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      Liverpool Philharmonic, March 3

      Stewart Lee has stated in his writing, and again in his performance at The Phil that he always enjoys the gigs he does in Liverpool, but has always suffered from bad reviews here in the past. It is a genuine pleasure for me to reverse this trend.

      To perform an hour and a half of good stand up comedy is difficult; to deliberately subvert the material and your own delivery while you are doing it is seemingly insane; to maintain a consistent hit rate of laughs throughout such an exercise is miraculous. Stewart Lee can perform miracles.

      By his own admission, he has no proper material for this tour – mainly due to the fact that he has become a father and spends most of his free time with a four year old son who is obsessed with straight-to-dvd Scooby Doo adventures. Because of this, his possible sources of humour have been narrowed down. Many other comedians would struggle with this kind of comedic sensory deprivation, but not Lee. He has chosen instead to focus onto the problem itself: without readily available sources, is it possible to maintain laughter over an extended period of time while only dissecting one or two seemingly uninteresting subjects? It is, and he does.

      Other comedians have never been safe from Lee – even his own personal friends – but it was a delight to see him prancing around the stage in a mockery of Michael Mcintyre, attempting to do observational comedy and deliberately failing.

      He also had a small pop at local hero John Bishop, but I think this is more to do with his perverse desire to alienate his audience at every possible opportunity to see if he can then get them onside again rather than any actual dislike of Bishop.

      To further alienate the audience he divides them into two groups: those who ‘get’ what he is doing, and those who don’t.

      This has, of course, been a staple of his act for a while now, but it is still an amazing leap for a comedian to take nevertheless: to accuse the audience, rather than himself, of being the supposedly disappointing element in the partnership, chide them for not being up to the job, while still making them roar with laughter, is a unique approach.

      For the most part, deliberateness is at the heart of Stewart Lee’s performance. Whether he succeeds or fails with something is his decision. I say for the most part because I know from his writing that he does like to leave some elements of his shows to chance, ad-libbing certain words on the night, and going wherever an audience response might lead him.

      Ultimately, this is the genius of what he does: he can forge material into gold no matter what it is or how it is received, sometimes in spite of both, and hopefully he takes as much pleasure from this as he gave his audience at the Philharmonic. MN