Hard on the heels of Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson’s latest gaff comes The ‘If You Prefer a Milder Comedian, Please Ask For One’ EP, a short book that works in a similar fashion to How I Escaped My Certain Fate, Stewart Lee’s last book (Lee tells us to
View that book as a 12’ vinyl album, such as The Specials’ 1979 debut, and this is a complementary EP, such as The Special AKA Live!, with live tracks and otherwise unavailable tunes, and issued after the album’s release to exploit consumer interest in the first product while a more substantial follow-up is prepared.)
We get the full script of a set together with footnotes and bookended by an introduction, an afterword and an appendix. I mention Jeremy Clarkson because a significant portion of The ‘If You Prefer a Milder Comedian…’ set revolves around Top Gear and an imagined friendship that developed between Lee and Richard ‘The Hamster’ (‘He’s Not Really a Hamster’) Hammond.
This set came at a peculiar time for the professional underdog in that he’d just had a critically acclaimed TV series on BBC2 which meant he had to try different things in order to maintain that sense of distance and detachment he’d worked so hard to refine. In reality, Stewart Lee is becoming more and more popular and more and more (whisper it) understood. On stage, as Lee attempts to go further and further, challenging himself and his audience, the sense of him as a curmudgeonly outsider continues (arguably reaching its apotheosis in the moments when he drew attention to audience members leaving in series two of the Stewart Lee Comedy Vehicle).
So, we have a set that opens with a comedy routine Lee has styled in the vein of Michael McIntyre, involving the purchase of a coffee. This then segues into a riff on McIntyre and Frankie Boyle who, for Lee, represent the twin pillars of modern comedy (a riff that, again arguably, was revived during the aforementioned series 2 of SLCV in an inspired take on Russell Howard – Lee is sometimes like Samuel Beckett’s dog, chained to its own vomit). From here we lead into an occasionally savage filleting of Top Gear and Richard ‘The Hamster’ (‘He’s Not Really a Hamster’) Hammond that somehow manages to anticipate and respond to the controversy it will inevitably generate. Finally, the set concludes with Lee manufacturing a family history in which his agricultural ancestors said a line that was later ‘stolen’ by Magners in an advertising campaign. This leads into Lee breaking the final comedy barrier (sincerity), covering an old Steve Earle classic called ‘Galway Girl’, which was itself ruined by an advert.
Of course, reading the set within the pages of a book is not the ideal way to experience it – you should pick it up (by buying it, from a shop) and then get this book – because this book is an ideal companion piece, filling you in on the thinking behind what he was doing in a most chucklesome manner. Just remember: it is an EP so you might find yourself devouring it too quickly and needing another Stewart Lee fix soon. Thankfully he’s on tour throughout the UK in the first half of the year (I have my tickets) and then we have another book to look forward to after that (entitled TV Comedian, coming in the second half of 2012, we can but hope it’s a similar treatment for all the episodes of the TV show).
Any Cop?: Very much so. More please!