Stewart Lee gave up stand-up comedy in 2001 after deciding that his material was "arch, cynical, tired, fake, conceited, formulaic and flat". He threw his energies into co-writing and directing Jerry Springer: the Opera, which earned him an Olivier Award, opprobrium and no money. In 2004, he began his comeback as an "alternative" comedian, and this book is the story of that comeback.
It takes the form of transcripts of his three shows, Stand-up Comedian (2005), '90s Comedian (2006) and 41st Best Stand-up Ever (2008), each copiously footnoted, explaining and critiquing his material and techniques, and with excursions into his life, his health, his friends, his comedy heroes and his mum.
I was in the audience for all three of these shows. They were hilarious then and are still hilarious on the page. But would I laugh so much if I hadn't been there, if I couldn't remember Lee's slow, bitter, weary, irony-saturated delivery? Take no chances: buy this book and get the DVDs of the shows as well (helpfully listed in a discography, along with appendices including a long narrative poem about stand-up and a truly hilarious discussion with Johnny Vegas about Russell Brand). And if you get the chance, go and see Stewart Lee perform. Because the material is non-arch, uncynical, energetic, genuine, modest, original and as spiky as a range of mountains. Oh, and did I say hilarious?