Stewart Lee was always one of my favourite comedians during the mid nineties, but he disappeared from my radar screen with the fading of his television work. It seems I was not alone. Now back in the spotlight, he has released a book that is extremely hard to define. Lee looks into what first brought him into stand up comedy, why he dropped it, and why four years later he returned. Starting off a straight biography, the first hundred pages get extremely dense, and by the end this compendium is very hard to define. Although neither a Bible nor a “How To” guide, there is a certain feel of the textbook about it. We learn only briefly of his younger years, and even the parts of his life he does go into are saturated with offshoots and opinions. He goes through his last three live shows in turn, taking in places over a page to explain one reference. It is not an exaggeration when I estimate half the books is footnotes, and with seven appendixes, it can be hard to find a true coherent throughline or moral.
That said, you are never overwhelmed. It is beautifully and passionately written, and rather than just being a light celebrity read, manages to educate as well as entertain. Lee is very honest about his relationship with other comedians, equally praising and damming in the same sentence, and whether you agree or not, there is not the hollow feeling found with many books of this nature. The closest I can get to defining it is like one of those bumper comedy books that comedians such as Peter Kaye release, but for an arts centre audience. I mean this as neither a criticism to either Kaye or Lee, but that rather than just a one off read, there are sections to dip into time and time again. To have three stand-up shows and several articles and interviews verbatim, with a commentary around each one is a real treat (assuming of course you cared in the first place),and much like his comedy, what’s start off a bit slow has been the most rewarding read of the year . If you have never heard of Stewart Lee, or are in no way a fan of his, this really won’t be worth looking at until your opinions change. But to those who love his work it not only brings you some great content, but crucially it is funny as well, and is worth buying for new material alone.