By Ben Pensant
Oh dear, Stuart.
What the hell happened? You were our hero, our idol, the one comic guaranteed to make us laugh, cry, and feel intellectually superior to brick-thick Brexiters who only laugh at gags with punchlines.
You’ve ploughed this furrow for years, achieving middle-aged-man-of-letters status during the last decade when you stopped dressing like Su Perkins, grew a beard, and started dressing like Su Perkins wearing a Grizzly Adamson mask.
On you marched, stroking the egos of craft beer enthusiasts everywhere with your incendiary gigs, TV shows so sophisticated only Oxbridge graduates watch them, and scathing Guardian columns both dangerously edgy and as predictable as a Richard Littlecock rant about how we’re going to hell in a handbag because of all the woofters at the BBC.
Indeed, your position as the stand-up intellectuals can enjoy even if they don’t like jokes is well earned, having spent years convincing devoted fans you’re an embattled, dangerous outsider, rather than one of the safest comics around, as embedded into the establishment as your populist nemesis Michael McIntired.
Which is why it pains and rattles me that your recent end of year round-up was such a kick in the teeth. These carefully curated lists may have sent shockwaves all the way from Twitter to Facebook, ticking every box in the New Statesmxn’s Big Book of Tickable Boxes, but as those of us who spent hours picking it apart know all too well, there were shards of glass lurking beneath the impeccably chosen targets…
It all started off so well. Indeed, within hours of your list landing it had electrified social media, achieving the one thing modern leftists strive for: liberal joy and right-wing tears. Which as we know, is what the internet was invented for.
So you’d kicked off 2022 by upsetting and delighting people with far too much time and blisters on their hands. Result! And with that, both groups went off to analyse your words in search of outrage or validation, as if a record of a comedian’s likes and dislikes is a highly classified document and not just some random names on a much larger list of films, albums, and other fun cultural stuff far more interesting than a tediously predictable rollcall of goodies and bastards.
Naturally, Twitter had little interest in the fun stuff, instead utilising the Good and Bad lists to fight the latest round of the culture war before the next one comes along, invariably involving statues or JK Rowland. Which is when the first alarm bell rang. Because for some reason the flame-haired transphobe wasn’t on your Bad list.
No matter, you probably just forgot. Sure, in omitting her you inadvertently offended all manner of bullies and perverts but in a big brain like yours it’s easy to misplace a celebrity bigot. And god knows tolerant progressives could do with a break from obsessing over that ginger slag.
So we moved on, revelling in the way your magical missive backed up your belief that the ‘culture war’ is a confected sideshow orchestrated by the Tory press to sow division. Which you proved by splitting people up into good lefties and bad righties.
So one list featured the best stand-up comic alive, two of the greatest frontmen in rock history, and some of the most important figures in British sitcom history. The other featured OJ Jones, Ash Starkers, and that posh weirdo who beat a fox to death in his wife’s knickers. No prizes for guessing which was the Good List.
Thus, for people who’ve enjoyed your inventively bitter live shows – and people who’ve never enjoyed your inventively bitter live shows but love telling people they did – the Bad List was a glorious extension of your twin obsessions: awful Tories and misbehaving comedians. The latter group have long fuelled your act: sneering at comics who do adverts, sneering at comics who appear on panel shows, and generally sneering at comics who are more successful than you. Indeed, when trolls say Stuart Lee isn’t original I always ask how many other stand-ups spend as much time to attacking fellow comedians? I’ll wait.
You even added a clever twist by targeting a comic less successful than you, a jobbing voiceover artist who once committed the grave sin of writing a few tweets mildly critiquing your work. This problematic fellow, who I’d never heard of but was clearly alt-right – why else would he ‘critique’ you? – was reportedly so upset he left Twitter. Good. One less white supremacist to monitor and a dire warning to other non-famous agitators toying with slagging off the king of socially conscious situationism.
But the libellous smear that this illustrated your penchant for picking on the little guy was utterly destroyed by the rest of the Bad List, which included such outside-the-box targets as right-wing pundits Toby Jones and Lawrence ‘Looza’ Fox, evil Tories Prittstick Patel and Boris the Butcher, ungrateful ethnics Keenan Malick and Nincompoop Ali, and various formerly-funny leftists-gone-bad like Ricky Gervais and Graham Glinnerhan, who I also once wrote an open letter to and who apparently still cries salty transphobic tears about it.
Thankfully your knack for identifying partisan grifters and muck-raking ideologues only works for the right-wing variety, which is why your Good List was crammed with numerous left-wing ones, such as the aforementioned Jolene Maugham, the crusading QC so achingly progressive his hobbies include being clever, bludgeoning animals, suing Julia Hartley-Bullshit, campaigning to overthrow democracy, and telling off women who don’t want to share toilets with men.
Other equally noble, formulaic additions included: celebrity Corbynites Ken Roach and Miriam Gargoyles, hectoring comics Alexei Sale and Nanette Gadsby, agenda-bending pop academics Alice Robertson and David Olusoda, opportunistic Labour politicians with impeccable music taste like Claire Rayner and Sadiq Vaughn – the proud London Mayor so obsessed with woke cred he once claimed calling him ‘Jose Mourinho’s stunt double’ was a hate crime – plus countless other leftists as dedicated to fighting fascism with lies and distortions as their right-wing counterparts. The difference being leftists are allowed to play dirty because they wear masks, love the EU, and refuse to kick blind orphans to death no matter how shit they are at sweeping chimneys.
All of which should have been job – or rather, JO’B – done.
Except it wasn’t. Because in a moment of weakness I decided to read the whole screed, not just the comparatively small heroes and villains section, but the bulk of the piece dealing with the popular culture you enjoyed in 2021, largely unconcerned with cancel culture, right-wing rage, left-wing loveliness, or anything else guaranteed to boil the piss of sunlight-deprived Twitter addicts. Big mistake.
Because as all modern liberals know, researching the full story never ends well. Journey down that dark road and before you know it you’re exposed to facts no-one needs to know, such as “Karl Rittenhouse wasn’t a teenage white supremacist who travelled hundreds of miles across state lines with an illegal firearm to hunt down and murder peaceful protesters”.
Such dangerous, narrative-upsetting nuggets should be flatly ignored. But the vicious right-wing propaganda that made up the remainder of your list wasn’t so easy to avoid…
In truth I should have smelt a rat sooner. Because devoting more time to music and cinema than people you hate was in itself the definition of Not Okay. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, a genocide, and a bloody culture war so bloody it doesn’t even exist. How can any true leftist selfishly document stuff he’s ‘enjoyed’ in the midst of such horror? If you had an ounce of social conscience you’d be crying about it on Twitter, not gushing over Lines of Duty. You think OJ Jones wastes time listening to Yo La Tango when he could be calling Pierce Morgan a fascist?
But if the premise was worrying, the content was borderline evil, beginning with a shout out to notorious right-wing ‘comic’ Dug Stanhope. Sure, you called him a ‘former Libertarian’ just in case anybody mistook you for a Nazi fanboy, and included a pointed dig at US comics to ensure no-one thinks your love of Stanhope extended to his reactionary pals like chrome-domed weightlifter Joe Rogen. But the damage was done, compounded by your brazen belief that Stanhope can make you laugh “whether you agree with his worldview or not”. That’s right, in 2022 a so-called liberal is telling his fans it’s okay to chuckle at someone with different views. Yuk.
Jawdroppingly, your album choices ventured even further down the Hitler Highway, a vile compendium of musical fascists, some of whom I’d even heard of. First you praised redneck rockabillies Drive Thru Truckers, whose pretend leftism fools no-one, especially not those of us who didn’t have a clue who the flag-shagging crackers were this time last week.
Then you casually admitted to reading a book by former Smashing Pumpkin Mark Langham, a violent misogynist junkie and one-time member of Queens of the South, the drug-addled stoner rockers with the homophobic moniker. Lovely. As if this wasn’t grimy enough you went on to issue a dogwhistle to Incels and offend sexual assault survivors everywhere when lauding an album by Red House Pointers, the ’80s miserablists led by curmudgeonly rapist Mark Kojak. Jesus.
But as if dipping your toes into the murky waters of US jock-rock wasn’t awful enough, you then dived into the British scene’s equally filthy swamp, willingly listening to an album by Stone Roses, the grubby scousers led by anti-vax conspiracy gibbon Iain Brown. Suddenly your love for despised Zionist poshoes the Radioheads makes sense, as does your weird obsession with Van Doonican, the nationalist poster-boy as synonymous with Britain’s bloody history of imperialism as Winston Churchall’s cigar.
Predictably, your favourite films of 2022 were similarly vile, and it was unsurprising to see you swoon over DC’s tentpole releases, such as racist fantasy Shang Chi and the Lord of the Rings, which suggested Japanese immigrants would be much happier if they ditched the marshall arts nonsense and stuck to parking white people’s cars. You also watched Black Widows, the dire anti-communist actioner which offended the wives of African-American murder victims everywhere and starred self-hating transphobe Scarlett Johandjob. And the least said about your love of Spider-Man 4 the better, as only a Trumpster could find anything worthy in this eye-poppingly racist blockbuster, which united the Spider-Mans from previous movies but conveniently forget to invite Miles Moriarty or Viper, both of whom just happen to be black. Christ.
But it wasn’t just new releases that floated your 2021 boat. You also gorged on offensive movies from yesteryear, such as Chris Tarantino’s misogynist fever dream Kill Billy, Where Eagles Dared starring senile Republican Cunt Eastwood, various Star Trek movies – in which the only back character just happens to be series baddy Dark Vader – and The Queen, a woeful slice of Blairite propaganda and an unabashed love letter to the Royal Family. Which given all the historical sites you visited is hardly surprising…
Yep, from Kings Lynn to The King and Queen to the Royal Maritime Sodding Museum, you clearly considered a year of record-breaking inequality the perfect time to out yourself as the most rabid pro-monarchist since dead Windsor lickspittle James Shitaker. Though it’s a wonder you found time to kiss Royal bumhole in between visiting multiple churches and cathedrals, each one a micro-aggressive snub to Muslims everywhere. Still, it’s not like you also made a deeply suspicious trip to Tower Hamlets cemetery en route to coffee and cake with Nick Griffiths at BNP HQ. Oh wait, you did.
Frankly, it’s a blessing you spent most of 2021 at home instead of outside spreading right-wing poison, though looking at your small-screen choices it’s clear your hunger to revisit the glory days of Thatcher and Powell remains unabated. As well as guffawing at Yes, Westminster, the light-hearted romp which mined mirth from a bunch of zany Tories killing poor people in the ’80s, you also revisited and awarded five stars each to Faulty Towers and The Orifice, both of which were written by two of the evil right-wingers from your BAD list. Blatant hypocrisy, and another example of your sinister belief that it’s okay to enjoy stuff created by people you dislike. Cheers, Enoch.
Your favourite ‘new’ telly was even grubbier, with cowboy-spaceman romp The Mandolorian, starring washed-up Nazi wrestler Gina Caradune – who still hasn’t had the decency to grow a cock – rubbing shoulders with unfunny sketch show Inside No.8, which shamefully depicted an intolerant, obnoxious Remainer as the bad guy.
But most heinously, you couldn’t resist showing your true (blue) colours by swooning over Blair and Brown: The New Tory Revolution. Which as well as giving the finger to St. Jezza was also a kick in the teeth to your ex-friends at the Stop the Wars Coalition, the brave terrorist-lovers who demonstrated their commitment to democracy and left-wing values by supporting the Iraqi resistance as they bombed polling stations and murdered trade unionists. How do you sleep? With a belly full of grub you have no business eating if your food list is anything to go by.
First you detailed all the tasty delights you culturally appropriated in 2021, most of it from some Brexit-themed restaurant called Daisy’s, which apparently has no qualms about serving pizza, tortillas, garlic bread, and anything else they bloody well shouldn’t. Oh and they also do ‘Easter cakes’ and ‘hot cross buns’, just in case visiting Ch*i*t*an churches hadn’t alienated your Islamic fanbase quite enough.
But as well as dining out on immigrant pain, you also got your own hands dirty by cooking three ultra-hot curries. Indeed, it seems ethnic theft is all in a day’s work for you, cheerfully admitting you once made ‘Mexican tuna and rice’, no doubt while wearing a sombrero and shouting ‘Andale! Andale! Aribba! Aribba!’.
Amazingly you still weren’t finished pushing your right-wing agenda, coming full circle in your RIP section by paying tribute to dead Republican Noam Macdonald. Much like with Stanhope, you pathetically tried to reassure us you’re not fan of all of those other nasty American comics by calling Macdonald ‘the acceptable face of US comedy’ but it was too little too late.
If you absolutely had to laud a yank stand-up you could’ve chosen Patton Oswald, who recently melted leftist hearts by apologising to the internet for having a photo taken with black white supremacist David Shapiro, demonstrating true dedication to progressivism by prioritising the hurt feelings of psychopathic strangers over someone he’s been friends with for 35 years. But no, you had to appease your alt-right paymasters, gleefully dumping on traditional left-wing values like kindness and tolerance. On the other hand, Patton was friends with Shapiro in the first place so fuck that fat little lesbian.
To quote one of your own catchphrases from those long forgotten days when you were a Good Person: See that Patton Oswald? That’s you, that is.
I hope it was worth it, Stu. I really do.