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Stewart Lee - A Room With A Stew Review

03/06/2015 17:14 BST | Updated 03/06/2016 10:59 BST

It's 4pm.

I leave work and walk a mile to the station, spend an hour on the world's most uncomfortable train to Bradford to see A Room With A Stew - the latest gig for edgy, acclaimed comedian Stewart Lee.

One second in and I'm already winning compared to two years ago when my plan to see him in York was scuppered by a flat car battery.

To paraphrase Starship, 'Nothing was gonna stop me now'. And it didn't.

A few years ago, following the launch of series one of BBC series Comedy Vehicle, we had a phone chat about his work, why he doesn't do panel games and his 20 plus years in the business.

I've realised that comedians like Lee who can spend that long resisting the lure of regular TV jobs are either a rare breed or idiots.

But Lee is clearly no fool.

His cult success with Richard Herring on mid 1990s series Fist of Fun remains one of my favourite shows of the era from one of the happiest times of my life. The fact it's rarely repeated on terrestrial TV is a crying shame.

When Lee and Herring just "stopped" doing their thing, Stew spent a time in the comedy wilderness before Jerry Springer The Opera thrust him back into the mainstream. Suddenly he was being taken seriously by the arts crowd, and the controversy surrounding the BBC's screening of said smash only added fuel to his engine.

But what of his latest show you may wonder?

Well it's a work in progress, a two hour tryout of new material, courting controversy by trying to poke fun at religious phobics by seeming to side with them and turning the tables.

It's a good routine, but not brief.

Like Ken Dodd, whose epic gigs have become the stuff of legend, there is a feeling of Stockholm syndrome as punters settle in for the duration and go with Lee on a ride.

If he were an app, Lee would be a cross between Google Earth and an electron microscope, zooming in from the theatre to tell a gag, then analysing it at a molecular level, addressing if the gag works and why the audience in certain parts of the theatre reacts to it.

Some of it works, some doesn't, but Lee knows the power of that slow drip process of comedy attrition, wearing down the preconceptions of some, and exhausting every last drop of comedy potential from a set up, whether it's urination or buying cheap Union Jacks.

Remember those frying pan gags in Bottom when Rik would smash Ade in the face for so long it would be funny, boring and then hilarious? The same here, only on a verbal level.

In the first half Lee was remarkably calm given the amount of latecomers interrupting his set, or punters nipping out to the loo like they were at a nightclub.

(Frankie Boyle's gig in York a few years ago had a draconian approach to such matters, and while the atmosphere was oppressive, given this alternative he had a valid point).

So in spite of the late arrivals, Lee delivered an often hilarious routine which was worth the trip (a mile walking back to the wife's car in the rain didn't dampen our spirits too much).

Okay, it wasn't as polished or full on as recent gigs by Lee Mack or Dara O Briain, but that's not Stewart Lee's style. They drive clever comedy vehicles with closed bonnets. Lee's has a transparent hood where you can see the engine ticking over, and he'll quite happily point out why some rib-tickling pistons fire better than others.

It's often a bold, ballsy approach to comedy, but a welcome change.

So, 90 wind swept, rain-lashed miles to witness something of a comedy curio. You may never see him on Mock or Cats, but Lee is as rare a talent as Eighties comedy turn Ted Chippington, the man who inspired him.

Stewart Lee's latest comedy vehicle may not take the most direct route to his punchlines, but there's a lot to be said for ignoring the humour sat nav and seeing where the road takes you.

There may be a few cul de sacs along the way, but never a dead end.