The Reading List: Stand-up comedy

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The Independent Culture

Last week UK comics voted Daniel Kitson the funniest man in Britain. But what books should budding stand-ups not put down?


How I Escaped My Certain Fate by Stewart Lee, Faber & Faber, £12.99

Ever since the days of This Morning With Rich Not Judy, Lee has been the British comic most-revered by serious comedy fans. His 2010 book mixed a combination of stories about his career along with detailed breakdowns of routines – why he paused there, why he said this word instead of that, etc. The set text for anyone interested in the anatomy of laughs.


Love All the People by Bill Hicks, Constable, £8.99

Where Lee took apart his own work in HIEMCF, this collection of Hicks – the great comic inconoclast – released 10 years after his death, features transcripts of routines that allow the reader to see material evolve over a number of shows. It also includes ideas, letters and a long note to the writer John Lahr after his infamous booting from David Letterman' show.


Born Standing Up by Steve Martin, Pocket Books, £7.99

A straight telling of Martin's career as a stadium-packing funnyman, Born Standing Up recounts Martin's transition from teenage wannabe magician to comic. Like Lee, Martin technically analysed every element of his work – he'd record, transcribe and refine sets – a perfectionism that, he explains, made his time at the top a depressing one.


Instructions, Guidelines, Tutelage, Suggestions, Other Suggestions and Examples Etc. An Attempted Book by Tim Key, Invisible Dot, £10.95

The off-the-wall poet takes the odd style of his own live sets and translated it to paper for Instructions... Elements include "a design for a shawl" and full-page prose description of a map. It's one of the funniest visions of a comic mind you'll see committed to print.


Getting The Joke: The Art of Stand Up Comedy by Oliver Double, Metheun Drama, £12.99

A one-time experienced stand-up, writer and even a comedy teacher at the University of Kent, Double is as suited as anyone to try and dissect a notoriously ephemeral art-form. In his second attempt, Double reveals technical points of craft and speaks to Eddie Izzard, Shazia Mirza and Jo Brand about how they do what they do.