When is a show about Brexit and Trump not about Brexit and Trump? Stewart Lee‘s latest effort was an essay on the social media-driven cultural landscape, refracted through a prism of 2016’s EU referendum and US presidential election. Set against a backdrop of cheap stand-up DVDs and an artistic framing device, Content Provider was yet another triumph from a performer who has steadily grown his fan-base in similar proportion to his critical acclaim.
His first proper show since Carpet Remnant World, having concentrated for a few years on running in material for his Comedy Vehicle TV series, didn’t merely focus on the volatile political climate, also taking in music, Game of Thrones, and the commercialisation of S&M. All were fertile ground, and Lee didn’t disappoint even on such disparate topics.
A fascinating aspect of Lee’s trajectory in the past decade or so has been his indulgence of certain stand-up conventions and his own approach, and in many ways this new outing was a continuation of that oeuvre. Utilising the status of the character ‘Stewart Lee’, he’s been able to maintain a distance which resulted in intelligent, superbly-crafted comedy, while Lee himself looked like he was having enormous fun, occasionally betraying the character’s withering commentary on the audience by being unable to conceal his glee.
Content Provider, in much the same way as all his recent output, was a masterclass in control – a tightly-written and -constructed show which knew exactly how to probe and push the audience, leading them one way and then the other. Upping the pace and using fewer instances of repetition than on the Comedy Vehicle series – without veering too far away from that reliable technique – this felt like a joy of a set, familiar in rhythm but with his singular take on the state of the world and some astonishingly good jokes.
At this stage, he’s so far ahead of the field, the rest are in danger of being lapped.