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Book review: I Laughed, I Cried, By Viv Groskop

 

Who'd want to be a stand-up comic? Well, nearly everyone nowadays. What used to be an eccentric calling has become a huge business. Comedians are on chat shows, panel shows, even Question Time. Stand-up used to be a trade for misfits. Today it's a career plan.

Like any boom industry, comedy is flooded with wannabes. Viv Groskop was one of them. She'd always wanted to be a comic, but had only done a handful of shows. Having earned £10 in two years, she was hardly ready to give up her day job as a journalist. When she stopped breastfeeding her third child she decided it was now or never. With her 40th birthday looming, she resolved to do 100 (mainly unpaid) gigs in 100 days.

After that, she'd know if she was funny. With three young children, there were some logistical problems with this plan - not least for her husband, Simon: "Next time you choose a challenge, can't you do having sex with your husband 100 times in 100 nights?"

With some books like these, you can't help wondering if the lifelong passion wasn't partly inspired by a publisher's advance. However, I Laughed, I Cried is more than just stunt journalism. Groskop's fixation with comedy is undoubtedly sincere, and her conversational prose friendly, intimate and honest. Which came first – the stand-up or book proposal? Thankfully, she writes so well that you don't care.

Groskop's memoir will be of most interest to comedy obsessives, but behind the entertaining postmortems of her gigs there's a more universal book about a mother on the verge of middle age, trying to find a new identity before it's too late. She's frank about her failings, and that makes her writing very appealing: "Lots of us don't become what we're meant to be because we're too scared". I Laughed, I Cried is, ultimately, a sort of self-help book, about finally doing what you've always wanted, the things that drive you on, and those that hold you back.

William Cook's 'One Leg Too Few: The Adventures of Peter Cook & Dudley Moore' will be published in September by Preface

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