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Worth reading for Stewart Lee fans and for aspirational stand-up comics
on September 4, 2012
Stewart Lee has been a stand-up comic in the U.K. for decades. His name would be recognizable to those who follow the field closely there, and not to many outside that country. I know of him only because of a friend pointed me to a youtube clip of him excoriating the hosts of Top Gear (U.K.), a program I enjoy. His takedown of Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson was spot-on.
Lee is smart and a little obsessive, and this book allows him to describe the origin of several of his stand-up acts, then to provide transcripts of those acts along with detailed footnotes explaining the origins of some of the jokes, and how audiences responded, and where Lee provided opportunities for his own improvisation. This material is likely to be of interest to aspirational stand-ups; Lee has been thinking about these issues a long time, and presumably knows how to craft a set. That said, most of the other comedians he discusses will be unknown outside the U.K., and there's limited appeal in a detailed genealogy of British alternative comedy through the lives of fifty men you've never heard of. Probably the most famous of these characters is Ben Elton, who is pretty well known in Australia, and some of whose television work was shown in the U.S., many years ago. Lee hates Elton, and devoted about ten minutes in one of his standup routines to explaining why. He goes into greater detail in the footnotes of this book.
Other excellent material includes a satirical take on the memoirs of Tony Blair, annotated with barely-modified footnotes from this very book. This juxtaposition was arranged not by Lee, however, but by a comedian named Tom Neenan. It is funnier than anything of Lee's own.