Friday, 18 November 2011

COMEDY REVIEW: Beyond a Joke - Bruce Dessau

Release Date: 13/10/11


Beyond a Joke is a celebration of comedy - one of the modern world's most dominant and compelling art forms - but it is also the story of comedy's dark side, homing in on the scandals that have surrounded some of light entertainment's biggest stars, and telling it as it is, featuring quotes from those that were there at the time. How the devoted laughter of those fans onstage never seemed to be enough for these moody, prickly, ego-driven entertainers. How they would constantly seek more thrills when the curtain came down. The offstage antics of certain comedians would make even rock stars blush. The number of comedians who have had to deal with paternity suits would make a book in itself.

While Beyond a Joke explores the extremes of this world it also addresses another question. Are comedians naturally dysfunctional, or does the stress and pressure of the job make them dysfunctional? Ruby Wax once told me that she had builders in her house who were just as emotionally unstable as most stand-up comedians she had worked with. But they don't want to go on stage and plead with an audience to love them. There is something about wanting to make strangers laugh for a living that is intrinsically, fundamentally, strange. Stand-up is doubly peculiar in that respect. It's just the one person emotionally naked on the stage in front of maybe thousands of people. No safety net, no back up. It takes a particularly odd person to want to pursue comedy as a career. And, as Beyond a Joke will reveal, the behaviour of comedians once they are successful in their chosen career makes them even odder.

Bruce Dessau is the only person who could write this book. From Russell Brand slashing his chest onstage to Jo Brand trashing a friend's car on the motorway, he has heard it all. Bruce Dessau knows where the bodies are buried.


There’s a popular song called the Tears of a Clown by Smokey Robinson, and when you think about it, a lot of professional comedians have had traumatic or dire upbringings which, according to Bruce Dessau is why they seek approval so much from the audience. This book takes the reader on a journey from the birth of British Comedy up to modern times with some of the more recent crop of humourists.

Whilst this book does deal with the darker issues within the comedy circuit that led to Jo Brand on more than one occasion (a former Psychiatric Nurse) to say that some of her contemporaries should seek professional help, a fair part of it is more based around the exploits of the comedians away from the circuit which neither enhances or adds anything to this title. All in its OK, but with a lot of the book spending a lot of time about the personal deviances then it’s a title that will be only for a select few. A great shame to be honest.

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