Stewart Lee: Tornado/Snowflake – Live Review – Sheffield City Hall
By Richard Jones, February 2020
Stewart Lee’s latest show ‘Tornado/Snowflake’ revolves around two things that have been written about him. Firstly, the Netflix blurb for his show Stewart Lee: Content Provider which inexcusably describes the outrageous plot for the horror B-movie Sharknado: “Reports of sharks falling from the skies are on the rise again. Nobody on the Eastern Seaboard is safe.”
Having spent the best part of 20 years working in TV listings and previews, I can appreciate how easily these mistakes can occur. Although the notion that, according to Stew, it stayed online for two years, I found a bit far-fetched.
But Lee has never been one to let the truth get in the way of good anecdote, and that particular grumble leads him nicely into the first half of the show, ‘Tornado’, in which he questions his position on the comedy circuit.
“Greyer, fatter and more deaf” since his last tour two years ago, Stew juxtaposes his acclaimed comic talents with his lack of global appeal and commercial pull. His main targets are the big-budget comedians on Netflix, in particular Ricky Gervais, Jimmy Carr and Dave Chappelle.
And that brings me onto the second thing that has been written about Lee that helps him form the show, The Times newspaper labelling him “the world’s best living stand-up” in 2018.
Chappelle, despite raking in millions, is only No 9 in Rolling Stone‘s list, while Gervais is apparently making a living out of “saying the unsayable”, which, as Lee points out is actually impossible. This leads to a five-minute long (although it felt longer), surreal and cringeworthy routine in the second half.
Post-interval, I found Lee on more familiar ground, having binge-watched his award-winning Comedy Vehicle series on the BBC iPlayer. Much like a member of the Magic Circle who shares the secrets of his/her illusions (“a peek behind the wizard’s cloak”), Lee regularly refers to the work of his comedy peers, before dissecting it and shooting them down spectacularly.
I particularly enjoyed his musings on Phoebe Waller-Bridge and how her globally acclaimed series Fleabag is not so groundbreaking after all.
‘Snowflake’ also sees Lee (always ironically) criticising the audience for not being intelligent enough to understand his jokes. But that doesn’t stop him from getting thoughtful with them, and the section in which he describes how Alan Bennett has compared him to a string of obscure philosophers is particularly amusing and thought-provoking.
On the whole, I preferred the second half of the show, as Stew moved on from looking at his worth on the comedy circuit to how he fits into a society which is riding roughshod over the liberal values he has so long championed.
Although the evening was billed as two separate shows, each half is fairly similar in theme, perhaps because Lee believes the comedy industry somehow reflects what is going on in politics – in particular in a country run by Boris Johnson.
And that brings me back to the two statements that were written about Stew, and which form the basis of ‘Tornado/Snowflake’.
Yes, the incorrect billing for his show is laughable and he does deserve more commercial kudos than he tends to receive (although I doubt that is his main goal in life). And secondly, The Times’ accolade “world’s greatest living stand-up”. Stew refers to it umpteen times during his show, albeit ironically.
But I actually find it hard to disagree with.
images: Idil Sukan