Stewart Lee on Liverpool, a cultural monopoly & pining for festivals
Originally published on Getintothis
As the world’s 41st best comedian prepares for a return to the Liverpool Philharmonic Vicky Pea quizzes the man himself on a few timely topics.
As one of the country’s longest-serving comedians, Lee’s material follows his own personal arc at times. From a comedian angry at his lack of success, to being disappointed he started drawing people from the TV to his shows, to not being relevant because he has no kids, to now – a comedian toasting his own talents and blaming the audience if they don’t get it.
Of course Lee continues to, and always will, divide audiences into people who think they know what he is doing, people who do know what he is doing and people that hate what he is doing. He somehow manages to juggle them all.
With that in mind and with Lee chipping in on a number of topical issues this year – including a superb retort on the ‘immorality’ of ticket touting – it seemed like the perfect time to pick the brain of a man who has never had a trouble speaking his mind.
VP: Last time you were here in a more musical role, now back in stand-up mode do you consider doing anything different when performing to a Liverpool crowd?
Lee: I really like Liverpool crowds. They are funny. I don’t consider anything especially when performing anywhere. I try to bend them to my will. A few years ago in Liverpool I did some crap joke off the top of my head about something to do with the city and the review from one of the Liverpool papers, who hated the show, said this was the only good bit, when in fact it was obviously the cheapest and easily the worst thing in the evening.
The problem with doing local stuff is it appeases people who don’t understand what it is you are really trying to do, so no, there will be nothing especially aimed at Liverpool. It’s my show after all. Not yours.
VP: We recently tackled the risks facing cultural diversity in the UK, especially under a conservative or potential UKIP government. How big is the risk?
Lee: It is massive. The Culture Secretary Sajid Javid is a philistine who thinks culture is all about making money and that’s all. The Prime Minister toured film studios telling the British Film Industry it should try to be more popular like a fucking dick who had never given the creative process any thought would. Public broadcasting is in its death throes thanks to the dogma of the free-market which means all the culture that will be on TV will be just what THE MAN thinks he can make money on. Amazon and iTunes are putting the squeeze on writers’ and musicians’ ability to make a living by controlling prices in a joint monopoly. We’re fucked. Good luck young people.
VP: There was a big hoo-haa that last year’s Reading and Leeds festival line up was largely male dominated; BBC Comedy are combating a similar problem by ensuring a female presence on their panel shows, what do you think about that?
Lee: Leave shitty panel shows to rot in their own bile. Who cares? The men on them are just like pub bores – and put more of the brilliant women that are out there in their own things.
VP: You’ve recently spoken out on both ticket prices and the actions of ticket touts. What makes people part with such large sums of money for a couple hours of entertainment, most recently £135 to see Sir Paul McCartney?
Lee: Ignorance. The fact that they don’t realise there are amazing things they could be seeking out if they just look for them. It’s not their fault. That said, it is Paul McCartney. I wonder why he charged so much though?
VP: Do you think that there is a fundamental lack of social responsibility from artists and management when setting such high fees?
Lee: Yes. It is hard to control though. There are tickets on sale for my shows at a four times the face value via Stub Hub who collude with criminals. The onus is at present on the venues to stop selling to touts, even though my tickets say not transferable on them. Some promoters actively like it though, thinking it drives up their acts’ market values. The Culture Secretary supports touting too.
VP: Events of all disciplines have moved from the rooms of working men’s clubs into arenas and stadiums. Is this having a detrimental effect of the quality on show?
Lee: Yes. Nothing in the arts is improved by scale.
VP: Why is comedy still not considered as one of the arts?
Lee: Because people are snobs.
VP: Can we expect to see you popping up at any gigs or festivals in the future? Personally we think you’re well overdue for a new VOX-style Glastonbury blog.
Lee: I can’t do music festival comedy sets any more. That time of year is when I am doing new stuff, that I want for the telly or will put on a DVD later, and these days everyone has a camera phone and they film 30 minutes and put it online ahead of time. It’s too porous. As for going as a punter, it’s hard. I’m away 200 nights a year as it is and I have little kids and a working wife. I miss All Tomorrow’s Parties, Terrastock, ’90s CND Glastonburys, noughties Latitude, 80’s Elephant Fayre and even Phoenix in the mid 90’s. I’d go to that Liverpool Psych Fest if I could. I like that Ex-Easter Island Head band of yours.