Friday, 4 April 2014

Stewart Lee on observational comedy

Stewart Lee objects to observational comedy in the same way that modernists object to realism:  it's an impatience with a stale, populist and complacent consensus. Lee parodies the observational mode of calling upon the audience to agree that, eg, this is how women behave, or how children behave, because it makes assumptions, for one thing about the observer and the observed, and places the observer in a position of authority, and stereotypes the observed and implies they're thoroughly predictable. He has a great range of strategies at his own command, but an especially brilliant one is to defamiliarise observational comedy by doing it from a radically skewed point of view - from the perspective of an insect in his 'Pestival' riff, and, in his recent TV show, from the perspective of an 'oligarch' living in London. The repeated words emphasise the alienness of these points of view - 'mandibles' in 'Pestival', 'prostitutes' in the oligarch one - because they parody the stale parameters in observational material with concepts that are entirely other to 'common-sense' consensual reality. This mode, like modernist deconstructions of realism, reveals ideological assumptions in what it parodies.