He’s big enough to have sold out two nights at the Dome earlier this year but Stewart Lee’s appearance at Sticky Mike’s this evening is proof that Brighton’s finest comedy nights come thanks to Brian Gittins, of all people. From Harry Hill’s visit last September, through guest slots from Al Murray and Nick Helm and onwards (next month it’s Cardinal Burns headlining), Sticky Mike’s ‘Gittins To Know You’ shows are on an impressive roll.
Away from his acting work (you’ll most likely have seen him as Kev in Ricky Gervais’ Derek), Gittins is an established figure on the local circuit but an acquired taste, his stumbling persona as far from crowd pleasing as the single minded Lee is. We’re big fans at SOURCE, however, and Gittins is on home turf tonight, taking the stage only to warm up the room with a few deliberately flat gags. No-one walks out, yet.
Throughout his set, Lee mentions he’s here to try out material for the next series of his Comedy Vehicle. As on the BBC show his routines ramble on, taking in detours and asides, for a good half hour each (28 minutes is the ideal, he tells us, constantly checking his watch). Not everyone’s caught his act before though, and after a first half that sees Lee adopting the role of grumbling comic curmudgeon, taking shots at his contemporaries (including Lee Mack, Dara Ó Briain and Graham Norton), some of our party cut their laugh-free losses and quit. “Why is he so bitter? Why doesn’t he just tell some jokes?” they ask. That’s the joke, we offer, and receive rolled eyes in return.
Our departed friends would have struggled even more with the second half, as a piece featuring a roll call of dead comics, from Tony Hancock to Simon Brint, feels genuinely, painfully raw but Lee lifts the mood up with some masterful physical comedy. A side to his act often overshadowed by his language games, Lee’s physical skills have grown stronger in recent years but are topped for non-verbal genius by a near-wordless, imaginary radio broadcast skit towards the end, closer to sound poetry or his beloved improvised free music than scripted gags.
There are a couple of moments that threaten to spike the show, one where a persistently chatty audience member derails a slowly building demolition of hapless Spectator columnist Rod Liddle, and again when Lee snaps at someone taking pics down the front (he lets the offender off when he learns he’s travelled from Portugal for the gig). Neither detract from an inspirational evening with a comedian at the top of his game.
Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar, Thursday 10th September 2015
Words by Stuart Huggett
Photo by Sally Oakenfold