“Whatever you say Stewart Lee is, that’s what he’s not” – March of the Lemmings by Stewart Lee

As you’ll no doubt know if you’re a long time reader (or if you’ve even glimpsed our reviews of How I Escaped My Certain Fate, The If You Prefer a Milder Comedian, Please Ask for One EP and Content Provider), we like Stewart Lee. We don’t think he’s a has-been and we’re not one of the people who think he isn’t funny.

March of the Lemmings collects all of his Guardian columns between 2016 and 2019 and marries them up with the annotated script of his Content Provider show which played for some 200 plus dates the year before last. It used to be that there was just Stewart Lee (person in the world) and Stewart Lee (stand-up comedian); now there is Stewart Lee (person in the world), Stewart Lee (stand-up comedian) and Stewart Lee (newspaper columnist). None of these Stewart Lee’s are the same Stewart Lee. “What are you talking about?” you might ask. The thing is this: Stewart Lee’s comedy is frictive. It relies on the idea of some people not getting it. He’s forever dividing up his audiences into those who get it, who are quick to laugh, and the people who are (not really) slower on the uptake. Similarly, his newspaper columns are provocative. They take a position designed to inflame some people. They include deliberate errors to bring the holier than thou, sanctimonious Guardian readers out of the woodwork. In lots of ways, whatever you say Stewart Lee is, that’s what he’s not (except now that I’ve said that, Stewart Lee will change things up – whatever you say Stewart Lee is, that’s exactly what he is – except now that I’ve written that, Stewart Lee will change things up – whatever Stewart Lee says Stewart Lee is, that’s what he’s not – except now that I’ve written that, there’ll be an argument between Stewart Lee the man, Stewart Lee the comedian and Stewart Lee the newspaper columnist about which Stewart Lee holds the eye and can talk at that particular time – it could all get a bit messy). And within the pages of this book, we get footnotes where he comments on the difference between each of the different Stewart Lee’s (and shares actually very lovely biographical detail that humanise the rants and the rails and the fantastic splurges of diabolical fantasy) and also endnotes drawn from the kinds of comments left beneath the articles when they ran (it’s fair to say that people fucking hate Stewart Lee).

The book is called March of the Lemmings. You don’t have to know much about Stewart Lee (or read more than a couple of newspaper columns) to know he’s an ardent remainer (remoaner) – no, he isn’t / yes, he is etc. So if you’re angry with David Cameron or Theresa May or Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg or Nigel Farage or Aaron Banks or any of those other scumbags, this is very definitely the place to come. But he’s also critical of Corbyn (as he should be) – and this in turn raises the ire of the below the line commentators. March of the Lemmings is basically the equivalent of the man who currently spends his time walking across Minecraft (there is a man who once had a job who gave up his job to walk across Minecraft – the game – and now describes himself as an explorer on his passport and makes, apparently, ridiculous sums of money). You could ask why would a person, a right thinking person, devote so much of his time and energy to something that is so obviously a car crash in slow motion. And that is just the kind of Groucho Marx, not wanting to be part of any club that would have him as a member, that Stewart Lee – one of the Stewart Lee’s, maybe two of the Stewart Lee’s, although they’d never sit at the same table in a pub – would enjoy.

Given that these are historical deadline driven pieces, they are, as you’d expect, ripe with terrible irony and genuine sadness (to see how Boris Johnson looms into view and then disappears from sight and have Stewart Lee refer to the way he appears to be gone now – well, it fair breaks your heart – “he comes back, Stew,” you want to say, “worse than ever! There’s a coup, Stew! Help us!”). But there is also beautiful burning indignation that us people with brains need to keep us going through the imminent Mad Max style winters (and springs, summers and autumns that are heading our way):

“…the day when Boris Johnson cynically accused the pro-Europe and ‘part-Kenyan’ President Obama of being ancestrally ill-disposed towards Britain marks the moment at which the mayor of London changed from being merely a twat into a full-blown cunt.”

Well, quite, you might say. (Or not.) What fans of Stewart Lee will tell you is that Lee is a craftsman. He’s painstaking. You can take him out of context, and make people think something is true that isn’t (happens a lot to Stewart Lee), but if you take the time to pay attention (as the journalist who only reviewed half a show and was forced to return and review it properly will tell you), it pays dividends. This is best seen in his live shows which can stretch from 90 minutes to two hours (and can be viewed here, in March of the Lemmings, between p282 and 381). The newspaper columns feel accelerated. Lee turned up to 11. His frustrations are purer. His clowning antics are far sillier than he would stand in his live act. As such, you’re best not to read March of the Lemmings too fast. Don’t gulp it down. Take your time. Or better still, when your leave voting auntie and uncle pay you a visit read sections aloud for their enjoyment. For example,

“And I – and I don’t know if you can make massive generalisations about people that voted to leave Europe anyway, because people voted to leave Europe for all sorts of different reasons, you know, and it wasn’t just racists that voted to leave Europe. Cunts did as well, didn’t they? Stupid fucking cunts. Racists and cunts and people with legitimate anxieties about ever-closer political ties to Europe.”

Obviously I’m taking him out of context again and it may be that there are people who read the above and are outraged – just as they are intended to – and it’s not like you could say to the outraged “go and buy the book, you might like it” because it’s highly likely they wouldn’t buy the book and if they did, they wouldn’t like it at all. There’s no talking to some people.

Any Cop?: Obviously we like it. Which must make us part of the London liberal media elite. Despite the fact that we are poor and live in the North.

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