Stewart Lee: 90s Comedian, Underbelly

Charlie Pickering: Betterman, Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh

The relationship between the atheistic Lee, who describes the Catholic Church as his favourite kind of clandestine global evil, and organised religion became impossible this year after the ruckus over televising his Jerry Springer the Opera, for which he received death threats. Tonight he remarked on a red laser beam coming from the audience, making light of its threat, but at that moment the malicious make-up of some of his detractors hit home.

In the second half of his act tonight, Lee likens his problems with the religious establishment to those of Jesus, hence the clever parallel mentioned at the start. The long set piece about Lee's drunken walk with Jesus contains all of the Lee trademarks: a kind of uber-rhetoric of repeated phrases, loose ends tidied up and the ultimate in cheeky irreverence. It wouldn't work in a club, but Lee carries it off well as part of an hour-long show. This is a comedian who even a zealous opponent had to admit was "an intelligent young man", before adding, "It's a pity [he'll] burn in hell."

The first half of the show is much more the club set: Pope lollies, endoscopy gags, and a campaign to encourage us to throw Dan Brown's books in the loo.

It's true that Lee is almost as much fun to write about as he is to watch; where his ego fears to tread sometimes impresses and appals in equal measure. Tonight he divides the audience reaction to the clever jokes into teams A to F, descending the alphabet as their understanding of the punchline diminished. Even the "dunces" laughed as they stood in the corner.

Lee has kindly included a quote from my review of his show last year on his poster. It reads: "Surly, arrogant, laboured." This year I'll go for burly, still quite arrogant but savoured.

There's a bright start to Charlie Pickering's show, with the comedian attempting to fill two e-mail accounts by setting up addresses as Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, creating a cyberspace re-enactment of the "Rumble in the Jungle".But the delivery of his routines is often bland, and crass one-liners such as, "If you don't believe in gay marriage, then don't marry a gay", are fillers.

Pickering has technical ability, but he's not in the same league as others accompanying him on the Perrier Newcomer list.

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