on 29 July 2010
This book is perhaps the funniest book I have ever read. Stewart Lee has consistently been one of the funniest comedians in the country and his apparently arrogant yet always self-deprecating style has been brilliantly realised on the page. He shows a thoughtfulness and integrity that puts previous controversies about his work into context and also provides a fascinating peek behind the subjects of his stand-up set to reveal complexity, planning and yet more humour behind them.
One of the things that stands out about his stand-up work is how much of it he does to amuse himself, and how he is well aware and largely in control of alienating and regaining his live audiences.
The transcripts of his live sets are really interesting as the copious footnotes give them new depth, but they read pretty well too - although probably better for having watched the sets on dvd. I can't recommend this book highly enough for anyone interested in Stewart Lee in particular or stand up in general. It will make you laugh.
One thing, if you're easily offended, then I would urge you to read this book - you'll be offended, but it raises a lot of ideas about why you might be offended, and why Stewart Lee has bothered to offend you.
An amazing insight into the inner workings of stand up comedy and in particular the way it has evolved since the 80s Alternative Comedy scene into the mainstream form it is in now. The book is educational, very entertaining, compelling and superbly written. It has helped to change my opinion of Stewart Lee and I urge anyone interested in comedy to read it.
The book is very emotional, too. It delves right into the depths of his failures, in the 90s, to achieve what he wanted in a way he could be seen as successful. The way he matures as a result of his retirement from stand up in the early part of the century, through to his part in the Jerry Springer opera and subsequent return to stand up is fascinating to read.
But, what I think were the best bits of the book were the transcripts of his live shows where he interjected them with reasons why things worked or didn't work. The way he broke down his own routine and explained the intricacies of them in a way not at first obvious was great.
The only minor gripes I had with the book, the only things I could possibly criticise it for were; the fact he just referred to quotes by his mates as if they were the most profound and amazing things anyone had ever said, when actually they weren't always as impressive as he was making out; the slightly arrogant tone of a few of his anecdotes (although he was surprisingly humble in places when I didn't expect him to be); and I disagreed with some of his opinions - all of which were interesting to read none the less.
I wasn't exactly a massive fan of Stewart Lee's work before reading this book, but his book has converted me! Definitely recommended.
on 8 December 2010
This book is as compelling as a thriller, as thought-provoking as a philosophical treatise and as beautifully written as any literary novel. And it's funny; as funny as...well, as funny as seeing Stewart Lee perform live. Or almost. Having seen all of the routines transcribed here I was hearing Lee's unique delivery of every line and remembering the (sometimes uncomfortable) silences, the shouts and whispers and the occasional startling physicality in the routines. Readers not familiar with the live acts will certainly want to seek them out on DVD after reading them here and comedy enthusiasts and fans of exhilarating prose everywhere will find plenty to enjoy.
The pleasure for me was in discovering the minute workings of the routines, their carefully crafted structure, the precisely chosen word or phrase that sets up a linguistic or imaginative collision that keeps the audience suspended in a brilliant comic moment. Lee harnesses all his formidable comedic and intellectual powers to skewer the crass and the cruel, the dumbed-down mainstream and the self-regarding celebrity elite. He is both deadly serious and richly, sometimes absurdly, comic. And it is comedy that is always about something, always underpinned by the passions and preoccupations of an intelligent and idealistic man unafraid to challenge and even alienate his audience to make his point. But for all the seriousness of purpose Lee's performances are, first and foremost, brilliantly funny and original and this book is a valuable and enjoyable commentary upon them. "How I escaped..." is a mixture of copiously and fascinatingly footnoted transcripts of three live shows and autobiographical content that charts Lee's early career and fluctuating fortunes on the circuit. Although he does not give away much about his personal life, preferring to keep the focus squarely on his art, Lee's descriptions of the triumphs and disasters in his artistic journey provide a deep and engrossing insight into his motivation as a performer. All this and still laugh-out-loud funny.
Those detractors who view Lee as smug and arrogant will doubtless find further ammunition in his decision to set his work down and annotate it so minutely but they surely miss the point. Lee's analysis of his work is fiercely honest and he his own harshest critic, as quick to admit a lapse as a triumph. This book is a strange, delightful and engrossing read and a great insight into our most original and important comedian.
on 14 June 2011
The Kindle version of this book is riddled with typos and mysterious line breaks. I can forgive the odd typo of two but not when they appear with such consistency that they destroy the flow and enjoyment of a book.
The most regularly occurring mistake is the word Comedian which mostly appears split into 'Com' and 'edian' - not something you really want in a book about a standup comedian. There are also numerous instances where lines are mysteriously broken, half way across. Granted, these mistakes don't render the book unreadable. But they are an unwanted distraction - a bit like an annoying click on a CD.
Having created a few ebooks myself, I know exactly how these typos occurred. Word Processing programmes like Word insert all kinds of mysterious hidden spaces and breaks that don't show up in most situations but do when you create an ePub or mobi files. That's why publishers should proofread their ebooks on devices like Kindles as well manuscripts printed from PDFs. It doesn't cost a lot of money. It doesn't take very much time. But unfortunately, such is the attitude of publishers to ebooks, most of them couldn't be bothered.
The most infuriating thing? The e-version of this book costs more than the paper version!
I thought long and hard before posting this review. The book Stewart Lee has written doesn't deserve a one-star review. As the other reviewers have testified it is funny, thoughtful and well-written. But the Kindle version, as a product, is faulty. It has flaws that render it unfit for purpose and people thinking of buying it should be warned.
Sadly, it's the only way to make publishers pick up their game. Bad reviews on Amazon upset authors and their agents. It's the only thing publishers react to.
My advice? Save a pound - and the aggravation - and buy the paperback version instead.
on 28 March 2012
Comedian, man, and damned-to-hell blasphemist Stewart Lee wrote this book, and - as an "atheist, comic book reading, Morrissey fan nerd" - I'm so glad that he did.
If you aren't a fan of Lee already, this excellent book will serve as little more than a moderately cheap bundle of pages and colours. The content requires a pre-existent relationship with the comedy. This isn't - unlike, say, Peter Kay's autobiography - a book one can just dip into. That's not to say Peter Kay's autobiography is necessarily terrible or artistically worthless, but it just doesn't require the same degree of commitment. Or ability. (I'm joking. Peter Kay is a great writer).
Accompanying both the autobiographical material and the transcripts of several brilliant stand-up routines, Lee's ridiculously long footnotes are a stroke of genius, and they demonstrate just how far the (dare I say?) comedy genius will go in his lifelong effort to play with the boundaries between form and content. (Tony Blair, too, has a nice little go, as one amusing appendix demonstrates).
Lee's deconstruction of the inane "political correctness has gone mad" mantra played out brilliantly onstage, and returning to it here allows for a great deal of intelligent and astute elaboration. It's a refreshing and considered outlook, and I was thoroughly pleased to see Lee explain his perspective further.
A humour-inclined, aspiring young imbecile myself, I found essential advice and insights lurking around every punctuation mark. Not a single page flicked by without me learning something new about the unseen complexities of comedy. This book also introduced me (and most likely a lot of other readers) to the names of a few obscure comedians and talents, something for which I am deeply grateful.
Something I didn't expect was to be moved by this book. The detailing of Lee's relationship with hope and futility, and with the frustrating lack of serious recognition, proved to be gently poignant. Reading the history of 'alternative comedy', and of Lee's influences and personal anecdotes, had a sense of warm comfort prodding at my brain throughout.
Overall, a wonderful book. Comedy is a worthy art form, liberal-minded middle-aged jazz fans deserve to have their voices heard, and this bundle of pages and colours is a perfect use of pages and colours.
Stewart Lee's book is quite simply one of the funniest books I've ever read (as in bursting out laughing no matter what the surroundings). It also shows up Lee to be one of the most original, witty and erudite comedians around. The book charts Lee's 'career' as a stand-up from his days in the Lee and Herring duo with Richard Herring, through the period (2000 to 2004) during which he gave up being a stand-up and, instead, co-wrote Jerry Springer - The Opera, through to his recent renaissance as one of the most highly rated comedians on the circuit. The majority of the book provides the (extensively annotated) transcripts from three of Lee's recent standup routines (in 2005, 2006 and 2008).
As the non-mainstream comedian that Lee clearly is, he provides a very interesting critical commentary on the state (and recent history) of British (and some non-British) comedy, praising the likes of Daniel Kitson, Simon Munnery, Jerry Sadowitz, Ian Macpherson, Kevin Eldon, Johnny Vegas, Dave Allen, Malcolm Hardee and Robin Ince, whilst deriding Michael McIntyre, Peter Kay, Russell Howard and Frank Skinner (Fantasy Football). The content of his standup (and associated commentary) is outstanding with marvellous pieces on terrorism, the US, Ang Lee, Tom O' Connor, football, Tony Blair, Carphone Warehouse, political correctness, religious bigotry, Big Brother, the Queen 'musical' We Will Rock You and Scotland. But, for me, the highlight was his take on Richard Littlejohn's response to the Ipswich prostitute murders (magic).
on 2 August 2010
Alternative Comedian Stewart Lee tells of how he quit stand-up for several years before returning to critical acclaim in this beautifully written, thoughtful and in-depth memoir full of lovely one-liners. The footnotes are a complete joy!
Excellent value-for-money, it contains detailed analysis of the transcripts from three of his recent shows (Stand-up Comedian; '90s Comedian & 41st Best Stand-Up Ever - all available on DVD if you haven't yet seen them) along with a number of interesting appendices containing articles and other works. Halfway through you learn the significance of the cover design.
Highly recommended if you enjoy intelligent non-mainstream comedy or just want to know more about the thought processes behind putting together a successful stand-up routine in Lee's inimitable style.
Or if you are a sardine.
on 17 August 2010
I often find it difficult to put into words what I like about Lee's material. Self effacing yet pompous, intelligent and mature yet puerile, perfectly timed yet often bumbling. I love the way he takes a very well thought out routine and shamefacedly presents it as though it were mere rags. There is a quote in the book which sums this up perfectly for me, something along the lines of 'Slowly raising a shabby curtain on a thing we have long already seen through the ragged holes, and asking 'Was that what you wanted? Are you entertained now?''. Sabotaging his own routines and stretching jokes until they collapse under their own weight, becoming even funnier in the process........Sorry, it's gone again. I can't finish this off.
I won't bother to repeat a lot of other reviewers, except to say that I enjoyed this book immensely and that Lee comes across as a very modest and genuine person.
I was given this book as a Christmas present by someone who noticed I liked Richard Herring. It’s quite some time since Lee and Herring were a double act but there are some similarities in things they do, for instance unpacking comedy in front of you instead of just delivering a satisfying punchline. Fans of Stewart Lee (and Richard Herring) will enjoy this. If you used to watch Fist Of Fun and This Morning With Richard Not Judy or have seen one of Lee’s stand up shows then you are likely to enjoy this book. If you like footnotes you’re in for a treat. Lee likes to over explain for comic effect. Lee covers the Jerry Springer The Opera controversy in detail and his approach to comedy is interesting and fully thought through. It’s good to read about someone making a living without compromising their artistic integrity. One of the bits of this book that will stay with me is a quote from Cicero - "An indecency decently put is the thing we laugh at hardest".
on 27 February 2013
I've tried getting into Stewart Lee before. (Yes, I know how that sounds). Nothing clicked until I recently stumbled across Carpet Remnant World. Now I can't get enough of him. I've watched all the stand up I can find and I've booked tickets to see him live later this year. This book is a perfect statement and explanation for his comedy. It gives you a chance to not just relive some of his brilliant and challenging moments but also to understand the mind underneath the character he portrays onstage. This really is an interesting look into the world of stand up comedy and your guide is a man who is not afraid of being honest, whether he's talking about the subject matter at hand, comedy as an artform or himself. Some of the stand up is hard to read without his intonation or delivery but I still think you get something special here. A genuine and very human look into a very muddied and confused business.