Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How I Escaped My Certain Fate

Today I've been reading How I Escaped My Certain Fate, a book so engrossing I considered hiding in the toilets all afternoon so I could read it without interruption. I assume if Stewart Lee were to discover this, he might be insulted, given what he has to say on the subject of Chris Moyles and 'toilet books'.

But it's not some compendium of randomly assembled trivia to read between bowel movements; rather, it's the transcripts of three of Lee's shows, annotated to within a inch of their lives. I think there is at least as much text in the form of footnotes as there is actual script.

It's fascinating; along with the shows themselves (that I know fairly well from incessantly watching them on DVD for the past two years) there's a full account of why he stopped doing stand-up, and why he started again. I'd only known him for Fist of Fun in the mid-90s, so this is, at least for me, wonderfully educating stuff.  Particularly in the lows of the early years of the century:
Thus, Andy accompanied me on a strange holiday, a bizarre and unwanted chaperone figure visiting random and largely empty rooms in faraway towns where his contribution was not required, watching me lose my way emotionally, creatively, geographically, while I paid all his hotel bills and made him tramp across Scottish moors in search of uncharted stone circles during the long dead days off.
There's some learnings on stagecraft (although Lee makes a point of saying he doesn't have the crowd-controlling instincts of a Comedy Store veteran) but what's much more interesting is the context he puts everything into; explaining the structure of each show, why he put it together in that way, and what message he was trying to get across. For me, it gave a few eureka moments (the purpose of the Christ-and-vomit bit had eluded me up to now, which suggests I'm inattentive, incapable of understanding subtext, or Lee needs to explain things in writing after doing them on stage) and overall the whole thing seems like a wonderful gift, explaining to us both why and how he's doing these things.

Or was, because with each show he's moved on and abandoned some of these techniques as they become too worn for him; the DVDs become a way of putting them to bed. A bit like this book, I suppose.

I'd recommend this to anyone. As long as they don't read it and decide that my act is just a pallid, ill-thought-through eight minute tribute to Stewart Lee, that is.


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