EDINBURGH FESTIVAL 2013 REVIEW

Stewart Lee has become the arbiter of all that is pure in comedy. But it seems he has a shady secret, that he stole from an obscure Canadian stand-up called Baconface, known in the clubs around his home town of Chilliwack, British Columbia, for wearing a mask draped in the cured meat and his constant catchphrase: ‘It’s all bacon.’

The guff-voiced Canuck’s opening monologue of his Fringe debut is almost word-for-word the same as a routine Lee used to perform on the circuit, about being woken by evangelists one morning, telling him ‘Jesus is the answer’. Perhaps Lee thought he would get away with it, simply by changing Seventh Day Adventists to Jehovah’s Witnesses – but when Baconface performs he makes no such concession to British references. If you don’t know who Bobby Orr is, then it’s your loss.

‘I don’t expect you to understand it, or relate to it, or find it funny in any way,’ the stubborn charcuterie-covered comic says, explaining the act was designed for the folk of the Pacific North West, not Scottish urban sophisticates. Treat it like Japanese Noh theatre, a sample of a different culture, we’re advised.

How very similar to Lee’s aloof treatment of the audience, deliberately trying to alienate them, simply for the challenge it provides him. But it’s not only the material and the attitude Lee stole, he even seems to have adopted the exact same physical dimensions of his ‘inspiration’.

Baconface, patriotically clad in Rush T-shirt and plaid lumberjack shirt, has been credited as a ‘programme associate’ on the next series of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle. It’s almost as if Lee is using a man cloaked in anonymity to road-test material, often cruder than his normal fare, that he would find difficult to perform under his own name.

An elongated, filthy, story about a rather peculiar attack by a 750lb male Canadian grizzly shares Lee’s familiar patterns of slow-build repetition to make its impact. And even when that technique doesn’t come off, as in the segment about alternative names for Bigfoot that starts strong but suffers diminishing returns, it only spurs the attritional Baconface to do it more.

Lee aficionados will enjoy the in-joke asides, and there is plenty of knowing comment on the practice of stand-up itself, which are more enjoyable if you know the true origins of Baconface. But this is not a Stewart Lee show, and so is looser, less polished, and allowed to fail more often than the British pretender would normally indulge. It’s not all funny, but it is all bacon.

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