July 26th 2010

Stewart Lee & Stephen Carlin

Everyman Screen on the Green
Edinburgh Preview - Friday, 23 July late

By Dan Collacott

It’s 11pm on a Friday night and I’m standing in the plush red confines of the Everyman Screen on the Green cinema in Islington. This doesn’t feel the sort of place you’d expect to see comedy, around me aren’t even the sort of people you’d expect to find at a stand up gig. There’s more Hoxton types with floppy hair wearing beanies and sunglasses indoors than you can shake a pair of skinny jeans at.

Opener Stephen Carlin finds said audience a tough one to warm up as for some reason the participation and interest in him is slightly muted by the degree of middle class smugness and lack of inebriation present. Never the less the wily Scot is sublimely undeterred; dressed in a Beatle’s style military jacket he soon hits his stride. Carlin even finds an audience member willing to engage with him on the subject of putting curses on people. The exchange involving Argos staff and school teachers is as intriguing as it is funny, the comic often seeming more comfortable adlibbing than delivering his written material. Having said that Carlin strikes gold when delivering sharp observations on Britishness, exclaiming loudly how the British coat of arms should contain a double-decker bus crashed into a low bridge rather than a crowned Lion that you can’t find in this country and a unicorn that doesn’t exist. The Scot also digs out some gems on everything from Ryan Air, British alcoholism to Buzz Aldrin; I felt annoyed by the fact I have never seen his act before and definitely now wanted to see more.

It’s already midnight before Stewart Lee comes on stage, and he is almost apologetic about the time and the potential length of the material he’s about to perform. Of course the crowd greet him with warmth and adoration on a level that borders on hero worship. No-sooner has the applause died down and Stew is elbow deep in the sort of biting cut-throat social commentary and satire that brought him back to our TV screens on the Beeb last year (long overdue).

The new material is a tester/preview of his upcoming Edinburgh set and the talented stand up is on top form this evening, never missing a beat throughout a set that lurches from the surreal to the political in a heartbeat. Skits on his Granddad’s obsession with crisps are wedged between brilliant yet fictional anecdotes about University collaborations with David Cameron and ruthless deconstructions of celebrity fund raising. The merciless attack on comedians and b-list celebrities doing charity work to enhance their own reputations follows a theme that has run throughout much of Stew’s recent work. Few of the overpaid TV elite are safe from his barbs, with Russell Howard (the entire Mock The Week crew), Adrian Chiles (talking Tobey Jug), Horne and Corden all in the firing line.

References to Keith Chegwin, BP and the Bullington Club keep his material fresh and topical, with the latter proving good enough value for the comic to write and perform a song about. Curiously, the subject matter of the musical number in question is comic but the delivery is as serious as if Thom Yorke himself were singing it. Certainly you get the feeling that Stew’s love of music and more than evident musical talent is something he wants to explore more.

By just after 2am an audience that started fairly subdued are fully embracing the occasion, the plush surrounds providing a level of respect and relaxed atmosphere that is refreshingly different from the usual boozy shouty nature of most weekend comedy nights.  If tonight was anything to go by I am looking forward to seeing Stephen K Amos and Terry Alderton in the same surrounds next Friday.


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