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<nettime> Stuart Lee's Divine Comedy (of the Real)
David Garcia on Mon, 13 Jun 2016 18:47:45 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Stuart Lee's Divine Comedy (of the Real)

   -Stuart Lee's Divine Comedy of the Real -

   A Cancelled TV Show; so what!

   Here's a novel definition of neo-liberalism:

    A neo-liberal is a man who, if he saw the aurora borealis twinkling
   over a Scandinavian snowfield would only see a missed opportunity for a
   public private finance initiative.

   I have stolen this line (and messed it up) from Stuart Lee, the
   brilliant English stand-up comedian who was actually describing the
   odious John Whittingdale the current secretary of State for Culture
   Media and Sport who was appointed by David Cameron to lead the (so
   called) reforms to the BBC.

    Now I am not claiming any connection between this joke and the
   corporation's decision to discontinue, Comedy Vehicle, Lee's television
   series. Really I'm not...But there is ONE absolute certainty. The
   justification given for the decision has no basis in logic or fact; the
   BBC claims the decision was based on wanting to concentrate its
   resources on -scripted comedy-.  As anyone, with even a passing
   acquaintance with Stuart Lee's work will know there is nothing on TV or
   radio more scripted than Stuart Lee's routines. Indeed the perception
   of a gap between the (so called) -real- Stuart Lee and his carefully
   constructed comedic persona - (an insufferably smug, embittered lefty
   who just doesn't know when to shut up)- is the fertile soil where he
   has long harvested his comedy. And its important for us because It is
   precisely in this gap between realism and the Real where art becomes

   I realise that Stuart Lee will not mean much to non-British readers as
   the targets/subjects of Lee's stand-up routines are quite local. I
   suspect his work doesn't travel that well.. even in England (laughter).
   but if your interested in a taster try this example of one of his many
   routines to be found on-line. Just substitute your own local right wing
   nationalist for Lee's target: Paul Nuttel of the
   Ukips  [1]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HMhWB95ldQ

   To explain why Stuart Lee matters- will involve the kind of digression
   that may seem pretentious to those who think of Stuart Lee as just
   another stand up comedian. But I make no apology for taking him as
   seriously as any other artist.


   In 2014, the novelist, artist and former co-editor of Mute, Tom
   McCarthy, wrote an erudite polemic against the current revival of
   -realism- or -naturalism- in literature. A tendency McCarthy decried as
   wholly retrograde, declaring early in his essay that it is (quote) -
   disheartening that such simplistic oppositions are still being put
   forward half a century after Foucault examined the constructedness of
   all social knowledge categories or more than a century after Nietzche
   unmasked truth itself as no more than a mobile army of metaphors,
   metonymies, anthropomorphisms... a sum of human relations... poetically
   and rhetorically intensified... illusions of which we have forgotten
   they ARE illusions. (end quote)

   Crucially McCarthy's line of argument rests on establishing a clear
   boundary between the Real and realism (sometimes called naturalism)...
   And he goes on to explore this idea in depth with particular attention
   to its relationship with violence through various literary examples.

   From the point of view of the comedic practice of Stuart Lee, one of
   the best of McCarthy's examples is that taken from the surrealist, poet
   and Antropologist, Michel Leiris's book `Literature Considered as a
   Bullfight' in which Leiris compares the writer to a toreador. (quote)
   Imagine a bullfight without a bull: it would be a set of artistic
   manoeuvres, pretty twirls and pirouettes and so on - but there'd be no
   danger. The bull, crucially, brings danger to the party, and for Leiris
   that's what the real is: the tip of the bulls horn. (End quote).

   Reading this again I am left wondering just where is the real jeopardy
   (sharp tip of the bulls horns) in the writing of a novel ? In stand-up
   comedy the same question is less difficult to answer. The hazard can be
   found in the nightly encounter with and moment-to-moment responses of
   the audience, where dying (the jargon in stand-up for -losing the
   room-) is an ever present danger. But most stand-ups are in flight from
   this hazard, but for Stuart Lee (and his fellow alternative and
   post-alternative heroes) this danger is the whole -point of the
   exercise-. And the game is to come as close as they can without being
   gored? The clue is in the subtitle of his biography How I Escaped my
   Certain Fate,  -the Life and -Deaths- of a Stand up Comedian.

   The key moment enroute to this destination is beautifully described in
   his when he writes about preparing a piece on the hysterical public
   reaction to the Death of Princess Diana, where he (quote) began to
   stretch the silences, the lack of laughs, the tension, to the point
   where I'd be worried about ever winning back the room.. There's always
   a clear end in sight and lots of little hand rails to grab on to in the
   midst of uncertainty, but at the time it felt like a nightly leap into
   the void, acting out the grief of the people in the story to the silent
   onlookers. Today I'd go much further away from the shallow end. (End of

   The reason it makes sense to talk about Stuart Lee's work in
   relationship to the tension between realism and the Real, is that he is
   always at pains to insist, unlike many mainstream stand up comedians,
   that he is not being himself on stage. His comedic persona is a
   construct, a highly scripted fiction. In his many lectures and writings
   he sites frequent examples of taking angry or upset members of the
   audience who come up to him after the show, to one-side to explain that
   what they see on stage is a deliberate artefact, created for comedic
   and polemical effect.

   But maybe he is being a little disingenouous for at the heart of his
   work is an insistent ambiguity. The whole illusion of -stand up-is
   based on the fact that comedians do not present themselves as actors.
   The work depends on the audience believing that the performers -are
   being themselves- unscripted they extemporise uninhibited flows of what
   WE would say, if only we were as daring, foolish, reckless or brilliant
   as they are. It is the ambiguities around this -me but not me- schtick,
   where Stuart Lee deconstructs realism without ever quite abandoning it.

   Just how far he takes the ambiguity can be found in one of the most
   revealing of his many footnotes: that elaborates on the position of his
   stage persona that has given one of his many violent verbal bashings to
   a fellow comic and frequent whipping boy Ben Elton. In the foot note
   Lee describes how (quote) - I am sort of in character as a smug, stuck
   up, politically correct, holier than though leftie, a character I have
   researched so fully I often feel obliged to behave like it in my own
   spare time, sometimes for years on end. (end quote).

   The Event

   Although I don't believe any of the reasons the BBC has given for
   getting rid of Lee's series, I do confess that I am not surprised that
   the series was discontinued. I suspect that the actual reason is that
   watching this performance has become less and less easy to bear as he
   takes us closer and closer to the edge (Human kind cannot bear very
   much reality). Perhaps its even hard for some of his fans.

   The work has become less of a journey and more of a predicament as his
   construct of the embittered and angry man whose audience -just doesn't
   get it-.. becomes so raw, so persuasive as to be (even on TV) more of
   an ordeal, with his scripted outbursts off fury with the audience who
   still just doesn't get it.

   Back to McCarthy's essay ....(quote) Think about it.. if the matador is
   gored, the bullfight, the entire spectacle, suddenly comes to appalled
   halt; what the bulls horns brings to the party is not just danger but
   the possibility that the party itself could be catastrophically
   interrupted.. and if the bulls horn is a vision of the real, then what
   the real represents is an event, something that would involve a violent
   rupture of the form and procedure of the work itself. -(end quote)

   This is why Zizek's (in his essay on the post September 11 wars:
   Welcome to the Desert of the Real) claims that (quote) The ultimate and
   defining moment of the 20^th century was the direct experience of the
   Real as opposed to every day social reality - the Real in its extreme
   violence as the price to be paid for peeling off the deceptive layers
   of reality. And it is this passion for the Real espescially when in a
   dialectical relationship to realism that continues to animate the most
   daring and original projects in 21^st century art, theory and (in
   Stuart Lee's) case comedy.

   d a v i d  g a r c i a
   [2]d.garcia {AT} new-tactical-research.co.uk

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