Friday, 14 June 2013

What Would Stewart Lee Do?

Stewart LeeThe problem of entering into any kind of debate on the internet is that, sooner or later, you eventually find yourself arguing with a died-in-the-skull idiot. That's what happened to me around midnight last night.

I really have to stop reading The Guardian and perhaps transfer my allegiance to The Independent. Not only do they knock back or ignore every article I submit to Comment is Free but their obsession with celebrity culture is sometimes worse than you find in the very worst of the toadying tabloids. At least the red tops write about celebrities. They don’t have the bastards knocking out 800 word articles on everything from handbag etiquette to global warming.

It was in the context of this that I’d expressed my continued disbelief that yet another bland article ostensibly written by a celebrity had been published in Comment is Free (as Orwell would say, more free for some than others) and I suggested that I’d like to see video footage of its author, Bill Nighy, actually bent over his laptop typing the article before I believed he’d written it himself. Only, unbeknownst to me (and I’d imagine that large number of people who know and enjoy Bill Nighy’s work but don’t know much about the man), Bill Nighy suffers from a condition known as ‘Dupuytren's Contracture’ which means that some of his fingers are permanently bent. As is the case with too many Guardian readers who only seem to take pleasure in finding offense in everyone and everything, one clown jumped to the conclusion that my ‘bent over the laptop’ quip was taken as a mocking insult about Bill Nighy’s disability.

It always interests me this question as to whether insult inferred means that insult was intended. Recently, Sergio Garcia made a remark about Tiger Woods and ‘fried chicken’. I was talking about with this with friends and nobody could understand why ‘fried chicken’ was considered offensive until we’d Googled it and discovered it has connotations to slavery in the American South when chicken was a staple food of the poor. Now, if Sergio Garcia did understand the significance then the insult was intended. If he didn’t, then was there an insult and should he need to apologise? Some would still say yes. All I know is that I’m still pissed that somebody could believe I’d make a joke about Bill Nighy’s hands. An apology is needed but I know it’s not me who damn well needs to make one.

Perhaps any moral philosophers out there can answer that for me but what was particularly galling about last night’s exchange was that it had happened when I’d been in a rare good mood.  I’d just finished watching my first viewing of an illegally downloaded copy of Stewart Lee’s ‘If You Prefer A Milder Comedian Please Ask For One’ which I’d managed to snag from a Bitorrent site without contributing to an Irish donkey sanctuary…

Okay, I didn’t illegally download it but the running joke in the show is Lee’s paranoid belief that all his viewers are guilty of copyright theft. On his website, he even asks that they donate money to a donkey sanctuary… Luckily, the show was on the Paramount Comedy channel a few nights ago so the donkeys will have to go hungry for another week.

However, the reason I mention Stewart Lee isn’t just because I watched him last night. It’s because he is the chink in my armour, the lump of Kryptonite that looks like KD Lang on steroids (after she’d let herself go)...

Whenever I leave a snarling comment on celebrity articles I usually find that I’m pretty much alone in believing the encroachment of celebrity into all forms of journalism a sad sign of the times. People get quite irate that I could attack their favourite celebrity who they’re quite happy to fawn over. ‘Oh Bill! Wonderful article,’ they gushed yesterday. Last week it was ‘Great piece of writing Elton’ and the week before was Russell Brand winning plaudits for his horrendous abuse of the English language. Thankfully, the people who attack me for attacking their favourite celebrities don’t know my secret. Because when I say that I don’t want to read celebrities, I actually mean that I don’t want to read celebrities except when its Stewart Lee.

Lee often writes for The Guardian, usually when David Mitchell is ‘away’. I never read Mitchell on principal. But Lee ticks too many of my boxes and that probably makes me a hypocrite of the highest order. He's the only stand-up comedian that I actually enjoy watching. His act isn't about gags it's about the structure. He makes stand-up look like the art form it is and makes me wish I had the confidence to get up on stage and try it for myself. I thought I was alone in despising Michael McIntyre until I heard Lee on the subject. He was possibly the first person I heard who shared my view about Russell Brand’s prose, though Lee prefers to the direct line of attack. His pithy verdict of a Russell Brand article in the New Statesman was ‘1500 words of pro-religious, over-written wank’. The only thing he probably got wrong there is the exact word count.

I'm least comfortable when he talks about political correctness, which he believes in but fails to address the hypocrisy you see in many politically correct people whose words often disguise the worst kind of bigot. There is at least something honest about a misogynistic or racist arsehole. It’s those that hide their hatred behind a pretence that make me go cold. They're the people that usually commit the worst crimes once the putsches begin.

So, I wonder, if Stewart Lee were in my shoes, would he issue an apology had he written the Nighy remark? Would he stop complaining about celebrity journalists? Would he abandon The Guardian and start reading The Independent instead? We he even waste his time writing this blog?

I notice that he’s touring with his new show ‘Much A-Stew About Nothing’ and I recommend anybody who loves truly great comedy to go see him. He’s coming up to Liverpool in October. If I have any money left after the Ralph Steadman exhibition, I should go myself and produce some heckling in the form of a prolonged Q&A. Only being one of the top Guardianistas, he’d probably punch me in the nose and demand more money for his bloody donkeys.

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