Stewart Lee returned to Liverpool this week with his latest tour, Content Provider, for a two night residency at the Phil. I had previously reviewed an early version of this latest show when Stew showcased it almost a year ago and which you can read both here and, astonishingly, on Stewart Lee's own website here - I am flabbergasted to think that Stew has seen/read my little rambling about that gig and decided to use it in the review section of his site and yes, this post is essentially my shameless attempt at getting noticed once again!
Having seen an embryonic version of the show, I was intrigued to see what changes had been made along with just generally being unable to resist the opportunity to see Stew live once again. This time around I potentially incurred Stew's wrath by not only bringing a friend along, but a friend who has only recently got into Stew's comedy! Thankfully, despite such noob credentials said friend has already become a massive and confirmed Stew fan. As a result, it felt safe to take our front row seats!
There was actually very little difference between the show tonight and the show I last saw in November 2016, and that's fine - because the humour is of such a high standard that it bears repeated dividends. It's perhaps in the first half, amidst the familiar routines of merchandise, tax and touring, that the show has had some reworking applied; there's a little bit more on Brexit (inevitably), an energetic routine about mythical charity shop home deliveries that left me exhausted just from watching, as well as an absolutely hilarious piss-take of twentysomething comedians who may baulk at Stew's criticism of Russell Howard, and a joyously destructive attack of the set which is, once again, made up of the second hand DVDs of lesser stand ups. Some of the most amusing new bits here where, I suspect, those that were unique to the night itself and were, in the comedian's own words 'self indulgent digressions'; these included Stew momentarily losing his way in his routine and requiring some help from the audience when he was unable to read his own writing of the prompts he scrawls on the back of his hand, an amusing insight into how his career is viewed by his own family and his reactions to some restless audience members who were perhaps itching for their interval drink or toilet break. One throwaway line about audience reactions to his fondness for Turkish funk (which was the interval music) especially amused, as Stew claims in Liverpool this remark gets a laugh whereas in Manchester, the home of Factory Records, it receives the encouraging recommendation to start a club night. Coming from St Helens, a small town between those two North Western behemoths and being neither one nor the other, I can see both sides.
Aside from a few very good bits of business, the second half seemed, as far as my recollection goes, to be virtually unchanged from the previous November. I'm really happy to report this actually as it means that my favourite bits remain intact. These include the amusing little aside about the odd, seemingly unworkable bedfellows of jazz and folk being reminiscent of his own partnership with Richard Herring, the difference between modern day Tinder and late '80s Dateline, Game of Thrones digs ("Peter Stringfellow's Lord of the Rings") the tear-streamingly funny impression of someone under 40 addictively using their iPhone and, best of all, that wonderfully surreal and utterly deliriously hilarious routine about Stew's grandparents practicing a sort of make do and mend S&M in '30s Kidderminster. One new thing I did learn from the second half however was that Stewart Lee buys his boxer shorts from the same place as I do! I didn't expect Stew to drop his trews as a reply to someone tweeting that he had got fat but it was another laugh out loud moment to a very entertaining night.
Unfortunately, despite Stew manning a particularly enticing merch stand immediately after the show I was unable to stick around this time to buy anything or get anything signed due to the massive queue that had formed and the pressing need to catch a train home, but I'm determined to catch Stewart Lee when he's in town again (hopefully with a show entitled 'Managed Decline', the term used to describe Thatcher's abhorrent policy towards Liverpool in the '80s, and one which he wryly referred to as being how he viewed his own career now) and I recommend all fans of good, intelligent comedy to do the same.
PS: A small note to anyone booking for an event at the Liverpool Phil who may receive as I did an email offering you the opportunity of securing a spot and a free drink in their 'VIP bar', the 1840 room. for just £7. It's not worth it. For a start, 'room' is totally the wrong way to describe the corridor with a bloke at a table at the end serving drinks that the 1840 actually is. Granted you can dodge the queues at the main bar here, but you can also dodge the queues by crossing the road and enjoying a drink at The Phil pub.