Stewart Lee can remember a time (in the 1980s, fact fans) when comedy was genuinely "alternative", subversive and had a radical agenda. It's true I tell you. Small comedy clubs in the back rooms of pubs where the likes of Harry Hill, Simon Munnery, Jo Brand, Ian Cognito, Mark Steele and many, many more would challenge their audiences. Amazing. I often wonder how we got to the situation where comedy has become more about filling enormo-domes, and populating formulaic panel shows, than about challenging the audience.
Stewart started as a stand up comedian just after the golden age of Alternative Comedy and he is the perfect person to help anyone who is interested in understanding the evolution of stand up, the way it works, the way it is managed, and a bit about his life and work.
"How I Escaped My Certain Fate" works on so many levels:
- it's a autobiography of Stewart Lee - which contains many surprising twists and turns
- it's a verbatim record of some of his more recent stand up routines with numerous lengthy footnotes that explain and elaborate on the content
- it's a deconstruction of comedy that aims to explain how comedy works and what comedy is capable of
- it's a history of comedy and a dissection of various forms
- it's frequently very funny
- it's all explained by a thoughtful, witty, intelligent narrator.
The book is a joy. Perhaps it's really only for those people who already like Stewart Lee. Perhaps. I really like Stewart Lee and I can't imagine what it would be like not to like him. That said, he is a cult comedian and clearly there are plenty of people out there who don't share my enthusiasm. Perhaps they just need to read this book? You decide.