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If only the financial services sector was more like Stewart Lee

by: Simon Willoughby
  • 15/05/2014
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If only the financial services sector was more like Stewart Lee
AXA Wealth International head of proposition Simon Willoughby on his love of stand-up comic Stewart Lee and how he wishes financial services could be more like him.

Some of you may recall my chance meeting with the comedian Jimmy Carr last year, and due to my inability to retain sufficient composure when trying to engage him in conversation, how I became the unfortunate victim of his cutting wit.

Well, you’ll be pleased to know that I recently managed to strike-up a brief and vaguely coherent discussion with my all time favourite comedian after a show in Leicester Square. He even signed my DVD.

Stewart Lee (pictured), whose third Comedy Vehicle series has just finished on BBC2, tends to polarise opinions.

If you’ve come across him, you’re likely to be either an addicted fan of his comic style or hate him with a vengeance.

As an example of the latter, the Daily Mail described him as a “Slime pit of bitterness”.

To prove this point, when I asked my wife if she wanted to come to the show, she said “Oh, no. I can’t stand him. I’m going to the ballet instead”.

Apparently diverse interests are the key to a successful marriage, so I went on my own.

It was one of the best stand-up shows I’ve ever seen, and while I waited in a wine bar off Leicester Square for the ballet-follower to return from her rather more highbrow entertainment, I reflected on why I like Stewart Lee and his particular brand of humour.

I concluded that, as he would say, “The comedian Stewart Lee” is everything I wish the financial services sector would be, but only infrequently is.

Stewart Lee has been around since the late 80s and although his recent TV series’ have brought his talent to a wider audience, something you suspect he secretly hates, he’s never altered his style to court wider popularity.

He’s avoided TV panel shows as well as observational comedy. In my view he’s never sold out.

He’s not afraid to challenge conventional thinking and tackle social injustice by using his own brand of subtle satire and verbal dexterity to put across an alternative view on a topic.

This has the effect of shaming his audience into considering a different way of thinking without beating them over the head.

Finally he’s also not afraid to deconstruct the art of stand-up and lay bare the techniques and processes around which his act is supposed to be built.

He’s able to do this because he has the confidence and skill to do so and still make people laugh even though he’s already told them why they really shouldn’t.

I’d like to work in a financial services sector that was a little braver, that never submits to vested interest groups and always chooses to do what’s best for the end client.

While I think that is the direction of travel, wouldn’t it be great if we were there already?

I’d like to work in a sector that was self confident enough to deal with social consequences of advice exclusion and the real life impact this could have.

I’d also like to work in a sector that was more willing to accept that large parts of what it does right now will need to change in the future and to openly seek to meet these challenges rather than trying to defend the past.

In a nutshell, I’d like the financial services sector to be more like Stewart Lee.

Of course the irony is “The comedian Stewart Lee” would be horrified by such a thought, although I think the Stewart Lee I met would probably allow himself a quiet chuckle.

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