STEWART Lee seems pretty relaxed for a man who finds himself on the frontline of a war. The much-vaunted “culture wars” are like that, you can take a break, set your laptop and your smartphone aside, and decide not to give a toss whether ProudBoy2022 wants to rip off your arm and hit you with the soggy end.

In any case, says the “41st best stand-up” in history, the current war on ­“wokeness” being waged from various quarters – from the offices of the Daily Mail to 10 Downing Street – is a re-run of a conflict we’ve seen before.

Lee – who starts the Scottish leg of his Snowflake/Tornado tour at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre next Sunday – notes that he “caught the tail-end of the first wave” of what was, in the 1980s, dubbed “alternative comedy”. Starting off in 1989 as a progressive, young ­comic who didn’t find racism, sexism and homophobia ­particularly funny, he and early ­partner-in-comedy Richard Herring found themselves fitting into a movement that included left-wing comedians like Alexei Sayle, Linda Smith and Jeremy Hardy.

The movement – which is often ­credited as being kicked off by the ­legendary ­Scottish comedian Arnold Brown – arose in the midst of the ­social ­upheavals ­under the right-wing ­administrations of ­Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s (below). The young generation of left-wing comics didn’t have to look far for something to kick against.

The National: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

Their own profession was ­dominated by old-school club comedians, like ­Bernard Manning and Roy Walker, whose stock-in-trade was bigotry. “The punchlines tended to be about gender, race and sexuality,” Lee remembers. The alternative comedians “tried to get away from those things, and they were roundly abused for it”.

Lee remembers watching a panel show on telly in 1990 which featured David Baddiel, as a representative of alternative comedy, and Jim Bowen, the old-school comic and presenter of TV darts show Bullseye. Bowen turned to Baddiel, he recalls, and commented that alternative comedy was the “alternative to comedy”.

The current so-called “culture wars” – which boast such intellectual ­heavyweights as Jeremy Clarkson, Piers Morgan and Nadine Dorries as leaders of the “anti-woke” side – are, for Lee, reminiscent of the battles of the 1980s. Back then, progressives were decried for being “politically correct”, now they are referred to as “woke”.

Following the anti-Poll Tax riots of 1990 and the political demise of Thatcher there was, Lee observes, a bit of lull in the culture wars. “I think there was an entente cordiale in the 1990s, in which liberals assumed the goals were being achieved, so you could play fast and loose with standards a bit,” he says.

The National: Al Murray as The Pub Landlord

The comedian gives Little Britain and Al Murray, the Pub Landlord (above) as ­examples of liberal comedians who thought the clash between ­progressive and ­reactionary humour was over, ­allowing them to go into territory – such as ­blackface (in the case of ­Little ­Britain) and right-wing ­nationalism (Al ­Murray) – that had hitherto been the provinces of right-wing comics. He is, surely, right about the difficulties of ­comedians who consider themselves to be ­politically ­progressive dabbling, ­however ­“ironically”, in such material.

David Walliams and Matt Lucas, for example, have apologised for the use of blackface in Little Britain. This ­problem goes back further than many people might think. It certainly predates the assault on “political correctness” in the 1980s.

Between 1965 and 1992, actor ­Warren Mitchell – who was, famously, ­Jewish and a left-wing socialist – played the ­reactionary Cockney character Alf ­Garnett in a series of popular TV ­sitcoms such as Till Death Us Do Part. For ­Mitchell, Garnett was a satirical ­character, a send-up of everyday bigotry.

However, that didn’t stop Mitchell ­being hailed in the street by bigots who cheered on the character’s reactionary sentiments.

As to the current culture wars, Lee himself might be considered to have fired one of the opening salvos, co-writing, as he did, the 2003 comic musical Jerry Springer: The Opera. The show – which was critically acclaimed and won ­numerous awards – elicited a record 63,000 complaints following the BBC’s decision to broadcast it in 2005.

It was also the subject of street ­protests and, even, legal action on the part of Christian fundamentalist groups, one of which condemned its “filth and ­blasphemy”.

More recently, Lee’s comic ­monologue “Comin’ Over Here” – a brilliant and very funny takedown of right-wing ­discourse on migration – led to him ­collaborating with Asian Dub Foundation, who ­created a track built around sampled lines from the skit. Appearing in an ADF music ­video does, he admits, undermine his “function” as a father, which is to be seen as old and uncool by his kids.

Lee notes that the troubled GB News channel was established very much as a reaction against so-called “woke”. Jim Davidson also has an “anti-woke” TV panel show in the pipeline.

This backlash is predicated on the idea that “wokeness” is alienating the ­majority of the population. The ­comedian thinks Davidson and co are barking up the wrong tree.

“My tour is extremely ‘woke’,” he says, “and it’s sold a quarter-of-a-million tickets.” There’s little sign, the comic continues, of “people being tired of ‘woke’”.

It's often quipped that comedy is a “serious business”. That fact was underlined recently by Jimmy Carr’s so-called “joke” about the murder of up to 500,000 Roma people by the Nazis being one of the “positives” of the Holocaust.

READ MORE: Jimmy Carr faces backlash over ‘disturbing’ Holocaust joke about Travellers

For Lee, Carr is a “light entertainer” whose idiom is “poor taste”. By stepping into such a serious subject as the Holocaust, he was bound to come a cropper.

“Jimmy Carr’s a nice bloke,” he says, “but his work is not sophisticated enough to bear analysis. The moment you try to discuss it, its intention and its internal logic collapse.

“All he is about is the next laugh… The work’s not assembled with any degree of thought…

“He hasn’t really thought about what that [joke] will do. It’s not a concern for him.”

Carr’s ultra-libertarian, “anything is sayable” position doesn’t take proper cognisance of the times we’re living in, says Lee. Social media gives what we say, including gags comedians tell, a greater reach and potency. With that power, to rehearse the cliché, comes responsibility.

“A Jimmy Carr joke is the sort of thing someone might say among friends at one o’clock in the morning,” Lee comments. However, with the advent of social ­media, “the thing has slipped its moorings now”.

“Unfortunately, people have to think about that. The context changes things.”

Lee notes that comedian Robin Ince recently “tried to plead with Ricky ­Gervais … that he should think about the fact that his humour is adopted and used as a flag by the far right in America.” Ince’s argument was, he adds, “dismissed out of hand” by Gervais.

“I think we do have to think about things like this now, because we’re living in a different sort of world.”

Being the dedicated father that he is, Lee recently accepted an invitation to speak to the children in his daughter’s junior school.

“I was talking to these little, 10-year-old girls about how jokes are ­different now, because, if they make fun of ­someone on social media, that’s around for ages and it reaches different crowds than it would if they were just doing it in the playground.”

Lee was impressed to find that the children “really understood” his point. “They asked really good questions,” he says.

“These 10-year-old girls approached the subject with more intelligence and responsibility than Ricky Gervais,” he adds, with a laugh.

The trouble that Boris Johnson is ­currently in – with the general public and, consequently, with Tory MPs – is, Lee thinks, “part of the unravelling of the culture war”. “People are realising that … what’s happening with borders, foodbanks, the independence of the ­devolved countries, are far more important than complaining that the National Trust has put up a plaque explaining that this house was once owned by a slave trader.”

The “anti-woke” right-wing have tried to focus people’s attention on perceived threats to so-called “tradition”. They do this, Lee suggests, “because they always need an enemy, the Tories, whether it’s Europe, or Scotland, or ‘woke’ people”.

Now heading towards his mid-50s, Lee shows no sign of mellowing. However, he admits, with a laugh, that “the ­on-stage me is more aggressively ‘woke’ than I am.”

Of his on-stage persona, he adds: “I wouldn’t express those beliefs in such vociferous terms [in private], but I enjoy being able to be him for two-and-a-half hours.” It keeps things “interesting”, he says, being a comedian who is identified as standing for a particular position, even if the term “woke” is little more than a lazy epithet.

“The kids don’t care [about the abusive intent in the word],” he comments. “They like being ‘woke’, they think it’s good.

“Your sons and your daughters are ­beyond your command,” he adds, quoting Bob Dylan, as you’d expect of a “woke”, 50-something comedian.

Stewart Lee tours his Snowflake/Tornado show to Edinburgh, Perth and Aberdeen, June 19-23, returning to the Edinburgh Fringe, August 3-28: