Stewart Lee’s introduction to How I Escaped My Certain Fate: The Life and Deaths of a Stand-Up Comedian is by far the best written history of modern British alternative comedians. I keep buying all these books like Sunshine on Putty and British Cult Comedy written by writers but they don’t it anything close to what Lee accomplishes by (a) having been there, (b) having a high level of writerly sophistication, and (c) describing his comedy colleagues in a way that suggests he’s not afraid to laud or offend.
If you ever wondered why Lee quit standup, what he did in his lost years besides Jerry Springer: The Opera, you get that story, told in a no-holds-bard, colorful description only Stewart Lee could effect. But more than “I did this, then I did that,” he has a pulled-back view of the industry at the time, as it was the changes in said industry–audience expectation, television, costs, management companies, Janet Street-Porter calling comedy the new rock’n’roll–that drove him out. Lee is not hesitant to name game changers by name, and who influenced whom. He pinpoints Ted Chippington, Simon Munnery, and David Baddiel all as being either extraordinarily influential or even “genius.” You get a real sense of circuit comedy and club life and what awards really mean. The big piece of proof that the comedy industry had changed was when, during Lee’s absence from the scene, Ricky Gervais became wildly famous doing essentially the same schtick that no one wanted to see from Lee back when he was touring. What people had wanted from comedy had shifted, and Gervais was there at the right time to cash in on it, while Lee had gotten in too early and got out before it became commercially viable.
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Teaser posts are reviews based on just the first chapter.