“THE jokes are there – but some of you will have to raise your game.”
So Stewart Lee warned early in his set last night when a gag proved a little too clever for some people in the audience.
As stand-ups go, he is defiantly highbrow so there were no jokes about bodily functions or how annoying airports are.
Instead Lee weaved a complex and amusing narrative around his most recent failure to land a TV show.
The comedian, now 20 years on the circuit, made no effort to hide his contempt for television – which briefly embraced him in the 1990s but has since shunned him.
The show is called 41st Best Stand-up Ever, in honour of Lee’s ranking on a TV list show last year.
He pretended to be proud of this achievement – and wondered why he didn’t get bumped up to 40th when Bernard Manning died.
Lee’s set was a series of biting observations, such as the moral emptiness of Celebrity Big Brother and the difference between Martin Luther King and Russell Brand.
It was funny stuff – and clever too. Where other comics stagger from one unconnected anecdote to another, Lee has constructed a narrative, a 70-minute set in which he makes no effort to hide his intellect.
At one point, as he explained his disillusionment with life, Lee ditched the microphone and continued the set from within the audience, pint glass in hand.
Introducing such tension into the audience was a brave gamble.
But the crowd stayed with him.
Looking at the few empty seats, Lee joked: “I’m the 41st best stand-up of all time – and I can’t even fill the Lawrence Batley Theatre.”
Maybe next time.