OPINION - I’m on Stewart Lee’s ‘pedal bin list’... yippee!

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 (Natasha Pszenicki)
(Natasha Pszenicki)

On Monday, a friend texted excitedly to tell me I had been put in Stewart Lee’s “pedal bin”. What on earth could this mean? It turned out that the well-known stand-up’s January newsletter — sent to thousands and trending on Twitter — had included a list of people he disapproved of entitled “in the pedal bin”. In the bin were Donald Trump, Piers Corbyn, the Taliban, “fishermen”, some Tory MPs, Poland, and, above Putin, me.

What? My first thought was that it must be a case of mistaken identity. There are three journalist Gills (unrelated) — perhaps one of the others had instigated riots at the Capitol or run over Lee’s cat, and he’d got us confused. But then I dredged up a devastatingly mild tweet from 2019. “Is Stewart Lee funny,” I had written, “Or does he just say things his audience is likely to agree with, really slowly?” Could that have been it?

If so, a question presents itself about the hierarchy of the list. Is Lee operating with indiscriminate panache? Or is there more structure to it? It seems clear, for example, that fishermen must come somewhere below the Taliban on the depravity scale, but just how far below? Is the fishing industry worth, say, 0.3 Talibans, or is it more like 0.03? How close are Scrabble (also on the list) and Poland? How many Andrew Lloyd Webbers equate to a Putin? How has my bestiality-committing great-great uncle Eric Gill appeared twice in the newsletter’s art show recommendation list but avoided my fate in the pedal bin? Is Lee passing moral judgment at all, or are we bin dwellers linked by insulting his comedy?

I bear Lee no ill will, but there do appear to have been some hurt feelings. Poland and Maureen Lipman are yet to comment, but the young comedian Darrell Maclaine was seemingly so upset, he left Twitter. But his entry is better than he thinks, presenting as it does that rarest of career opportunities: a feud with someone more powerful in your field.

This technique was first explained to me by a much admired columnist who part-fuelled his rise through leveraging Twitter feuds. The trick, he said, was only to pick fights with those more prominent than you. Their fame would bring you to attention, and that they bothered to engage would transfer some of their clout to you.

You can see the success of this ploy with Sadiq Khan, who in 2016 goaded Donald Trump into a long-running spat, which gave Khan the appearance of a tiny principled David squaring up to Goliath. Mutually beneficial feuds, where both parties increase their fame, have a long history — Edison and Tesla, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Piers Morgan has so perfected the art of the spat that he can spend years feuding with people who have never responded to him. And who knows, perhaps there’s a feud somewhere in this for me, too. Stewart? Your move.

What do you think of Stewart Lee’s “pedal bin”? Let us know in the comments below.

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