(there is music on this page)

Chortle, Daily Mirror, Observer, Scotsman
followed by
genuine readers' reviews

reviewed by
Steve Bennett

Wednesday 6th August 2003

Take 18 comics, give them carte blanche to write a short story on whatever takes their fancy and this is the result.

Malcolm Hardee and John Fleming, who "sort of edited" Sit-Down Comedy, couldn't have chosen their contributors better, ensuring the credits read like a fantasy line-up for some mammoth comedy benefit, featuring the best names in the business.

Inevitably for an anthology of this type, the content is patchy, but it makes an intriguing read for any fans of stand-up. Rarely laugh-out-loud funny - but then what book is? - it nonetheless demonstrates that many of these top-notch comics have talents that stretch beyond the page.

Unsurprisingly, many have chosen to write about their own trade: Stewart Lee mourns the passing of the real entertainment mavericks like Hardee himself; alternative comedy pioneer John Dowie gets into the head of a Manningesque comic in his breathlessly entertaining yarn; and Simon Munnery allows a rant about the state of wit and satire slow down his otherwise splendidly whimsical tale unmasking Sherlock Holmes as a fraud.

Some contributions follow a similar style to their authors' stage act - it probably won't surprise many that Arthur Smith's effort is called The Man With Two Penises, (however his Dishonourable Discharge, also included, is a better read). Similarly, Ricky Grover's extremely short stories are perhaps the most straightforwardly funny, being, to all extents and purposes, stand-up routines.

Others have drawn on their own experiences. Ed Byrne's What I Don't Tell Journalists is his real answer to the newspaper hacks' hoary standby: "What's your most embarrassing moment?", and Stephen Frost's enthusiastic slide into a lost weekend certainly has the ring of truth.

Elsewhere, John Hegley shows he's as good with prose as he is with poetry with his captivatingly offbeat contribution, and Jim Tavare and Dave Thompson provide a wry account of life in an old folks' home with a twist in the tale.

But there are disappointments, too. Linda Smith and Hattie Hayridge's joint contribution A Day In The Life Of An Urban Nobody is almost unreadably bad, mistaking a clumsy, repetitive style for insight. And though it has its moments, Jeff Innocent's Cockney history hasn't got its tongue firmly enough in cheek to really come off.

Limited success comes from Jenny Éclair, whose Metamorphosis is a bit too simple an idea to sustain the length of an otherwise very readable tale; and Tim Vine, who extends his repertoire from one-liners to a full-blown story with a quirky page-turner only let down by a slightly frustrating writing style.

On the top end of the scale, though, there are some real delights: Boothby Graffoe's gruesomely slapstick Worst Serial Killer In The World is, literally, bloody funny; Owen O'Neill's The Basketcase is a cracking piece in the finest tradition of Tales Of The Unexpected; and Dominic Holland's Hobb's Journey is a real corker that leaves you wanting more.

Let's hope there's more of these anthologies, too. The stand-up turned novelist may have become a publishing cliché, but this provides a useful halfway house, giving comics an outlet for their literary ambitions - and providing a breezily entertaining read for the rest of us.


4 STARS ****


Saturday 9th August 2003

PERFECTLY pitched for the Edinburgh Festival, this is a collection of short stories by stand-ups put together by comedy legend Malcolm Hardee.

Don't know the name? Cast your mind back to OTT's late-night nude balloon dance and Hardee's face - and backside - will come back to you.

His quirky intro explains how, as proprietor of the Tunnel Club, which had its heyday in mid-80s Greenwich, he booked a lot of the collection's contributors when they were young hopefuls being hounded off-stage by beer glasses.

Hardee relates how Jim Tavare once walked on stage with the words: "Hello, I'm a schizophrenic," and was greeted by the famous heckle: "Well you can both f*** off, then!"

All the comedians - ranging from the East End to Oxbridge - are no strangers to TV and radio. Many have been a hit in Hardee's latest club, Up The Creek, also in Greenwich.

The likes of Stewart Lee, John Hegley and Dominic Holland have recently become known for their novels. Others, including Arthur Smith and Jenny Eclair, need no fanfare.

Stewart Lee, the man to blame for Jerry Springer: The Opera, takes us on a road trip with a has-been comedian who performs one last gig before disappearing. Written as loosely rhyming verse, it's quite odd.

But it's got nothing on Simon Munnery's tale about how Sherlock Holmes accidentally came to be a great detective.

John Dowie gives us a wrist-slashingly brutal account of a Bernard Manning-esque comic who, throughout life, has over-compensated for being despised by his father by worshipping his mother. When "the Princess" suffers a heart-attack brought on by the success of her son's arch-rival he plans blood-thirsty revenge. Funny? No, not really. Disturbing? Very.

Arthur Smith, pretty much an establishment figure at Radio 4 now, presents the man with two penises, revealingly named Ant and Dec.

What I Don't Tell Journalists is a piece of non-fiction by Ed Byrne detailing his most embarrassing moment. It's about getting lost in a hospital and having to ask for the STD clinic and feels more like a routine than a short story.

And, as red-faces go, it's pretty lame compared to Ricky Grover's tale - fictional, I hope - about an unfortunate incident involving an urgent bowel movement in a posh girlfriend's family home.

Hardee says the book isn't what he anticipated: "But if you commission people with original minds to write anything they fancy, you're bound to get something unexpected."

The stories are a million miles from the light, laugh-out-loud comedy of John O'Farrell or Nick Hornby. They're left-field and brutal and, when it comes to expletives, make Tarantino look like Mary Whitehouse.

And while there's no knowing quite what's coming next, it's usually about sex or death. Or sex and death. It's juvenile. It's sophisticated. And while it's not exactly funny, it's entertaining.

The Observer



Sunday 31st August 2003

With the exception of journalists, comedians must be the profession with the highest quota of novels per head. There's a certain logic to this; most of them write their own material for performance, so it's reasonable to assume that they're equipped with the ability to put a basic paragraph together. In fact, the phenomenon has grown over the past few years to the extent that, rather than being seen as an impressive extra-curricular achievement, the novel is fast becoming a basic professional requirement for comedians who want to be taken seriously.

Malcolm Hardee, compere and founder of the Tunnel Club in Greenwich (considered the birthplace of alternative comedy), has compiled an anthology of short stories by some of the best-known names in live comedy. The standard is generally high, though the flavour of each piece is very different. There's also a clear divide between those who are, or could, be fiction writers, and those who simply have a talent for writing good comic prose.

The short story is a difficult form, and often harder to get right than a longer exercise. Playwright and stand-up Owen O'Neill demonstrates how it should be done, with a neatly crafted story of a day in the life of a man whose wife is dying of cancer.

By contrast, Stephen Frost and Ed Byrne, both excellent stand-ups, have contributed pieces that feel more autobiographical and closer to a transcript of a stage monologue. Though enjoyable, you don't feel that you've entered the realm of the imagination. Arthur Smith manages to combine the two in 'Dishonourable Discharge', about the strange little community that bonds in a hospital smoking room, and Stewart Lee, already an acclaimed novelist, offers the only story about stand-up comedy: a fictional account of a young comic's debt to his mentor.

The gem of the collection is Simon Munnery's 'The True Confessions of Sherlock Holmes', in which the revered detective's coke habit is his defining feature and he only solves crimes by accident

If you didn't get to Edinburgh this summer, this anthology is the next best thing to a comedy cabaret, and only half the price of the average ticket.

(Also chosen in the Observer BOOKS OF THE YEAR section
as one of 18
Books That Made Their Mark in 2003)

4 STARS ****

review by
Carson Howat
Saturday 30th August 2003

AS MALCOLM Hardee, the "father of modern alternative comedy" puts it plainly, "it’s actually not quite the book we expected". Nevertheless, Hardee and fellow co-editor John Fleming have managed far more than just a wheeze to get lots of money out of a publisher.

That they should be stunned by the writing ability of modern comedy circuit names such as John Hegley, Stewart Lee and Jenny Eclair, is no surprise, however, as it turns out, Hardee and Fleming are spot on about this not being the usual "comedian who thinks he can publish a novel" fodder. Former Johnny Vaughn sidekick Ricky Grover is the standout by far with a deadpan gem in the shape of an autobiographical piece about his first job (as an armed robber) but throughout these tales of psycho adventures, life on stage, lyrical dreams and a sudden beheading it is the pleasure of seeing proven talent. What Hardee and Fielding have done is given a bunch of comedians the freedom to run with their ideas on the page. As alternative as comedy gets.

Amazon.co.uk and Roobarb's DVD Forum

Review by
'thekidad' from Whitehead, Co Antrim

Saturday March 27, 2004

If anything, this collection is always interesting. Ricky Grover's short, simple contribution is at once sweet and suitably disgusting; John Dowie's barely disguised Bernard Mannering inspired fantasy is deliciously dark. Arthur Smith's tale of the extra phallus is bizarre, only slightly more so than Jeff Innocent's inspired History of the Cockney - which is worth the purchase price alone. The same can be said for Dominic Holland's 'Hobbs' Journey', a joyful ten pages that has me rushing to buy his two novels. Some of the efforts seem more filler than fantastic, but as they are watered down by the more enjoyable contributions, the overall collection is worth a read. However, at the end you can't help have the feeling that the whole is a little less than the sum of its parts: maybe the collection is just a little too diverse... though I also can't help but feeling that that's nit-picking!

Review by
Danny Grogan from Dublin

Wednesday 4th February 2004

Astonishing stuff. I'd never heard of it. I bought it just because there was an Ed Byrne story. But brilliant writing by almost all of them. Just amazin

Review by
Susanne Potter from Norwich

Tuesday 9th September 2003

I don't watch comedy, and I'd never heard of this book. I was browsing in the bookshop at Gatwick, and bought it on impulse. My flight was delayed, but I soon didn't care because I was lost in the pages of this brilliant book. Every story takes you into a different world, and I spent the first day of my holiday totally absorbed in finishing it.

I've never heard of most of the comedians, so I read their stories without any preconceptions. I loved Tim Vine's, because it was so silly, but held an emotional truth. John Dowie's was brilliant because of the passion of its main character, and insight into his world.

Jim Tavare and Dave Thompson's I liked because as well as making me laugh out loud, the story had a dream logic. I read it a second time, and the symbolism worked on a deep level without needing any humour. At the end, I felt like I knew the house and the coastline where it takes place.

Dominic Holland's story was lovely, and Stewart Lee's was also full of positive energy.

I'm waiting for the second volume!

Review by
Martyn Sadler from Wales

Saturday 16 August, 2003

Totally different to what I expected. An astonishing variety of writing styles and subjects, but not just light, humorous stuff. There's some seriously good writing in here. The cliche would be 'something for everyone' - In this case it's true.

Review by
Andrew Foxley

Sunday 17th August 2003

The last book I read was Sit Down Comedy by a variety of comedians, and edited by Malcolm Hardee.

It's an interesting book, but not quite what I'd expected. I imagined a more literal translation of each contributor's stand-up style to the page, but in fact, they're really quite strange. Highlights were probably Ed Byrne's piece, and Jenny Eclair's was good too. Quite spooky and unusual...

... NEXT ...