a point about bullying, but the viciousness is breathtaking. Which brings us to Frankie Boyle, the malcontent Scottish comedian who thinks it is funny to make jokes about child rape, Madeleine McCann and, famously, Katie Price’s blind, autistic son, Harvey.’
No. What I do does not ‘bring us to Frankie Boyle’, because I don’t do anything about child rape, Madeleine McCann or Harvey Price or anything like any of that; and it doesn’t bring us to Frankie Boyle because he has neither been quoted as commenting on Michael McIntyre or ever been described as left-wing and PC and liberal, which surely makes him utterly irrelevant to both the title and the supposed content of Jan’s silly article.
At least this time The Mail have misrepresented me, my mother isn’t here to be embarrassed by her Daily Mail reading friends, pitying her for having a son who would do and say all these things, that I didn’t really do or say.
There is no story here, no facts, no names, nothing. Perhaps Jan Moir knows this, and this is why she has appended this Boyle irrelevance to the end of it, and conjured a cabal of McIntyre-hating foul-mouthed left-wing comedians, without actually being able to name a single example of anyone who fits this bill.
And, prior to Frankie Boyle’s joke about Jordan’s son, the last time the public spontaneously moved against someone on the grounds of taste and decency, it was against Jan Moir herself. To paraphrase her own comments on Boyle: ‘You might think there would not be a rock in the country big enough for (Jan Moir) to crawl under and disappear for ever.’ Moir’s piece is diarrhoea. And it’s not even warm.
The problem with doing jokes about McIntyre is that it’s become a cliché. Everyone’s doing them, and by the time I got to record my Michael McIntyre song for TV in January I was already aware it was dead in the water, though thankfully it was cut short by people walking out bored. To quote Simon Munnery, a greater comedian than anyone mentioned on this page, and one who has never won a British Comedy Award,: ‘When the crowd get behind you you’re probably facing the wrong way.’
But it is necessary for people to be reminded that there is more than one way of doing stand-up, as McIntyre’s observational shtick becomes a gold standard, and young comics think their only chance of success is to get a slot on his roadshow.
I’ve made the point, in a piece for the Independent, that McIntyre’s ubiquity means ‘alternative’ comics do, for the first time since the ’70s, have a clearly visible mainstream to define themselves in opposition to, and this has benefitted me, for example, enormously I think.
But, despite the suggestion that he has been victimised by Frankie Boyle’s imaginary liberal cabal, McIntyre is a very powerful figure. Indeed, I once, mistakenly in retrospect, pretended to be Michael McIntyre and, for a joke, rang up a famous comedian who had made fun of him. The panicked 15- minute apology he gave me before I’d even had a chance to reveal myself spoke volumes about the influence he is perceived as wielding.
The downside of all this nonsense, apart from having to change my phone number and waste a whole morning during Edinburgh preview season writing this righteous blow off, is that I would still really love to do a tour re-interpreting Michael’s routines, but I expect all this makes that dream even less likely to be fulfilled.
On the positive side, my wife worked for The Daily Mail as a researcher in the early Noughties and, as a punishment for this, whenever it runs a stupid made-up story about something I’ve worked on, I make her have sex with me.
So far The Mail has made up stuff about Jerry Springer The Opera and the 41st Best Stand-Up set, and so now we have two beautiful children. A third will soon be on the way. And I will name him Michael. Michael McIntyre Diarrhoea Lee.
Does comic 'bravery' go hand in hand with being offensive and stupid? It's a mistake to think a comedian is validated because their material is perceived as being 'brave'
Sunday 13 November 2011
Ricky Gervais is an actor, writer, and director. He is brave. I am a standup. I am not brave. I only ever did one brave thing. In 2005, I agreed, while drunk, to jump off the tallest structure in New Zealand. New Zealanders' high living standards mean they are driven to create artificial jeopardy, usually involving jumping off things, stamping their bare feet on hard mud, or eating deceptively hot pies from roadside vendors.
illustration for Stewart Lee column Illustration by David Foldvari.
Visitors to the Auckland Sky Tower can freefall from 650 feet at 60 miles an hour. A brake kicks in for the last 10 feet, so you realise what it would be like to die, but don't. I panicked, and started telling the men that I didn't want to do it, but I was already on a ledge high over the city so they just snapped the clips and pushed me off. As I fell I realised that one day I would be dead, that the world would continue without me, and that I was nothing. I wish I'd just eaten the pies.
Members of the public are always telling standups that we must be very brave. Some of you who have told me this are a fireman, a community policewoman, and a mercenary who chases Somalian pirates. The fireman is half right, I suppose. Once extinguished, a fire is done. However, an extinguished heckler can later go on an internet forum and say I'm shit and that he hopes various women I know are raped.
You say standups must be brave because anything can happen in a live comedy show, and that's true, but only within certain parameters. The laws of physics will remain constant. Gravity will not reverse. Giant moths will not swoop down and carry the comedian away. And while Eddie Izzard always dresses as a woman before performing, the average comedian is unlikely to change gender mid-gag, like a west African frog.
I have, however, seen some of you physically attack standups onstage. And I even saw one of you wave a gun during the young David Baddiel's act in a Montreal club in 1997. The gunwoman's defence, namely that she had been sent back from the future to avert a catastrophic event called "Baddielageddon", was dismissed as fantasy by the arresting officers, perhaps with indecent haste.
A confusion seems to exist in your minds that a comedian is somehow validated by doing material that you perceive as being "brave". Lenny Bruce was brave to challenge orthodoxies in front of audiences peppered with FBI agents aiming to arrest him. Chubby Roy Brown is not brave to sing a pro-golliwog song in front of loads of people who, from the YouTube clip, seem to be all disproportionately enthusiastic about golliwogs. Perhaps it was a private booking for a golliwog enthusiasts' group?
But as ideas of what's acceptable change, it can be difficult for comedians to know if, at any particular point in time, we are being brave and clever, or offensive and stupid. For example, in 2008, the standup comedian Russell Brand was censured by the Yorkshire Michael Parkinson, having joked to an old Mexican grandad about having sex with a goth. Back in February 1977, the letters page of the Radio Times carried a letter from a viewer criticising Michael Parkinson for laughing along to Bernard Manning's "racist" jokes on his TV chat show.
Was Russell Brand "brave" to have joshed the old man about the goth sex? Was Manning "brave" to be racist in the 70s, even though racism was largely thought of as ace until UB40's first album, Signing Off, discredited it? And would Michael Parkinson have thought it was OK for Russell Brand to do the old Mexican grandad goth sex prank if he had used the Baddielogeddon portal to go back 40 years in time and do it in a comedy Pakistani voice?
Today, furious internet commentators, and cab drivers who vaguely recognise me, think the bravery of a comedian is measured by their willingness to tackle the hot potato of Islam. (Yes, I know it is forbidden in the Koran to warm a potato, even accidentally. This is merely a figure of speech. I meant nothing by it. I was not trying to be brave.) Here is a selection of almost three unsolicited emails the BBC received during my last TV outing, from people desperate to see Muslims mocked, both implying my lack of bravery.
"Dear BBC, I enjoyed Stewart Lee's making fun of Chris Moyles on TV last night. I look forward to him mocking the Prophet Mohammed in the same way next week, or wouldn't that be 'politically correct'?" And, "Dear BBC, I enjoyed watching Stewart Lee making jokes about crisps last night. But I doubt we will be seeing him having a go at any Muslim snacks in the near future. It appears there's one law for crisps and quite another for spicy bombay mix." These two emails, which were both sent by Norris McWhirter, are not real. But there are many like them that are.
Islam is not the comedy taboo the fictional Norris McWhirter imagines it to be. Many standups, and often those of an Islamic background, do make informed jokes about Muslims. So where can the would-be brave comedian go to prove his bravery? Well, just as he did with The Office nearly 30 years ago, once again, the self-styled "little fat bloke" Ricky Gervais has shown us all the way.
On his blog last month, Gervais claimed to be working on a sitcom about a "lovely little feller" called Derek, and linked to a YouTube clip of himself as Derek Noakes, a 38-year-old man whose non-specific mental condition, with some superficial similarities to Down's syndrome, and vulnerability to sexual abuse, are the source of some typically opaque Gervaisian irony. Morgana Robinson's eponymous C4 series featured Gilbert, a foolish "special needs" boy and his disabled friends, but it looks as if the glamorous comedienne's bravery is about to be eclipsed by Gervais'.
Gervais's fans have already praised his brave reclamation of the word "mong" last month, but his decision to make comedy about the mentally handicapped more explicitly may be the heroic multimillionaire actor-writer-director's bravest yet. To return to our opening metaphor, if "mong" is a hot pie, Derek Noakes is the full Sky Tower.
It would, doubtless, be brave for Gervais to pursue his Derek Noakes sitcom. It would be braver for him to staple his penis to a wolf. And braver still for him to run into a threshing machine, pushing children in wheelchairs in before him. But watching Gervais's Derek Noakes on YouTube, I imagined feral children trailing real Dereks around supermarkets, chanting "Derek Derek", as they doubtless would were the series to be made, and wondered if, sometimes, discretion is not the better part of valour.
Stewart Lee's Christmas message Lee fondly imagines the formative festive experiences he should have had in London (but didn’t)
Like so many of my generation, I came to London in the mid-’70s in search of sensation; the legendary Hope and Anchor pub-rock scene of the Feelgoods and Ducks Deluxe; the then exotic delights of London’s take-away food community: Italian pizza, Indian curry, Kentucky chicken and Chinese Chinese; the availability of cheap speed; and, above all, the lure of a London Christmas. For was it not Brinsley Schwarz himself who said, ‘If an epicure could remove by a wish, in quest of sensual gratifications, wherever he had Eastered, he would Christmas in London.’
But even in the ’70s, so many of the London Christmas traditions that had duffed Dickens’s plum were fading. My first London Yule, Graham Parker of The Rumour took me to see the Hackney Christmas Rat. Every December 23, the Hackney Christmas Rat would poke his head up from an open sewer and indicate, through a display of interpretive retching, whether the children of Hackney had been naughty or nice. If nice, the rat would have spiced urinal cakes flung at him by Pearly Kings. If naughty, his head would be blown off with a sawn-off shotgun. In ’76, it was curtains for the Christmas Rat. Wired to fuck, Parker laughed so hard he dropped his peshwari and blew warm Truman’s down his whizzy konk!
Sometime between Christmas and New Year ’78 and I’m on Westminster Bridge with the Kursaal Flyers, awaiting the passing of the Danish Arse Barge. Ninth-century Viking connections meant that, each year, the Danish embassy sent a slow moving torch-lit barge along the river, festooned with elderly Danes dressed as Thor and Odin, elegantly baring their bottoms to the accompaniment of sombre bassoon music. A thoroughly ripped Will Birch was so amused he spewed a Directors into the river and lost a spring roll and a schnozwrap over the railings.
I have guzzled ampheto-nog at The Nashville with Kilburn and the Highroads, and dressed up as Tiny Tim with Eggs Over Easy for the Massed Camden Limp, fuzzed on Fuller’s and whites. But those days are gone. What have you got, kids? The Saturdays singing so-called R ’n’ B on Oxford Street, you barely buzzed on alcopops and plant food, and Hyde Park full of fake German fairgrounds, like pre-punk never happened. Merry Christmas, London. You’re welcome to it.
Shame on you, Alex Salmond, for selling us out to the Bullingdon Club The loss of 5.5 million Scots would mean 5.5 million fewer voices to say no to Cameron's cronies
5 February 2012
Britons from Scotland are the butt of many jokes. They are, apparently, financially cautious, fond of liquor and mistrustful of fruit. They delight in sexualised invertebrate torment and underestimate in their provision for female public toilets. And they over-indulge in recreational drug abuse. In fact, one of the few insults witty enough to be forgivable is Samuel Johnson's playful 1755 dictionary definition of the drug ketamine as "A tranquilliser, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people". But I don't think jokes such as this have spurred Scotland to sever England's apron strings.
Before I go any further, let me explain that, like all English broadsheet columnists, I absolutely love Scotland. I spent most of my 30s thinking I was Scottish, before realising I had misread my adoption papers. But would I have been Scottish had I been made of Scottish sperms but raised as English? Or is national identity the result of cultural conditioning? Wee Jimmy Krankie, winner of the Most Scottish Person in the World 2003, aside, who is Scottish anyway?
Curiously, as a teenager, I enjoyed all the Scottish indie bands – the Cateran, the Primevals, and del Amitri (first album only); in my 20s, I was inspired by quintessentially Scottish writers – Neil M Gunn, George MacKay Brown and Ossian the bard; cheap Scottish shortbread sustained me in the lean years of my 30s; and, more recently, it was that treacly Scottish heroin that finally freed my imagination to make me the important artist I am today. I even spent my honeymoon, admittedly in error, in Shetland in December 2006. And when I first crossed the border, to the Edinburgh fringe in 1987, I felt I was coming home.
Realising I wasn't Scottish left me bereft. I no longer had any genetic claims to the heathery Highlands or the literary high grounds. Alex Salmond's self-satisfaction with imminent Scottish independence is understandable, but he reminds me of the mayor of a small provincial town, who has got ideas above his station, because his brother in law has a cow that defecates ice-cream; the sort of cocky provincial mayor who then topples off a stepladder while unveiling a statue of the cow, which has made the town rich, and falls into a trough of its frozen anal produce. I would love to put the case for non-independence to Alex Salmond but I doubt he would speak to me again.
I first met Alex Salmond at a reception for young English playwrights at the new Scottish Parliament during the Edinburgh fringe festival in 2004. The event celebrated a scheme whereby we collaborated with Scottish translators to make our work saleable north of the border, a process that involved the painstaking insertion into our texts of thousands of swearwords, such as cunt and fuck. I attended the event with Mark Ravenhill, whose 1996 play, Shopping, had been retitled Shopping and Fucking for its hit 1997 Edinburgh run. This Scottish On Stage Swearing Initiative had led to the massive popularity with Edinburgh fringe theatre audiences of a newly sworn-up version of Richard Thomas's Jerry Springer: The Opera, to which I had helped contribute a further 6,000 new obscenities specifically for the Scottish market.
At the event, Alex Salmond and I were standing next to a buffet overflowing with Scottish produce, – venison, Baxters soup, Highland Toffee, shortbread, heroin and salmon. "I'm sorry," I said, "I didn't catch your name." "Alex Salmond," Alex Salmond said, but because we were standing near the salmon at the time, and because he had a Scottish accent, I assumed Alex Salmond had said: "I like salmon." So I said: "Yes. I like salmon too, but what is your name?" Again, he said: "Alex Salmond." And I said: "Yes. I like salmon too, as I said, I like all the Scottish foods. What did you say your name was?" After a further 15 minutes of this, and in a prophesy of future national relations, I Like Salmon walked quietly away with his financial backer, Brian Souter, the bus magnate accused of homophobia whose fleet of vehicles may yet ship undesirables south.
As someone who once thought he was Scottish, I understand more than anyone Scotland's anger at the English. Directives from Westminster seem more irrelevant to we Scots than ever, now that the cabinet is essentially an elitist cabal run by former members of the exclusive, window-smashing dining society, the Bullingdon Club. And none of them is Scottish either, apart from the bad-news patsy Danny Alexander and the eel-faced Trot fantasist and yacht fancier Michael Gove, who is adopted anyway, and could have ended up being raised anywhere in the UK, and so cannot make any especial claims for being anything but an orphan with a grudge.
But what the Scots must understand is that the Bullingdon Club cabinet has as little in common with the average English person as it does with the average Scot. If 5.5 million largely non-Conservative-voting Scots sever their links with us, there are 5.5 million fewer of us to say no to Bullingdon Club rule.
Mel Gibson's 1995 film Braveheart, while an admittedly appalling and historically inaccurate confection of gay-hating fascist propaganda, did inspire the desire for Scottish independence at grass roots. But the abysmal film is not without a certain nobility. Its closing reel takes place at the battle of Bannockburn, the garden of Eden of modern Scotland's Genesis myth. Robert the Bruce, who betrayed Braveheart at Falkirk and is now a puppet king loyal to the English, turns on his masters, liberating the Scottish people. At its simplest, this scene is about the Scots defeating the English. But it is also about doing the right thing, about a powerful figure going to the aid of those in need.
In turning his back on us, the English, in our hour of need against the common enemy of the Bullingdon Club government, Alex Salmon is not the Robert the Bruce of the battle of Bannockburn, noble and brave. He is the Robert the Bruce of the battle of Falkirk, a self-interested turncoat, piercing the heart of the everyman Wallace with the lance of his own vanity and pride and leaving the body, like the body politic of the nation of England, to be castrated by David Cameron and have its once erect British penis flung into the air to be snatched by pigeons and ducks. In short, Salmon is something no son of Wallace would ever want to be. A coward, fleeing the good fight, and leaving those who fight on to suffer their fates alone. I never thought I'd say it. But today Alex Salmon makes me glad I am not Scottish after all.
I've never thought that Stewart Lee has produced anything that was truly crap, but this is definitely banging on the door of shitedom.
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