Comedy: Get your Nietzsche out for the lads, then

League Against Tedium Lyric Studio, London

One of the enduring cliches about the British is that we don't like intellectuals. To us, clever means clever-clever. Which perhaps explains why The League Against Tedium is not a household name while Hale and Pace get their own show on the BBC.

The League consists of Simon Munnery plus an opera singer, an organist, and assorted self-built gadgets. Munnery (you may remember him as Alan Parker: Urban Warrior) has described his new character as "the High Pope of Nietzschean camp", and much has been made of the aphoristic insults he delivers from Zarathustrian heights, like Brian Sewell on laughing gas or Alf Garnett with a degree. This is not "dangerous" - comedy audiences like a bit of abuse. But it is hilarious, which is what matters.

Before the show, the screen he uses beams out messages. Some are pure invective: "Attention, scum: you are nothing, absolutely nothing. You are sub-worms. Behold superiority!" But that's only the half of it. Much funnier are pronouncements such as: "This show features the use of epileptics. Kindly refrain from strobing", or: "This show does not de-grade women. If anything it upgrades them. Raises them on high. Especially so during the caged-dancing section."

The point of his act (I think) is to turn the world on its head. "Fish deserve to be caught," he remarks during a riff about natural selection. "They're lazy - 2 million years of evolution and they still haven't got out of the water." (Evolution, he believes, was simply Darwin's attempt to justify his unnaturally hairy back.) And during a rant about foreigners, he observes: "The Norwegians have no word for 'honest' - or so they claim."

Public decency means that much of the show is, sadly, unrecordable, the scatological climax being the singer's meditation on the c-word as the audience files out at the end. For all the cerebral one-liners, though, the bits that had this reviewer most helpless with laughter were more physical - a peerless Dylan parody ("Your beauty makes me spill my beeeer") and a lecture on religion delivered by his brilliant Michael Caine in a jacket covered in roses ("The message of Christ is simple enough: come and have a go if you think you're hard enough.")

As befits a man with two degrees (Latin at Oxford, chemistry at Cambridge), and who spent six months working in chemical warfare at Aldermaston, he is preoccupied with technology. The Glove of Power, which lets him manipulate the images on the screen, was a bit slow on the uptake (low batteries, apparently), and it was engaging to see Munnery's grimaces, his willingness to come out of character and let things go slightly awry.

Later, he used his "Sword of Dst:ny" (pronounced "dust'n' wee" - don't ask), two pieces of wood nailed together with two tiny cameras attached. He explored the sword's comic possibilities, apparently on the hoof. He turned it on the audience, examining the front row's shoes; he intercut his own image with South Park-style animation. It was a dizzy ride through the contents of Munnery's oversized brain.

In my favourite line of the night, he observed, "Many are prepared to suffer for their art. Few are prepared to learn to draw." Munnery has suffered, learnt to draw, had a pilot rejected by Channel 4 ...

More fool them. In these days of Big Train, League of Gentlemen, and Smack the Pony, there has to be a place for Simon Munnery. "What is TV?" he asks. "It is a communication device - like a telephone or a mallet." Make him the BBC's next director-general, I say.

Lyric Studio, W6 (0181 741 2311), to 19 June

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


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