Opinion: What I Won't Miss About Lee Evans

Lee Evans

I guess your thoughts on Lee Evans announcing his retirement from stand-up comedy depends on what you think of him as a stand-up comedian. I’ve been a big fan of his for years, but like a number of critics felt that his latest show was his weakest in a while. And honestly, whatever you might think, critics don't get together and plan their angle in advance. We just all have exquisite taste.

A piece has appeared in the Radio Times by Emma Daly, however, in which she goes through the things she will miss about Evans and it has crystallised why I’m not so sorry he has announced he is giving up. 

Daly cites a couple of routines she will miss: “I can’t get through an airport trip without the man. When you’re sent to gate 95, lugging bag upon bag, you want to scream Evans’ words: “Where’s gate one? I’ve never seen a f***ing gate one. Why do we have to walk the first mile and a half ourselves? Are you trying to save on petrol? I’m that person in the restaurant, when they ask “Table for two?”, who replies with Evans-esque disdain: “Er, hang on, let me count, one, two, yes f***ing, please.” 

They sound pretty funny on paper actually. But the trouble is that under the slightest scrutiny they don’t work anywhere near as well. The first depends on ridiculous exaggeration while the second one is having a go at a waiter for just being polite. How are they not to know that you aren’t waiting for two more friends to arrive? This is humour that makes you laugh the most if you don't think too much.

And other gags in his recent show just didn’t even ring as true as those. There’s the problem, for instance, of being a man-of-the-people when he is clearly rich by now. Maybe he has stayed in a shitty budget hotel, but if he had it would have been perverse or bad forward planning and that's why his joke about rotten digs doesn’t have a ring of authenticity. And then there’s the frequently quoted line about his wife being able to “take a punch”. Yes, of course it’s a bloody joke. It’s just not a funny one.

The trouble is that his observational humour that was actually quite pioneering back in the late eighties has become mainstream comedy currency. I’m not saying others do his schtick better, but the likes of Peter Kay, Michael McIntyre and Jason Manford all do it just as well. And if you really need someone to do the gags in a working class London accent there’s always Micky Flanagan.

Oh, and I certainly won’t miss is those big sentimental production number songs at the end. I’ve never quite understood them and his latest one, a tribute to his missus, was slushier, soppier and sloppier than ever. And I won't miss those massive venues that he plays them in.

What will I miss? His revolutionary, genius Bohemian Rhapsody routine, which I first saw him perform at the Bloomsbury Theatre before he won the Perrier Award back in 1993. But luckily I’ve got it on DVD. And anyway, I suspect that one day he will be back onstage doing it again. There’s no doubt that Evans has a truly unique gift for physical comedy. I bet that after a few years away he’ll want to scratch the itch again. Only next time maybe he should do theatres rather than enormodomes.


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