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Jimmy Carr, Dave Chappelle and Vladimir Putin feature as Stewart Lee's Snowflake/Tornado returns two years after lockdown

What a difference two years makes.

When I was last sat in Canterbury's Marlowe Theatre awaiting the arrival of Stewart Lee it was against a backdrop of impending doom.

Stewart Lee returned to Kent after a two-year pandemic induced delay Picture: Tristram Kenton
Stewart Lee returned to Kent after a two-year pandemic induced delay Picture: Tristram Kenton

He was set to play two nights here as part of his Snowflake/Tornado tour in March 2020, but things were cut short after the first.

In fact, things were cut short across the world as lockdown turned everything on its head.

At the time I'd phoned ahead to check the show was still on but even the woman who assured me it was didn't seem convinced.

We arrived to a sell-out auditorium spattered with deserted seats. Looking back it was all very budget disaster movie.

It also felt like we were taking a risk – a band of rebel snowflakes thrown together by a shared interest in the comic works of The Times' "world's greatest living stand-up”, sneaking out to enjoy a pre-apocalyptic gig.

If the end of the world had happened in March 2020 and we were trapped in the Marlowe how would we have beaten back the baying mobs who would have inevitably taken to the streets? With rolled up copies of The Observer and snobbery, of course.

If Putin does go full tonto over the course of the next 140 minutes this imagined scenario will no doubt play out.

I've been in the lobby for five minutes and standing in the queue at the bar the woman in front is ordering breakfast tea with oat milk, the woman behind is scrolling through the Guardian's Instagram feed and everyone is wearing Doc Martens. The proportion of mask wearers is exceptionally high. It's the kind of place to make a GB News presenter explode with resentment. Bliss.

The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury
The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury

Lee arrives on stage to rapturous applause and launches into a set that immediately gives me déjà vu. Of course it does, I've already seen it.

This is the same material with some tweaks along the way but I'll give you two reasons why that's a good thing and a third if you need it.

Firstly, it showcases his higher-level skill. At points it feels like a seminar on comic writing and at points he makes it exactly that by explaining in intricate detail to members of the audience who have made the short hop from the University of Kent's comedy course exactly what he is doing.

These little lectures may not sound like good material but they very much are.

Watching it for a second time I'm appreciating the level of craftsmanship that goes in to a set like this.

Of course, much of this didn't happen before, he's improvising masterfully. And that's the second thing.

Within minutes the microphone cable has broken, a large group has arrived late and someone near me gets their phone out.

All these things are worthy of their own bits and as with everything with Lee nothing is brushed over quickly; as he points out later he doesn't do "quips", regardless of what anyway says.

He weaves all these interruptions into his set, runs to time and doesn't appear to leave anything out. It's impressive stuff.

Thirdly, and on perhaps the most basic level, I'm still laughing.

I'm laughing at everything. Some of it I've heard multiple times and while I'm not howling like some people and don't sound like I'm about to collapse like the guy behind (hope he's OK) it doesn't really matter that I remember a few punch lines.

I'm not sure this would happen if you watched the same Jimmy Carr joke twice.

Carr, by the way, gets a pasting, with material written in 2019 that is, if anything, more relevant now.

Jimmy Carr gets a pasting
Jimmy Carr gets a pasting

As does US comedy giant Dave Chappelle, whose penchant for rotisserie chicken and near-impossible work rates makes him the "Vladimir Putin of poultry".

Ricky Gervais gets a lengthy section in which he (acted by Lee) repeatedly attempts to say the unsayable.

All this forms part of a first half (Tornado) inspired by a Netflix mishap.

The second half (Snowflake) is a searing take down of the 'anti-woke brigade' centred around a GQ article penned by punk era polemicist Tony Parsons.

It's got a long bit about the structure of cesspits and concludes with fake snow and an acoustic song but as with everything during Lee's barnstorming return to the city it works because and not in spite of those things.

As Lee thanks the audience for taking advantage of the small window of opportunity between a pandemic and a war to come out and see him he remarks that not much has changed in two years.

One thing that has are Canterbury's parking charges (£6.90!!!), something that only dawns on me as my partner reveals she's spent two years developing a crush on Stewart Lee. We drive off silently into the night.

* Stewart Lee's resumed Snowflake/Tornado continues until August. Tickets can be bought here.

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