Seapoint Ballroom, Salthill, Galway
It is startling to see Stewart Lee above a bingo hall and amusement arcade, yet it also makes sense in the “fantasy world” he is about to lay out. Carpet Remnant World is apparently about “notions of idealism”, but everything apparent in Lee’s comedy hides a greater truth. He repeatedly claims “I’ve got nothing”, since all he has done in the last two years is “drive around and look after kids”. In that time he has seen just two films, “Archipelago and Scooby-Doo and the Jungle Zombie Pirates”, and he recalls that previous routines would have referenced Kafka and not “the YouTube”.
However, this is all part of what evolves into a superior, understated piece of stand-up; Scooby-Doo becomes integrated into the social policy of England from the 1940s, with the disintegrating state of “jungle rope bridges” and references to William Beveridge and Thatcherism. Similarly, he uses cards with (often) fake testimonials to support more interesting truths. One testimonial talks of “roasting” Bin Laden “like a chicken”, so he can “see what it feels like”, with Lee correcting, “no, but I could give him a mirror so he can see what it looks like”.
There is personal clarity amid the parody, all that he lampoons is all that he is not: comics called Russell, observational comedy, sad comedy, dead comics – “It’s harder to stay alive and come up with two hours of new material each year, slowly decreasing your own obituary” – and social media (“like rats in a ditch”).
Driving around London looking for “funny shop names” to get “five minutes of material” ends in surrealism, as he meets a man with a “typewriter for a head”, and another testimonial of hate is offset with a reference to Dr Strangely Strange. And if we don’t get the joke, he sighs, like a crumpled philosophy teacher, “Let’s go back over that, shall we?”
There are moments of poignancy, with a tale about his late father spending 50 years “driving around the motorways showing people samples of cardboard”, marrying it with his own 25 years of “driving around motorways showing people samples” of jokes; and by the time we get to the story about the carpet shop in Sunderland, there is a surge of applause, since, within the first five minutes, Lee flagged that he would be doing this.
And here is the realisation that we are participating in this exchange, after all.