Stewart Lee’s decision to do two nights of the same tour at the Cambridge Corn Exchange (the previous was May 2015) was a mistake. A big mistake that he is quick to criticise and punish the audience for.
Within the opening few minutes he has threatened to strike our faces with his microphone stand before smashing our mobile phones and then defecating on their shattered remains. Newcomers to Lee’s work tittered nervously, but the more seasoned majority encouraged them to accept his aggressive tone of disappointment as his very raison d’être. Cambridge settled in to have its middle class guilt magnified, mocked and mollified.
The tour was intended to workshop and develop material for the not-quite-Bafta winning Comedy Vehicle (Graham Norton gets a faux-bashing for being the undeserving winner for his lesser shower, dismissed as simply ‘chatting’). The new series has since been recorded, so the audience are treated to the final polished version with the barbs at their very sharpest. When we applaud a well sign-posted throwback joke we are quickly knocked backed for our pathetic desire to applaud our own capacity for memory: the audience’s lust for Lee’s criticism feels borderline sadomasochistic, but the rewards are so very rich.
Frankie Boyle, Katharine Ryan, Ed Byrne, Sarah Millican and Dylan Moran continue the Corn Exchange’s comedy programme over the coming months.