How I Escaped My Certain Fate by Stewart Lee

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Stewart Lee is at least partly responsible for the funniest sketch I have ever seen. I know it is the funniest because I laughed without stopping for about 20 minutes – or about 14 minutes after the sketch had finished. Actually, there was only one bit of it really – the bit where everyone starts saying ‘ahh’ – but this was enough. Broadcast in 1996, Fist Of Fun’s take on the prodigal son fable is here: take a look at it. I don’t, I must confess, think it’s the funniest sketch of all time now. But at the time, overtired, about to fly away to India the next day for three weeks to watch the cricket world cup, my critical faculties may have been impaired. Comedy works in curious ways. By lucky hap, Lee’s sort-of autobiography, How I Escaped My Certain Fate, is about how comedy works. Among the showbiz reminiscences, he offers up three complete – at times brilliant – transcripts of his own long routines, and deconstructs them in extensive footnotes which are little works of art in themselves. Lee largely eschews softer targets although can’t resist putting the boot into We Will Rock You – and Lee does know his way around musical theatre, having written the libretto for Jerry Springer: The Opera. The pathetic rent-a-mob whipped up by sad lunatics Christian Voice largely did for that, helped by some craven public figures who should really have known better. Viewed from the distance of a few years, the whole manufactured furore seems even more pitiful and depressing than it did at the time. But the book is not all fun, fun, fun. Lee has some great practical advice for stand-ups, too, such as this: ‘Pretty much anywhere will do to make the limited-wheelchair-access joke, as the audience’s assumption is always that wheelchair access is limited, even when there’s wheelchairs all around them.’ Lee enjoys toying with his largely liberal, left-leaning punters – deliberately losing them to give himself the fun of winning them back. This may be self-indulgent, but he never wanted to be a comedian. He wanted to be an alternative comedian. It shows. Lee tends to take the path less travelled, and takes the consequences. His mum sounds delightful, too.

 

 

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