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on December 24, 2010
Stewart Lee is without a doubt one of the most important and thoughtful artists working in comedy today. Reading his breakdown of specific shows so carefully wrought with such a literate and artful manifesto is an inspiration and education about the art form of comedy, and ultimately of his particular continuing significance in it. Not only compelling to anyone who loves comedy, it is a book for anyone who is interested in art, an artist's process, and the culture in which we live. (I highly recommend watching some of his DVD's before reading this to truly appreciate the stunning work he has done -- all of which is overshadowed by the shockingly funny outcome of his process. Though not necessary to enjoy this book, it will undoubtedly enhance the experience.) Lee is a comedian working at the highest levels-- by any index you choose -- of the artform of comedy, and this book is a treasure for both those who already appreciate it as well as those who may not yet understand the richness, depth and breadth of what the form of stand up comedy is capable. It makes me appreciate his unique brilliance even more than I already have - and that is saying quite a lot. I wish every comedian on earth would read this book, if only that they might begin to aspire to the kind of artistry that Stewart Lee brings to every word, every idea and every powerful, meaningful laugh in his work. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
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on June 30, 2011
Listen to a fat, middle class comedian complain about how the world unfairly treated him. What does he want?

The wit that Stewart Lee brings to things is a joy, his extensive foot notes let you see inside jokes you've probably heard him perform on TV. The back story stuff is great, as is Stewart moaning on that everything post the 80s was derivative of him or one of his select uber-comic's-comic friends.

Ultimately you shouldn't buy this book, that would just make Stewart popular, which he'd hate.
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on January 17, 2014
This is a truly excellent, original book that anyone who's interested in comedy should read. It does something astonishing: unlike most other discussions of comedic things, including this review, it makes the technical exposition of comedy hilarious itself. The book is mostly a set of transcripts of three of Lee's recent hour-and-a-half shows, footnoted extensively as if they were the Talmudic Mishnah or a new finding of deep archeological significance. But the aura of pretentiousness is affected and ironic; it is itself funny, though it does show how carefully and intelligently Lee constructs his comedy. Despite the ironic aura, Lee conveys a genuineness that's hard to disguise. He cares -- about comedy, culture, and society -- and that caring shines through everything he does and makes it hard to watch other comedic acts without evaluating them by Lee's appealing, humanistic criteria. As Lee says, comedy should apply "upward pressure," by which he means both that it should satirize the powerful and that it should aim to improve its audience.

For that and other reasons, the book and Lee's recent shows have had a major effect on British comedians, particularly over the last few years. (Lee has joked that he rises to cultural significance every seven years or so, then fades back into obscurity. Possibly that has already started to happen again.) In some ways, for 2011 and 2012, Lee set the tone for the "alternative" stand-up comedy scene in Britain; he was clearly the most important British comedian apart from the entirely mainstream, very famous (in Britain) acts. He's a perpetual outsider, though; his shows are among the most popular at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but he still isn't a household name in most of the UK, and his posture is still to attack the establishment.

For American audiences, it's worth mentioning that Lee is part of a tradition of alternative British comedians whose shows are very different from what Americans are used to as "stand up." Seeing a Stewart Lee show is far more like going to a narrative, storytelling show; the humor is longer-term, more educated and more contextual than what I think the typical American audience expects if they go to see a "comedian." His shows are about something, and there aren't many (or sometimes any) "jokes" as such. As a professor myself, it's easy to see something almost academic in what Lee is doing, and it makes me regret that there isn't really anyone like him in our country.
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on September 22, 2011
This book is absolutely essential to anyone who is highly interested in stand-up comedy or who wants to be a stand-up themselves.

The above two categories are quite narrow, but if you fall into them then this book is a must have.

I would also recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Stewart Lee, however this book concentrates less on the man himself and more on his art and experiences related to his art.

If you are looking to find out "Who is the real Stewart Lee" perhaps you may be disappointed. You see into the man's mind but not into his heart.

That said, for anyone seriously into comedy, this book is one of, if not THE most important book ever written about comedy.
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on January 8, 2011
"...They don't respect you if you seem too desperate for their affection, but disguise your desperate need for their love as a kind of bored indifference, and soon they will be eating out of your hand."

Entertaining and insightful, Stewart Lee is a comedian's comedian. As if his standup wasn't self-annotating and metatextual itself, the book offers consistently interesting anecdotes about the formation, mutation, and performance of his material, and bits of ethos about standup as an artform. A pleasant surprise was his reflections on past and current management, a topic rarely discussed openly by professionals. His recollection of seeing Gervais perform should resonate with anyone who has experienced professional jealousy.

Reading this book alongside Simon Pegg's laborious Nerd Do Well, made it clear just how much I appreciate Stewart's candor but also self-censorship to keep this book on track with relevant and intriguing information about his career and life as a standup. It's not about his parents, life as a teenage runaway train-hopping junkie tuba player, or whatever his past may have held. "The personal is absent from my work," as he says.

You won't end up like Ted Chippington, stew, not if your fans have anything to say about it. Can't wait for series 2 of comedy vehicle.
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on December 29, 2015
If you found a copy on the floor of a truck-stop toilet it will give you a better reading experience than the average car user manual.

Lite-on direct personal info but plenty of insight to help give you an idea about the void behind the facade of a slowly fading lite entertainer.

I thoroughly enjoyed this. I loved his standup before and the extra info you now know while watching the specials gives them a new life. Well half a new life.
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on December 19, 2012
This book is probably not for the casual fan, but if you appreciate Stewart Lee's stand up, this book gets you inside his head, and let's you understand the process that culminates in one of his stand up shows. There's very clearly method behind all the madness.

This book would also be great for anyone who wants more insight into what it means and what it takes to be a stand up comedian – at least one who takes their profession and craft seriously. The book is extremely generous with footnotes and appendices – it's all in there.
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on June 19, 2014
Stewart Lee is a genius. Smart as hell, and funny to boot.

Reading his analysis and commentary of his own standup show is meta-meta-interesting.

What a fascinating mind at work. Read this book. Buy his DVD's. Watch his show.

Heck, just mail him bags of cash. He deserves it.
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on October 25, 2010
A great read. For anyone who has ever wanted insight into the comic mind, or wondered how the material is formed. A must for any Stewart Lee fan.
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VINE VOICEon 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.
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