Alexwalsh's Blog

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@JamiePotter – Stewart Lee and Rhetoric

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The interesting thing about this clip is in telling a story about an argument as an argument. I will briefly describe some of the elements of rhetoric and how Stewart Lee uses its techniques to persuade the audience of a point of view. The speech does not present how he got his point across to the character in the story, it is about how he is getting his point across to his audience, using a character in a story.

Like anything worth doing, convincing people, or assisting them in forming opinions has been codified.  There’s a list of some of the general techniques that have been demonstrated as effective. The following three points are what can make an argument persuasive. There are further elements that relate to performance and delivery (all of which are used VERY well in the clip), but lets stick to these three first.

1.     Ethos – Establish credibility

2.     Pathos – Appeal to emotion

3.     Logos – Appeal to reason


The way that Stewart Lee presents himself in this clip is interesting.  Much of his credibility has been established over the last 20 years, that’s probably what drew a lot of the audience. Throughout this clip he establishes it further for the audience by placing himself in a scenario where he is displayed as a person who will fight for a good cause. In this way, he hopes to convince people of what he stands for. It was this in particular that made me describe it as textbook.

This has ticked the box for the element of rhetoric: Ethos, establishing credibility.  In other words, having a reputation for being reasonable will aid you in an argument. You can do this in the argument, or as an ongoing process of public persona.


He then uses the second element, the appeal to emotion. In this particular example, it is not extremes of emotion, but empathy, that he is appealing to. We have all been in slightly uncomfortable conversations with people who have odd opinions.

We can relate to how that scenario feels. This ticks the box for the Appeal to Emotion: Pathos.


The next thing he does is to use reason.  In analysing the cab driver’s use of the word ‘immoral’ from a historical perspective he can undo the strength of his point of view. It’s worth mentioning that in this instance, he is appealing to the audience’s reason, through the example of the cabbie.

Ticks box three, Appeal to Reason: Logos.

In describing why he disagrees with the character about homosexuality, this clip illustrates two points that Stewart Lee made at the start.

“You do meet people who have very fixed notions about other groups of people.” As a question relating to this, do you think that the audience would have more, or less persuaded by his argument if he used a Glaswegian barman as an example, instead of London cabbies?


Written by alexwalsh

February 18, 2011 at 8:47 pm

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