Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle (2009-present) is a standup comedy and sketch show aimed at people who don’t like standup comedy or television. There have been three seasons so far. All seasons are on DVD (region 2/PAL). Season 1 is on Netflix.
Stewart Lee, who Mark Watson describes as the compass of comedy, hosts a part standup comedy part sketch show called Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle. Just the fact that this show has been on the air for three seasons, and what’s more has been picked up by Hulu in America, gives us hope that intelligent comedy consumers still exist among us, especially after Comedy Central’s cancellation of Stewart Lee’s The Alternative Comedy Experience after just two seasons last year. Another reason it’s so remarkable it’s still on the air is that the content is aimed at the type of people who don’t like standup comedy or television, so it’s offered to them in a format they are already not interested in.
Stewart Lee is a standup comedian, writer and star of the TV series Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, and the author of the novel The Perfect Fool, as well as several non-fiction books like Content Provider (Faber & Faber 2016).
Like most standup comedy television programs, this show’s main goals are sending an incoherent message to Russell Brand, commenting on a post-Adrian Chiles England, lowering the sales on Dan Brown books, and bringing back Asher D’s band So Solid Crew. That or everything Stewart tells Armando Iannucci in the Red Button bonus features is a lie. Take your pick. These black-and-white, straight-faced interviews are partly written by Iannucci’s once personal assistant.
Lee’s standup portions of the show largely contain material he has used in his touring shows in the past. Because he is a long-form comic, he has time for just one routine per episode, allowing each episode to have just one theme, like about how he hates celebrity hardbacks or how American stand up, such as that of jazz comedian Franklyn Ajaye, has no value. As always, the humor is layered. Lee tells a typical mainstream joke: “My dad used to call the telly the idiot’s lantern…which is why he lost his job as head of ITV.” He then tells the joke two more times: “…which is why he was hired as head of ITV.” “…which is why he lost his job as inventor of television.” On one layer, haha, each joke is kind of funny. On another layer, he’s making fun of cliche joke structure. On a third layer, which he couldn’t possibly have intended since this season aired in 2009, Mark Watson, who Lee famously tore a new one in his pear cider routine, was placed #3 in the top ten funniest jokes of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2014 with the joke “Always leave them wanting more, my uncle used to say to me. Which is why he lost his job in disaster relief.” For the most part, Lee’s comedy is un-compromised by the television network, but there is a bit about Islamic Dogs that the television lawyers made him take out of the script. No one believes that the actual script existed, but if you read his book How I Escaped my Certain Fate, you’ll learn that it’s true. As always, Lee is not afraid to go off mic, hang from the balconies, or sit in the laps of his audience members.
The sketches are brief, usually with an extended one of epic proportions, most notably the celebration of Del Boy falling through the bar (based on the poll that the British public consider this to be the funniest thing ever on television) or the apple sketch, which goes post-modern when Kevin Eldon and Paul Putner destroy the set. Other sketch actors include Simon Munnery, Tony Law (doing a Lenny Bruce spoof), Setphen K. Amos, Tim Vine, Miles Jupp, and many other recognizable character actors.
At the moment, season 1 only seems to be available in region 2/Pal on DVD, where you can treat yourself to the commentary tracks, deleted scenes that include interaction with the audience, clips of Scottish comedian Stephen Carlin doing the warmup, and many interviews with Armando Iannucci where you learn all sorts of interesting behind-the-scenes “facts” like that the audience is made of fruit.
Jaime Pond is the editor of Anglonerd. She lives and works in NYC. Follow her on Twitter.
Originally published Feb. 22, 2016