Re:View – ‘How I Escaped My Certain Fate’
I’ve been an admirer of the stand-up comedian Stewart Lee for some time, never moreso than since his reinvention after the collapse of ‘alternative’ comedy. Now he has taken three shows and dissected them, explaining how and why they are funny, wrapping these masterclasses up with a biographical rundown of the circumstances under which they were created.
The result could have been solipsistic and maudlin; instead, it’s the most invigorating, smart and hilarious book I’ve read this year. Lee talks frankly about constructs of the truth and presenting them onstage, about how he lost his way with his original audiences, about plagiarism and being mentored, and about how alienating effects can actually be used to endear and uncover a new level of connection with his audience. He does this partly by annotating his act with lengthy footnotes, a method I tackled with ‘Paperboy’.
The result is a unique analysis of comedy and performing that also manages to make you laugh out loud. I used to be doubtful about performers whose shows are described as brave – I know firefighters are brave but are comedians? In a time when it is considered almost weird to hold a forthright opinion about anything, this book goes a long way toward explaining why a man simply involved in the art of honest communication should be considered brave.
Naturally, Lee continues to divide press opinion, so that the tabloids misunderstand his intentions concerning obscenity, and demonise him as a monster to their sheeplike readers, while the broadsheets treat him with middle-class respect for having co-authored an outrageous opera. Moral: you can’t win. Read it to gain an understanding of how the creative mind works. Â£12.99.