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I BUM STEWART LEE
I BUM STEWART LEE
For my birthday, my inappropriately young girlfriend Trixie buys me two tickets to see my favourite stand-up comedian, Stewart Lee. He’s the edgy, handsome half of the duo that did 'Fist of Fun' in the nineties. For four years he was very hot. Then he wasn't. He spent a decade getting fat and doing increasingly bitter and surreal sets to uncomfortable social workers in provincial arts centres. Then he suddenly bounced back onto TV by accidentally co-writing 'Jerry Springer- The Opera'. Now, off the back of a Comedy Vehicle called 'Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle' he's doing an extended run at the Leicester Square theatre. Walking through Soho I'm going on about how great Stewart Lee is. Trixie says:
'You Bum him, don't you!'
When Trixie was at school in Sheffield, which wasn't very long ago, that’s what you used to say to a boy if he seemed to be getting too obviously affectionate towards another boy. I don't know him personally, but it's true; I Bum Stewart Lee.
Years in the wilderness have turned his smart - arse scepticism into a furious desperation. Cruelly toying with the sentimentality of the audience, he persuades them that the latest advertising slogan for Magner's Cider was plagiarized from his Nan's deathbed. Brilliant.
Continuing the theme, he fulminates over Magner's co - option of 'Galway Girl'; a song he'd associated with his beautiful Irish wife until Magner's killed it for him with a mawkish and irritating T.V campaign.
Silently, he picks up the acoustic guitar that's been sitting ominously by his side throughout the set. It's always an anxious moment when a stand-up comedian picks up an acoustic guitar...but Lee pulls off a well executed, possibly even moving rendition of Steve Earl's romantic ballad, segueing effortlessly into a biting satire of the drinks industry. Phew.
Without bothering to take a bow, Lee jogs up the aisle and vanishes behind a curtain, even as the punters applaud his comedic genius. I'm guessing he's dashing to escape the sycophantic mob. But I'm a bit hurt that he's in such a hurry to get away from us. From me.
We file out of the auditorium, into the foyer, and past the inevitable merchandising stall behind which is standing...Stewart Lee.
Imagine you'd gone to see, say, Waiting for Godot at the Royal Court, and you'd just come out of the theatre, still reeling from the existential shock of the absurd, Godless universe, that had just been played out before you. Then, just before you tearfully launched yourself back into the endless night of starlit futility, you turned round and saw Samuel Beckett standing in front of a row of DVD's and T-shirts, smiling wanly with a Sharpie in his hand. You'd be troubled. Disappointed. Appalled even. But you'd still get a signed T shirt off the Cricket-Playing-Modernist-Era-Defining-Sell-Out-Paddy-Cunt. And if he asked you for a blow job, well... you'd at least think about it. Come on, It's Samuel Beckett!!!
Our seats are at the back, so for a few moments it's just me and Trixie, smiling at Stewart Lee smiling awkwardly back. I know he feels awkward because after every gig on the last Alabama 3 tour they made me do exactly the same thing. Every trace of the mystique you've worked hard to accumulate during the gig is erased by the fact that you're now basically a monkey in a cage being forced to sell your own bananas at gunpoint. With pictures of your face on. What can I possibly say to him? Um...
I Know! Steve Earle! He played a Steve Earle song...We played a Steve Earle song on the first album...what was it called? Er... 'I Sound like I'm on Speed and I'm Lonely’. Yeah that's right, and we even played it on stage with Steve Earle! In 1998! In Galway!! I'm sure we did, I can remember Larry and Jake crying with joy and Steve Earle looking scared...
Now I've got an excuse to speak to Stewart Lee, man to man. He's an entertainer, I'm an entertainer. He plays Steve Earl, I play Steve Earl. He stands behind his own merchandising stall after gigs looking like a twat, and so do I. We are artists.
'Yeah, Stu, great show, yeah, ha, y'know its funny you should do that Steve Earl song cos er, we do a Steve Earl song in MY band'
'Oh, right. What band are you in?'
'Oh yeah...(pause) my wife's into your stuff...
He smiles warmly. Our eyes meet...and a memory unfurls. I'm in the back of the bus, Larry’s just given me a line, and we're giggling, giggling like schoolgirls and Larry is telling me about this good-looking Irish girl who used to come to the gigs, called Bethanie, or Bridie, or something. She was a real laugh, really funny, and she loved us, but she had to stop coming to the gigs cause her up-tight boyfriend, some ageing comedian, was worried that she was having to much fun. Jesus what a stiff! Ha Ha Ha! Rack 'em out Larry...
Christ. He hates us. Hates me. I'm in the band that tried to lead his beautiful wife, the mother of his first born boy - child into the gutter. Right now, He'd probably like me more if I'd said I was in Screwdriver.
'Oh right yeah...um... what was her name?'
'Oh... er yeah, ha, I don't remember, too many drugs, I suppose ha ha. Um. How much is that DVD?'
'Take it. You can have that one for free.'
He signs it, the bastard. He even puts a kiss on it. I thank him and shuffle out.
Home, in bed, sleep won't come. I stare at the ceiling. Bridget. Try as i might, I can't remember an Irish girl called Bridget. How much fun did she have on the bus? I remember watching another Stewart Lee routine on You Tube recently, where he talks about his one- year old son...surely not...No.
The next morning I call Larry. I was going to write about Stewart Lee, but now I'm not sure. I'll have to get my facts straight. In the course of these blogs I've already alienated half the band, Larry's missus, all of Britain's Hell's Angels, the lead singer of Echo and the Bunnymen...
Larry informs me that the girl in question wasn't called Bridget, and she wasn't Irish. And she wasn't going out with Stewart Lee.
It was Steve Coogan. Phew!
If there are any qualified psycho-analysts out there who would like to point out the moral of this story, I'd be happy to pay for their time.
© Orlando Harrison 2010