Since breaking my ankle a few years ago, my doctor, (incompetent as he was), recommended jogging as part of my rehabilitation. I have since learned that jogging is terrible for ankles, but luckily I didn’t know that at the time or I would never have become the avid jogger I am today, racking up the Nike+ miles (or, rather, kilometres). One way I keep myself motivated is to jog listening to my favourite podcasts, (‘Adam and Joe‘ or the satirical genius of ‘The Bugle‘, mainly), and to only allow myself to listen to them whilst jogging, meaning I have to strap on my trainers anytime I want to catch up with the latest episode.
Sadly, since Adam and Joe went off air a while ago, and The Bugle is only weekly, I recently caught up with all the back catalogue I had saved up and was forced to find other material to listen to. On my last visit to New York, eagle-eyed and memory-sharpened readers of this blog may (but almost certainly will not) remember that I picked up a book on the life of American legendary comedian Lenny Bruce, complete with 6 CD’s, and it is those live comedy recordings which have been propelling me around the streets of West London for the past few weeks.
I mention all this because, on making the decision of which books got the honour of joining me on my move to the capital, I decided to finally read a Bill Hicks biography I’d been meaning to get around to for a while. It made sense to pair it with a book on Peter Cook and Dudley Moore which I had been waiting for the right time to crack open, and shortly before I left I discovered a second-hand copy of the life story of Andy ‘Man In The Moon’ Kaufman, which seemed to make a nice trilogy. When, first thing after arriving in Maida Vale, I unearthed Stewart Lee’s autobiographical effort in a local Oxfam bookshop, I knew that I would have to read all four, back to back, whilst listening to Lenny on morning explorations, and write a blog entry on comedy.
“How I Escaped My Certain Fate: the life and deaths of a stand-up comedian,’ Stewart Lee
A novel approach to a comedy book: three live shows from various years, transcribed in totality with copious footnotes leading to a DVD-bonus-esque deconstruction of this Oxford educated performer’s own comedy. As well as being a fascinating insight into the thought process of a man who refuses to call himself a comedian, it was remarkably similar to the attitudes taken by all of the subjects of these four books: a stated desire to challenge, offend, often even lose the audience completely in order to rise to the task of winning them back in the end, and to do so without resorting to one-liners or traditional ‘jokes.’ Reading Bill Hicks and, to an even greater extent, Andy Kaufman, it was often like hearing the same (anti-) manifesto again and again, right down to the claim to be happy if they made just one person in the audience happy/laugh/think.
And, to top it all off, Lee ticked all of my ‘i know them/that!’ boxes by name-checking everything from the Hay and Edinburgh Fringe festivals to St.Edmund Hall to Bugle podcaster Andy Zaltzman to ‘Bored to Death’ writer Jonathan Ames, among many, many others, (including, naturally, Andy Kaufman!)
“Perrier, of course, owned by Nestle, Nestle top of the World Health Organisation list of unethical companies. It suggested that their milk-marketing policies contribute to the death of 1.5million children every year. So every time you laugh at a Perrier-nominated act, a little baby dies. Bear that in mind.*
*When this show was due to be issued on DVD in 2005, the legal department of the production wing of my old management, who filmed it, initially said it would not be possible to describe Nestle in these terms. I told them to look into it. And, after the briefest bit of research, they decided it would be fine. Make of this what you will…”
“And then he said to me – this is honestly true – he said to me, ‘Well, you can prove anything with facts, can’t you?'”…
‘Bill Hicks: love all the people,’ Bill Hicks
“Skin flicks. Or, as Jesse Helms calls it, ‘POE-NOGRA-PHA’…I don’t think you should be against something till you can pronounce it…”
“Someone once described wit as finding similarities in things that are different, and finding differences in things that are similar…”
“I’ve been with the same girl for five years now, so I finally popped the question: ‘Why are we still seeing each other?'”…
“‘You’re pathetic,’ he remembers one of his principles telling him. ‘You have the sense of humour of a third-grader,’
‘Hicks knew a setup when he heard one.
‘Well, then,’ he replied, ‘you must have the comprehension of a second-grader’…
“…many reviewers have compared me to Lenny Bruce, and many have asked me how I feel about that comparison. First of all, since I didn’t make the comparison, I don’t have to justify it…”
‘Lost in the Funhouse: the life & mind of andy kaufman,’ Bill Zehme
“…every teacher from the first grade on had noticed that Andy was kind of strange and detached from the situation. And that he had scored zero on every reality test ever given him, that he lived in a complete fantasy world…”
“‘To crack a nut is truly no feat, so no one would ever dare to collect an audience in order to entertain it with nut-cracking. But if all the same one does do that and succeeds in entertaining the public, then it cannot be a matter of simple nut-cracking. [Franz Kafka, ‘A Hunger Artist’]”
Andy was the first person (and, indeed, until months before the debut show, the only person) booked on the new 1975 comedy show, NBC’s Saturday Night, soon to become Saturday Night Live.
“…and his brother spoke of being fortunate enough to have been the only person in the world who had gotten to be his brother…”
‘Peter Cook and Dudley Moore: goodbye again,’ edited by William Cook
“Dudley’s advancement from Dagenham County High School to Magdalen College, Oxford, was so unusual that the headmaster awarded a half-day holiday to the entire school…”
“DUDLEY: I’m planning to get married this Saturday, and I wanted you to be the first to know.’
PETER: Haven’t you told the girl yet?…”
[On ‘Ad Nauseum’, their 1979 filth-fest record release]: “‘Dudley wasn’t too keen on it being released in America,’ said Peter,’ but then America wasn’t too keen on it being released there either’…”
“PETE: We’ve all got a bit of noble blood in our veins.
DUD: It’s the best place for it, isn’t it?…”
“DUD: When i was a mere babe, my face was all blue and i could hardly breathe, you know, and my mum didn’t know what was wrong. Nobody knew what was wrong, and then finally a great surgeon found the solution to it all.
PETE: What was the cause of it?
DUD: The cause of the disease was my father holding me under water for ten minutes.
PETE: It was a hereditary disease, was it?…”