THERE are not many comedians who can divide opinion quite like Stewart Lee does.

Adored and despised in equal measures, his style of comedy is just as likely to have audiences scratching their heads in bewilderment as it is to leave them rolling in the aisles.

Thankfully, there are more than enough devotees – or ‘sycophants’, as Lee jokingly refers to them as – to sell out the Oxford Playhouse next week with his latest show Snowflake/Tornado.

“It’s two one-hour shows back to back,” says Lee, who studied at Oxford University in the 1980s before finding fame on TV and radio in a double act with Richard Herring.

“Tornado is a story show about me sharing a venue with a famous American comedian and getting chased off by his private security team. Snowflake is a more discursive, ideas-driven hour, about how some people think political correctness has supposedly imposed on people’s freedoms.”

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Was Oxford an obvious choice for a whole week of shows?

“Well, I do like the Playhouse, and I am a patron of the building,” he says. “Before I got in at the Playhouse a great Oxford promoter called Paddy Luscombe used to try all sorts of efforts to find larger venues that worked, disused cinemas etc, and he really built me an audience in Oxford. He used to do the comedy at The Cellar Bar which has closed now, sadly.

“I was a student in Oxford over three decades ago though and, having made my peace with the place in recent years, I am more than happy to do a long run here. The staff at the Playhouse are really great and it is a very playable room.”

He is staying in the city during the run. So what old haunts will he be paying a visit to?

“I will walk Port Meadow, probably wander around the Pitt Rivers and The Ashmolean and look at Alfred’s Jewell, and have a drink in the Turf and the King’s Arms, and I will do a talk for English students at my old college, St Edmund Hall,” he says.

“I will go and visit Truck records, which wasn’t there in my day, but is great. I will probably stand outside student houses I used to live in on Iffley Road and St Clements, crying for a lost childhood, and my lost ‘80s hair. Other than that I mainly notice the absence of ‘80s things – Garon records in the Covered Market and Pink Hedgehog, the wild flower meadows off Iffley Road, and all the anarcho book vendors around Cowley Road. And my hair.”

His tours take on hundreds of dates and last many months – even years. Do the routines require many running repairs if they get overtaken by political events?

“That is a very good question and thanks for asking it,” replies Lee, who co-wrote the Olivier Award-winning Jerry Springer: The Musical, and whose BBC2 show Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle ran for four series.

“It was hard to hold the last tour – Content Provider – together in the face of the rapidly escalating Brexit story, but it worked out. Because my shows have beginnings, middles, ends and narrative-like structures, you can’t just bin the whole thing, so I need to make them impregnable to news if they are to serve for 200 dates of a long tour.

“This usually means corralling off news detail into sections that can pop in and out without bringing the whole edifice down. As it happens, for this tour, the general trend towards the right, and against political correctness and so-called ‘woke’ culture, (both of which ideas I am a fan of), that has happened since I started putting this show together, has actually firmed up the main thrust of the second half, and lots of the silly characters I mention – Boris Johnson, Ricky Gervais – have become more prominent since the tour began, so it has worked out well.”

Ah yes, Boris Johnson. As a fully paid-up member of the metropolitan liberal elite, what’s his take on the election result?

“Well I think Boris Johnson is a massive lying **** bereft of empathy or morals, and most of the people that worked on his behalf were happy to use newspapers and the internet to spread lies and should be ashamed of themselves, but it’s not hard to realise how the result happened, distressing as it is to snowflakes like me,” he says.

“I hope the recalibration of British politics can survive the fact that Johnson’s massive lies have crashed many people’s faith in the notion of a functioning democracy.”

Lee has shunned the ubiquitous TV panel shows (or rather, he says, they’ve shunned him) – but what’s the most bizarre programme he’s been offered?

“Too many to mention, but probably one of those Comedy Roast things,” he says. “It’s just not my bag at all. I’m just not a panel show act either.

“When I did them, in 2006, I was conscious of trying to work as part of a group to set things up for the show but people just shut you down and crash over you, people who are normally perfectly nice in real life. It’s like The Stanford Prison Experiment.

“Also, I wasn’t prepared to just learn the generic news jokes the writers had written, which is what most people on them do, and which is why they all have the same one-dimensional beats and tonality. We lost a lot of good comics to panel shows over the years, potentially great stand-ups who had their horizons contracted in to being zingy one-liner monkeys. Some managed to find their way back. Most don’t.”

Lee was last in Oxford last year to warm up for cult Birmingham post-punk band The Nightingales – about whom he has helped make a DIY-style documentary King Rocker – at the Jericho Tavern. Did that bring back a sense of nostalgia?

“It brought back nostalgia for seeing bands at the Jericho from 86-89 to be honest, a brilliant time for what was known as the C86 movement.

“We didn’t know how lucky we were. Superb Oxford groups like Razorcuts (a punk Byrds), Tallulah Gosh (godmothers of indie-pop) and The Wild Poppies (some trippy New Zealand expats whose live shows were much better than their only album). Visitors like Jasmine Minks, Brilliant Corners, and The Motorcycle Boy. I saw Ali Farka Toure the Mali blues guitarist there with about eight people.”

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His old sidekick Richard Herring was also at the Playhouse to record his Podcast last year, and said he didn’t think their shows like Fist of Fun and This Morning With Richard Not Judy would get commissioned these days. Does Lee agree?

“It may be a good thing that those shows wouldn’t get commissioned,” he admits. “We were two white middle class heterosexual men fresh out of a top university so maybe someone else should have been given a go. We are why Brexit happened.

“There are some really great comedy shows on British TV in the last decade though, so I don’t know if one should be too nostalgic about the past. Ghosts, This Country, Detectorists, Chewing Gum and Inside No 9 are all better than anything we did together in the ‘90s, though they don’t have the sort of messy energy that we did, if that’s what he means.

“How did our shows get commissioned anyway? Probably because we were with a big intimidating agency – Avalon – who strong-armed them into some easily bullied BBC exec’s in-tray.

“I still don’t fully understand how Comedy Vehicle got commissioned. Though I say it myself I was probably the most acclaimed young(ish) stand-up comic in the country at the time I first submitted a proposal for a stand-up show on TV, around 2004/5, but it got hijacked by a production company that I didn’t want to produce it, so I bailed out and they wouldn’t let me do it in-house with the BBC, who I trusted more. Then a few years later someone at the BBC asked me what had happened, and as I was still getting the gongs I submitted another proposal and they went with that. Beats me.

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“There never seemed much enthusiasm for recommissioning it between series, even though it won comedy awards and Baftas and got over a million viewers, but I got a good decade’s work out of it. It’s nice to be writing long shows again though.

“I seem to have joined that happy band of stand-ups whom proper comedy fans like – Rhod Gilbert, Dylan Moran for example – who hopefully can tour effectively whenever they want without being dependent on the whims of TV. And then die. Hopefully on stage at the Oxford Playhouse from a massive drug and alcohol induced heart attack.

“Scatter my ashes in a cowpat in a wild flower meadow somewhere near Godstow. I was once happy there.”

Stewart Lee’s Snowflake/Tornado is at the Oxford Playhouse, Beaumont Street, Until Saturday, February 29 at 7.30pm. All shows are sold out