Stewart Lee Press

Stewart Lee: 'When wasn't satire dull?'

The role of comedy is not to be pro-New Labour - comedy should be in opposition. But a lot of what passes as satire today just doesn't do the job.'

Stewart Lee, one of the UK's funniest stand-ups, a former Spitting Image writer and one half of BBC2's The Richard Not Judy Show, will 'probably end up voting Labour' at the election - but more because he is passionately anti-Tory than passionately pro-Blair.

'I look at how likely it is that the Tories will do well, and if necessary I vote tactically against them. The main thing for me is to not have the Tories back in power.' Spoken like a true alternative comedian from that bygone age - when stand-up meant taking a stand against Thatcher and all things Tory. 'But if you're my age', says Lee (33), 'and you remember things like Clause 28 and Norman Tebbit, then your number one priority is to keep the Tories out'.

But isn't this yesterday's battle? If comedy is better when it's 'in opposition', surely today's comedians should have a stab at New Labour?
Lee agrees. 'Yeah, comedy's job is not to support the power structures. That's one of the weird things about Rory Bremner - he takes the piss out of the government but at the same time he is like the government's official satirist. By doing funny impressions of Robin Cook and giving him a high voice and a stupid beard, it makes it look like there is a dialogue going on, but there isn't. It's just pantomime. And we all know that he used to play tennis with Tony Blair.'

But while Lee doesn't think much of today's satirists, he isn't one of those buffoons who bangs on about the 'golden age of satire' of years gone by. 'When wasn't satire dull? To me, it's the absolute lowest form of humour. I used to write for Spitting Image, which people thought was really radical, but in fact it worked to a completely set formula - where we would appear to be talking about an issue but really we were just looking for a gag about a politician having an ugly face or a fat arse.'

And according to Lee, this elevation of personality over politics continues in satire today. 'Look at The 11 O'Clock Show or Have I Got News For You? - they're dressed up in the language of issues but the punchline is always some rubbish joke about personality or teeth.' But maybe politics has just become too boring to satirise. When you no longer have feisty politicians fighting it out over important issues, perhaps all that's left to laugh at is their fat arses. 'Possibly', says Lee. 'Which might be why someone like Chris Morris is a much better satirist than the others - on stuff like The Brass Eye he takes up the media instead of politics, and how the media presents opinion as truth and all that - and that seems to be something really worth satirising now, rather than whether Ann Widdecombe's got funny hair.'

'The problem is', says Lee, 'the caricatures often obscure the real issues in politics - and they may actually help the very people they set out to make fun of, by giving them an image. Thatcher loved her Spitting Image pisstake because it made her look strong and determined.'

So if politics is boring and personality is passe, what can comedians do to shake up the 'power structures'? 'There are ways of being in opposition to the government that are supportive', says Lee, 'by saying, "Come on, look, this is ridiculous", and moving it on a bit.

You don't have to disagree with a government to take the piss out of it.' So comedians should be more like advisers to the government than critics of it? 'No, it depends on the comedian's point of view. But we do need something funnier and a bit more critical than the dull satire we've got now.'

Source - Spiked Online