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How I Escaped My Certain Fate by Stewart Lee

How I Escaped My Certain Fate (original 2010; edition 2010)

by Stewart Lee

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233749,595 (4.12)8
Title:How I Escaped My Certain Fate
Authors:Stewart Lee
Info:Faber and Faber (2010), Paperback, 384 pages
Collections:Your library

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How I Escaped My Certain Fate: The Life and Deaths of a Stand-Up Comedian by Stewart Lee (2010)



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One of the wonderful things about Christmas is the surprises; this book was bought as a surprise present and I found it fascinating. Essentially transcripts from 3 live comedy performances, the thinking detail, sometimes autobiographical, is in the footnotes. The parts that deal with the technical nature of stand-up, and Stewart Lee's playing around with the form are both interesting and funny, explaining why something is funny should not be funny, I blindly thought, but no...
Of course, he uses extreme flattery throughout - only clever and learned people will "get" his comedy. and of course I want to be in that category. I particularly liked the appendix on the character Jonny Vegas for its (albeit short) glimpse into the creation and persistence of such a character, and how we, the general public, like mostly the bits that are familiar and think he goes over the top when he stretches things further. ( )
  jkdavies | Jun 14, 2016 |
I had a blip with Stewart Lee around 6 years ago. I had loved Fist of Fun and TWRNJ as a student. Then I lost track of the pair of them as they quit telly and I went to music gigs and not stand up. I saw two minutes of Comedy Vehicle in 2009 and hated it so much that I decided I hated Stewart Lee. I don't know why. I can only think I was distracted from my usual appreciation of cynicism as an art form somehow. Happily, I agreed to watch the first episode of the second series of Comedy Vehicle and remembered that I didn't hate Stewart Lee. I've seen him live twice since then. This book is an excellent mix of autobiography and deconstruction of the three key shows that marked his unretirement. It was like he was reading it to me inside my head which, if I still hated him, would have been irksome. ( )
  missizicks | Jul 29, 2015 |
A transcript of my review of Stewart Lee’s book

Anyone expecting an, er, autobiography, or a memoir, or even something wholly accurate and, um, truthful, is quite likely to be disappointed with this book.

Not that it is a disappointment when one goes in with no, or even, er, low, expectations, quite the contrary, this is one of those books they have these days that can make you laugh out loud on public transport, possibly causing people to tut because you are enjoying yourself and you don’t even have an iPhone, or your knob, in your hand.

Essentially, er, this is a book. Well obviously it’s a book. But it’s a book that’s made up of pages. Well, look, obviously it’s got pages, unless you have the Kindle edition*1. But what it is, is basically the transcripts of three of his gigs, with lots and lots*2 of footnotes*3. The footnotes are very important, because if you have read something and don’t find it funny, you can read the footnote and the footnote will explain why you should have found it funny, then you can re-read the line and laugh in a smug way because you are both entertained and now just a bit smarter than the man next to you eating crisps.

Stew adds the footnotes to show you how funny and clever he is, which he is, with or without the footnotes. But mostly with.

In addition, each of the routines has a couple of chapters before it which give the context for the routine*4 and a couple of chapters afterwards which make you feel guilty for not laughing more. Or at all.

Ostensibly*5 this book records a decade long period in Stew’s career when he got ill (which is, joking apart*6 very unpleasant sounding) and got famous by upsetting a lot of Christians. Thrown in are plenty of, er, anecdotes, about life on the road for a stand up comic. He drops names and, once you have Googled them to find out who they are, it appears he’s moved in circles that have shaped what comedy is today*7.

It’s an interesting and thought provoking book, the main thought being, shall I read the top half first and then re-read it with the footnotes*8? The use of footnotes, the sometimes academic tone and the way he dresses in the author’s photograph all suggest Stew might have a career as a supply teacher if the comedy doesn’t work out.

But given how bloody funny the book is, that’s unlikely. This is not a celebrity autobiography (he settles too few scores and comes across as genuine and likable), but a fascinating insight into the workings of comedy.

*1 Do Kindle editions have pages? Possibly not and in a decade the ‘term’ page will be consigned to the analogue dustbin of words we never use any more, like ‘dial’.

*2 And LOTS!

*3 Stewart Lee loves footnotes. At the park near his house there’s probably a tree with ‘SL hearts footnotes’ carved into it. And he’s probably put a ‘*’ after ‘footnotes’ and added a footnote, the tree-vandalising bastard.

*4 This has the combined effect of educating you, the reader, about the forthcoming transcript of his gig while simultaneously making you anticipate the start of the ‘gig on the page’ even more keenly. This is absolutely no substitute for the keenness with which one anticipates an actual gig, because a gig that starts of time finishes on time meaning you can get to the next show at the Fringe, which features somebody who is currently on telly on a regular basis.

*5 On Googling this word to see if it was right to use in this context I discovered a) yes it is and b) there’s no ‘b’ in it.

*6 Like a lot of his routine these days.

*7 So it’s the fault of him and his showbiz chums that Michael Macintire played the O2?

*8 Read the text then read the footnote, I won’t comment on whether the book would be worth a partial re-read but will say that having to flip backwards and forwards adds to the reading time and hence provides a sensation of better value for money. ( )
  macnabbs | Oct 20, 2012 |
Stewart Lee is a stand-up comedian that I was a big fan of when I was about... fourteen? But after that he wasn't really on tv at all until last year, and except for his involvement in Jerry Springer: The Opera I'd pretty much lost track of him. I heard this book recommended on Jackie Kashian's podcast The Dork Forest, and I'm glad to have read it. This book is partly a biography focusing on his career and on how he came to write some of his live shows, and partly heavily-annotated transcripts of the shows themselves, and I found it both interesting and hilarious. It also has several appendices about things which don't really fit the theme, one of which is about how he thinks Johnny Vegas is great (I disagree, but it was an interesting read). ( )
  tronella | Sep 13, 2012 |
Ah, I think I know what happened here as I spot a flag in the review section - my tag ended up as the review. Well, what can I say except this is VERY funny in that very Stewart Lee kinda-way. You MAY laugh aloud; more likely you'll chuckle in a very self-conscious meta kinda way about how comedy is both hilarious and really not funny at all. Lee is an acquired taste, but we like him in this household. ( )
  RullsenbergLisa | Apr 9, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0571254802, Paperback)

Experience how it feels to be the subject of a blasphemy prosecution! Find out why 'wool' is a funny word! See how jokes work, their inner mechanisms revealed, before your astonished face! In 2001, after over a decade in the business, Stewart Lee quit stand-up, disillusioned and drained, and went off to direct a loss-making opera about Jerry Springer. "How I Escaped My Certain Fate" details his return to live performance, and the journey that took him from an early retirement to his position as the most critically acclaimed stand-up in Britain. Here is Stewart Lee's own account of his remarkable comeback, told through transcripts of the three legendary full-length shows that sealed his reputation. Astonishingly frank and detailed in-depth notes reveal the inspiration and inner workings of his act. With unprecedented access to a leading comedian's creative process, this book tell us just what it was like to write these shows, develop the performance and take them on tour. "How I Escaped My Certain Fate" is everything we have come to expect from Stewart Lee: fiercely intelligent, unsparingly honest and very funny.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:01 -0400)

In 2001, after over a decade in the business, Stewart Lee quit stand-up, disillusioned and drained, and went off to direct a loss-making opera about Jerry Springer. This book details his return to live performance, and the journey that took him from an early retirement to his position as the most critically acclaimed stand-up in Britain.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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