NOT everyone could have got away with writing something like Stewart Lee’s book How I Escaped My Certain Fate. It’s an interesting commentary on a comedian getting his mojo back after a period of career turmoil. It takes us from the aftermath of the boom in alternative comedy during the late 80s and early 90s, through creating Jerry Springer the Opera to a point just before his embarrassment of riches at the British Comedy Awards. There are some passages where he discusses the emotional and physical challenges he’s facing but a lot of the story is told through annotated transcripts of his onstage material.
If you wanted to be uncharitable you could call it a cut and paste job but Lee is too entertaining to warrant such harsh judgement. Not everyone could present something that is already out there and offer a fresh perspective.
But given who we are talking about this is probably a principled and unpresumptious take on autobiography – giving us an under the bonnet view of how he developed his material and not troubling us with personal information unless it has some bearing on the topic in hand.
I was surprised by the amount of self-doubt that comes through but part of his appeal for me has always been the audacity of his carefully crafted assaults on the bland, the unjust and the illiberal. I assumed there was a spiky confidence behind his iconoclastic approach but it’s more like he feels there are some things that just have to be said. It’s a much better reason for opening your mouth.
I first became aware of this book at the “Stewbilee” show he staged at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010, featuring a range of special guests including Franz Ferdinand and an apparently unscheduled appearance by his one-time comedy partner in crime Richard Herring.
It began with a heckler interrupting Lee before the interval, calling out: “Where’s the little fat one? He was the funny one…”
The Heckler turned out to be Herring who came on stage and ripped up the book in disgust because it had not mentioned him enough times. He then complained about having to buy his own ticket to do it and threw the stub down on the stage.
At least the part about him buying the ticket was genuine because I was behind him at the box office when he did it. I can’t believe he didn’t enjoy the book though, anyone who loves comedy would be fascinated. Only avoid it if you look at Stewart Lee and think to yourself: “Ooh, Terry’s Christian’s let himself go hasn’t he…”