One of the huge bonuses of being a writer is meeting lots of other writers. With few exceptions, they tend to be delightful, interesting, funny people, and I’ve been lucky enough to get to know some well.
It can, however, lead to quite awkward interactions when you read one of their books (first novels are the worst offenders) that are highly autobiographical- you can end up knowing more about their sex lives, their inner lives, fears and joys than that of your very best friends. Occupational hazard. Any writer that says it’s all made up in their heads is telling, you know. A lie. Me included, obviously.
Anyway, that is why it has been such a lovely relief to have the pleasure of reading the first actual, non-fiction memoir of someone I actually know. Of everyone, I wouldn’t have expected it to be Stewart Lee, the very funny, but entirely modest stand up comedian. We’re not best mates, but I have known him for twenty years, and have always thought him absolutely brilliant, with a near- perfect knack for failing to become a giant success the first ninety five times it was offered to him.
He has a new book out, How I Escaped My Certain Fate. It’s not technically a memoir, it’s a deconstruction of his stand up, but there’s lots of personal stuff in it. But more importantly, it is totally brilliant. Almost uniquely amongst books by comedians, it is actually funny, rather than them showing off their ‘serious side’*.
What he does is examine three of his stand up routines, and note how his influences, inspirations and ideas have built over the years, which sounds like it shouldn’t work, but truly does. Stew’s work happens to be comedy, but the book isn’t about how stand- up works, it’s about how thinking works. Having the comedy element just helps make the book hilarious, as well as incredibly interesting, and, most importantly, it’s a huge insight into what it’s like to live in someone else’s brain. Like all good writing should be, of course, whether you know the writer or not. Highly, HIGHLY recommended.
*the only exceptions ever to utterly rubbish books by stand- up comedians, and I have read them all, is Alexei Sayle, who is a very good writer indeed, and, irritatingly, The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie, proving he can, in fact, do EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD.