FIRST-TIME purveyors of the comedy stylings of Stewart Lee would probably have found themselves slightly baffled as ‘The Times’s No.1 stand-up comedian’ (according to Lee himself) started his week-long run of shows at the Playhouse on Monday.

The critically-acclaimed performer and writer – and patron of the Beaumont Street theatre – was not here to make friends with his audience, or his fellow comedians, for that matter.

“There are no punchlines, just changes in tone,” he warns us early on, later repeating his oft-used mantra: “I can do jokes: I just choose not too.”

But Lee’s work is so much more than just gag-telling. He has made a career out of subverting the stand-up genre, with intricately-crafted stories, themes, and sudden digressions, mixing highbrow intellectual theory with blunt invective.

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The show is split into two. Kicking off with ‘Tornado’, Lee rants about the fact that, for two years, Netflix’s listings for his Comedy Vehicle series actually contained the details for the disaster movie Sharknado instead. Weaving in a series of digs at comics Josh Widdecombe, Ricky Gervais, US comedians in general and Dave Chappelle in particular – with whom he shared a stage and against whom he now bears a grudge – it culminates in a pitch-perfect Alan Bennett parody that neatly tops and tails the whole routine.

‘Snowflake’ is a passionate defence of political correctness, so severely under attack in these days of culture wars.

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Proudly labelling himself as an advocate of the woke culture, he compares and contrasts the outdated opinions of his gran – in a hilariously screechy Brummie accent – and children’s author Enid Blyton (another superb literary parody, involving Golliwogs moving into 1970s Birmingham) with the political correct way of discussing things.

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Inspired by an attack on him by Tony Parsons in GQ magazine, Lee goes on the offensive – picking apart the criticism and then adding plenty of his own.

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His trademark techniques are in evidence – particularly in a piece where he mimics Ricky Gervais ‘saying the unsayable’ through a long spell of attempting and failing to spit out words, resulting in a series of weird, revolting noises, gradually becoming ever-more ridiculous.

It must have lasted about five minutes, but seemed like hours – Lee tests his audience’s patience to the limits with his forays into repetition, later admitting that a reviewer on Mumsnet described the piece as “too long”.

“That implies there is a correct amount of time for it to go on for,” he says. “And that she knows what it is.”

The audience is regularly berated, at other times he looks at us with pity for not getting an obscure reference. We know it’s all part of his act, but we still feel hurt.

He finishes with a song – played on an acoustic guitar, and sung with a surprisingly tender voice – but undercut with choice language.

Tornado/Snowflake runs until Saturday at the Playhouse.