Since his radio work with Richard Herring in early 90s and writing much of the initial material for Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge character, Stewart Lee has been making people laugh in unpredictable ways.

Now he is trying to answer the difficult question: “How do you make people laugh in such unstable, unpredictable times?”

During late 2000 and early 2001, Lee “gradually, incrementally and without any fanfare – or even much thought – gave up being a stand-up comedian”. This hiatus ended in 2009 with Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle to BBC 2, which was met with widespread acclaim and a scathing Time Out review from Stewart himself.

Now back on the road, his current tour, Tornado/Snowflake sees him, in his own words, “negotiating the thin line between has-been and legend”. On that tour he is challenging himself with performing two one-hour sets back to back in one night for his Tornado/Snowflake tour.

Tornado, the first half of the show, sees Stewart questioning his place in a comedy marketplace that is now driven in part by Netflix, which mistakenly paired his show with the description “Reports of sharks falling from the skies are on the rise again. Nobody on the Eastern Seaboard is safe” after it was mixed up with the 2013 made-for-television sci-fi film Sharknado.

In the second half of the night, Stewart questions his own worth in a society that seems to be demolishing the liberal virtues he was keen to promote “in a fairy-tale landscape of winter wonder”.

“Snowflake is a more discursive, ideas-driven hour, about how some people think political correctness has supposedly imposed on people’s freedoms,” he says.

So Stewart’s latest show sees him discussing his trouble with the modern attitude to things like political correctness. How does he think that comedy is holding up in that modern world?

“I was very lucky to start out when the old alternative comedy values where still in place, as I think modern stand-up is bland, market driven and unpleasant.”

I still love the work of my contemporaries, like Harry Hill and Simon Munnery. I think Daniel Kitson is the greatest living stand-up and I would like my wife Bridget Christie’s act even more than I do if I wasn’t married to her and knew what she was really like. Paul Sinha from The Chase is a great stand-up.”

“From the newer comics I really like Rosie Jones and Ghosts, by the Horrible Histories lot, is my favourite comedy TV show since Detectorists and This Country. I saw the husband from Ghosts in a tile warehouse and I was quite star-struck. And of course, he didn’t know who I was, so it was all very awkward.”

In his own 30-year career Stewart has won Baftas and British Comedy Awards and yet he is still not quite a household name, why does he think that is?

“Well to some extent, I engineered it, by never going on panel shows or Live At The Apollo,” he says. “It was easy to do this as I was never asked.”

Fame is a very helpful thing for someone who relies on people buying tickets and coming out to see them perform, so why has Stewart so clearly avoided it?

“Celebrity gets in the way of the art of being a stand-up, and it is a massive pain in the backside being even a bit famous,” he says. “Me being recognised is embarrassing for the kids, and we’ve had to take legal advice on people threatening and harassing us, and they weren’t all other comedians.

“The last stand-up special, Content Provider, played to two million people on the i-player in 2018 and there was stuff about Brexit in it. Before it went out I grew a massive beard and let myself go a bit, so I didn’t get attacked in the street. The problem is, I can’t seem to find my way back to normal now, so I look like a furry bin bag.”

Politics – and particularly Brexit – are widely known as a difficult area for comedy, but then Stewart doesn’t seem too concerned about the risk of alienating audiences.

“I don’t really change what I say on stage in different parts of the country,” he says. “The on-stage Stewart Lee is an artist imposing his arrogant vision on audiences. He’s not there to entertain people. He just does what he does, and if they are entertained it is an accidental by-product of the performance.”

This may sound like Stewart doesn’t care whether his audience like the show or even turn up at all, but it seems to be more him adopting the apathetic position necessary to create his brand of comedy.

“Every new tour, I tie myself in gut-wrenching knots worrying time will finally be called on my career, but this show has got better reviews than ever so I am cursed to continue,” he says.

Would he change any of those routines if he were to perform them today?

“I wouldn’t be as aggressive about it now as I was last time I toured, because I don’t think anyone has got what they wanted, so it just seems like a massive tragedy,” he says. “But I’m not going to change who I am or what I think, even if it did mean losing audiences, which it doesn’t seem to have done. They’ve gone up if anything.”

“I didn’t get into this to get big crowds. I got into it to be free to do what I want. People can come and see me if they want, but it doesn’t make any difference to the work I produce. I’d do it anyway, to no one.”

Stewart Lee will perform Tornado/Snowflake at Brighton Dome from February 18 to 21