British Comedian Stewart Lee has discovered his Irish roots; apparently (one has to have a disclaimer as comedians make things up for laughs) his great great great grandparents, the Hurleys, left Leitrim in 1846. Lee said he planned to do a bit more research on the matter, which was of great importance to him. ‘It seems a lot of people left that year’ he added, deadpan, the crowd laughing before an unexpected hush stilled the room; ‘there must have been a good travel offer or something’.
Comedy is an intensely personal experience and the main yardstick is the ratio of laughter to jokes.
Lee is a hard working, sensitive father of two with his roots in punk rock and the Thatcher era. He tells stories rather than jokes, long, winding narratives which spin off in bizarre directions only to return safely to base somewhere near the end of the show; Lee was warming up new material for a BBC TV series in front of 300 devotees enjoying a rare intimate evening with a performer whose profile is rising as fast as the new Pearl Jam album, which entered the Irish charts at number one this week.
Lee got into a taxi and the driver said to him; “these days, if you say you’re English, you’ll be thrown in jail.” It’s the sort of absurd statement that boils the blood and can either be ignored completely or disarmed with a similarly absurd response. If you say you’re english, continued Lee, quoting the taxi driver, ‘you’ll be thrown in jail.” Really? “These days, you’ll be thrown in jail etc..” the riff continued forever, with no apparent purpose other than embedding the phrase deep inside our skulls.
The taxi driver was ired because he (apparently) filled out his passport form, crossing out ‘british’ and scrawling in his own hand, ‘there’s no black in the union jack’. The ‘victim’ of this injustice was outraged. No one was thrown in jail, of course, the form was merely rejected and returned. But as we all know, (check Lee’s related sketch on You Tube if you don’t) Political Correctness has gone too far. About three hours later, after a number of digressions and (apparent) breakdowns, Lee described how his daughter’s school celebrated diversity; pantheistic pancake day, Chinese new year, etc. But they also marked St George’s day and for that occasion they invited children to wear traditional English dress.
Lee festooned his child with swastikas and union jacks and gave her sharpened coins to throw, as she dressed up as a football hooligan circa 1968 (I think). Off she went to school, there was a fuss, the police were called, Lee was (apparently) arrested and then … long pause and the sucker punch, Lee adds; “these days, if you say you’re English, you’ll be thrown in jail.”
From the moment Lee took the stage it was laughter all the way. Better yet, laughter which didn’t rely on cheap shots (sexism, homophobia etc) or treat the audience as if we were lobotomised morons anxious to gloat over the misfortunes of people with troubled lives for reasons beyond their control.