Stewart Lee isn’t exactly fishing for a new audience with his latest show, Carpet Remnant World. He still spends much time berating those sections of the room who don’t laugh at every single nuance of his comedy, accusing them of having been dragged along by friends.
Which is hard to believe. Most people will have seen his BAFTA award-winning television show, read his contributions to The Guardian, or listened to him speak on Radio 4. He is no longer the archetypal ‘comedian’s comedian’ he once was. Which is why there is something strange about his recent injunction to would-be comedy-seekers (to be found in his latest Guardian column) to avoid the area around Bristo Square and instead increase their “off-piste grazing”, without admitting that a show by one of the most lauded comics of our day in an opulent George Street venue is still firmly on-piste.
This doesn’t mean that Lee has somehow been rendered bourgeois or passé by association. He just seems unwilling to acknowledge and address his own commercial success, although it would be interesting to hear his take on it. Instead he has chosen as the central theme for his new show a mid-life crisis of sorts. But it’s difficult to believe, as he claims, that he has spent the past year or so driving from gig to gig and watching Scooby Doo with his children. One of the things that Lee does well as a performer is conceit and Carpet Remnant World is his most conceited show yet.
Although the aforementioned session of audience-berating seemed to add relatively little to the proceedings, in retrospect those moments take their place amongst other more varied routines, through which the portrait of the artist as an ageing man is realised. The show itself seems bitty, but all of its seemingly disparate parts—from his opening material about the news, to his long account of a literal drive in search of lost comedic inspiration—eventually unite to make something far more cohesive than any of his previous shows. On the basic criterion of humour, he remains very reliable. He is often attacked for being verbose or overly-intellectual, which isn’t exactly true. His most puerile jokes are often his funniest, and there is no dearth of them here.
It is true that he often labours the point. Those who have stuck with Lee for the past four or five years will certainly find this aspect of his performance a little tiresome by now; there certainly have been times where I have found him wearying. Thankfully, the difference between this show and previous ones became clear by the end. The entire thing is tied together by one big, rambling routine – a trademark of Lee’s – but here it serves a more unifying role than it has previously. Deceptively, Lee still manages to utilise the full contents of his comedy toolbox, while creating something which still feels fresh, even to someone well versed in his material.
Even though Lee seems determined not to fully acknowledge his reputation and position within the world of comedy—which still remains equal to, if not greater than, some of the young, fresh-faced ‘T-shirt wearing’ comics that he pillories with his usual gusto —this is forgiveable, because his focus is exactly where it should be: on his comedy. This show should cement his reputation as the foremost purveyor of comedy-as-art. Hats off to him for that.