Books of the Year: Comedy
Bedwetting, race hate, Communist holidays and zombies, according to this latest batch of memoirs
Sunday 12 December 2010
It's not until you sit backstage with a comedian and hear them use every four-letter word under the sun to describe what has been a more-than-adequate performance that you realise quite how miserable – or tortured, as artistic parlance has it – a lot of them are.
So where better to start than with Sarah Silverman, the American who has made her torture the inspiration for her scatalogically inflected act? The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee (Faber, £12.99) relates how she struggled to control her bodily functions through to her teens. Her writing is surprisingly endearing, given her abrasive act, and never less than truthful – especially about the bombardment of hate she received after a "racist" joke she told to highlight bigotry was taken at face value.
Which brings us to another comedian with a penchant for upsetting the masses. My Booky Wook 2: This Time it's Personal (HarperCollins, £20) picks up the story post-Russell Brand's benders, just in time for a fling with Kate Moss. I'm not a fan of Brand's comedy – I find it too consciously wordy – but after an initially grating overuse of rhetoric, he has produced a fascinating insight into a mind that craves fame and, in so doing, leads him to Sachsgate et al. He just doesn't seem to know when funny stops and insensitivity begins. It is one of the best biographies of the year, and not just by a comedian, I'd wager.
Which can't be said for Harry Hill's Livin' the Dreem: A Year in My Life (Faber, £18.99). Comedy is inevitably subjective, and if you like someone's shtick, chances are you'll like their writing, but for me, Hill is this year's anti-Brand. I like his TV Burp. I like it very much. But his made-up diary of a year? Dire. It's a conceit that could work over a five-minute sketch, but not 500 pages.
Alexei Sayle's Stalin Ate My Homework (Sceptre, £20), on the other hand, is tremendous, making his influences manifest as he recalls a childhood spent following his Communist parents on holidays around Eastern Europe. While Sayle focuses on his life pre-comedy, Jo Brand comes over all grande dame in Can't Stand Up For Sitting Down (Headline Review, £20), offering a mine of information about life on the circuit during the 1980s and 1990s; though the book takes a serious downturn once she begins chapters about her friends, family and TV work.
As for Simon Pegg's Nerd Do Well (Century, £18.99), the title says it all: if you love the Star Wars franchise and zombie movies, you'll love Pegg's examination of their minutiae. If you don't, well, don't bother.
The hugely popular Michael McIntyre is the very essence of charm on stage. As he was at school, where I spent two years with him. "They were all the same to me," he writes of me and my classmates in Life & Laughing: My Story (Michael Joseph, £20). "Boring... They were middle-class and lived in Middlesex and destined to be working in middle-management with a middle parting, driving a middle-of-the-range Audi in the middle lane." Michael, I don't even own a car! But enough about me. This is but one instance when he uses his newfound fame to insult those he's met along the way. Certainly, there's plenty of interesting backstory (his father wrote for Kenny Everett), but there's also a haven't-I-done-well smugness running through. Nope, haven't let my personal feelings colour that review – not one iota.
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