Sunday, February 28, 2016

What I’m reading #132

For the last week I have mostly been reading three books by Stephen Fry. This was for work, you understand, not for pleasure. I am not a fan.

What an interesting fellow he must be: not yet 60, he has published three volumes about himself. In 1997, Moab is My Washpot, billed on the cover of the paperback edition as “The Bestselling Autobiography”.  In 2010, The Fry Chronicles: an autobiography. In 2014, More Fool Me: a memoir.

Whether memoir or autobiography, they are all frightful. I am not sure if it is the faux self-deprecating preening self-regard and self-absorption or… No, it is the faux self-deprecating preening self-regard and self-absorption. But.

One has to admire the work ethic. More Fool Me especially details a work rate that is nothing less than Stakhanovite. A voice-over in the morning, writing session with Hugh Laurie in the afternoon, a speech delivered in the evening, possibly in Manchester – and then the Groucho Club back in London and a drug intake that is astonishing. He was the Keith Richards of comedy. And as with Keef the work was good in the decade or so this book covers: four series of Blackadder, several series of A Little Bit of Fry and Laurie, roles in movies I’ve never seen – Peter’s Friends, anyone? – and a couple of novels. Terrible novels, imho, but bestsellers. And two more novels to come. So, respect.

What comes out of this third volume especially is what a saint Hugh Laurie must be to have put up with all of Fry’s bad behaviour for all those years. What’s also striking – maybe this is because of all the drugs – is that the best jokes are by others. A friend calls Sir Ian McKellen “Serena McKellen”. Once heard, that cannot be unheard. And this from Barry Humphries as Dame Edna on Virginia Woolf: 
Darling Virginia, a woman with whom I have so much in common, except of course that I can swim.
 So here is a clip from A Little Bit of Fry and Laurie which Fry refers to approvingly as a parody of The Two Ronnies but – well, see if you think it’s funny:


Paul said...

I have seen Peter's Friends. They were ghastly, as was Peter.

Paul said...

Julie Burchill apparently called him "a stupid person's idea of a clever person," although she cannot remember doing so.

helenalex said...

I quite liked Moab is my Washpot (except for the title). More Fool Me was atrocious, though - presumably he had a contract for it and not enough time or inclination to write a proper book.

Stephen Stratford said...

Helenalex, I agree re the atrociousness of More Fool Me - he seemed to give up writing halfway through and just plonked down unedited gobbets of his diaries. One wonders if a deadline was missed, the printer, publicity etc had all been booked and so the publisher had to go with it. This vol finishes in November 1993 so there will be several more vols to come. Ever-diminishing returns, I expect.

Unknown said...

'Julie Burchill apparently called him "a stupid person's idea of a clever person," although she cannot remember doing so.'


Like a lot of Burchill's bitchiest lines about other people, it seems to apply better to her than to almost anyone else.

Fry *is* undoubtedly a very clever person. But he does seem to need to remind folk of it every few seconds. And its the insufferable preachiness he occasionally adopts with it which gets...arrgh.

That said, I love a lot of his work. QI is great, and I loved 'Peters Friends' - a minority view, too. But he's best with some talented folk around him.

Solo -as with his Just no. I expected to enjoy them but didn't. Even by the standards of luvvie autobiog, they are awfully self absorbed and, sadly, not particularly entertaining or funny.

Stephen Stratford said...

Self-absorbed? You reckon? And yes, not very funny - in the latest vol, the best lines are by other people. Even his boyfriend gets a good one in. And this by Dame Edna Everage on Virginia Woolf (from memory, can't find it in book, and it was probably misquoted there):

"Dear Virginia, a woman with whom I had so much in common - except that I can swim."

Punch said...

Actually I really enjoy the guy. I thought his one man show at the Civic last year was fabulous. Just him and a microphone pacing too and fro across the stage telling stories, not always about him and full of shameless name dropping, but very, very funny.
Sample: "I always knew I was gay. The moment I was born, I looked up and thought, ew, I'm not going near one of those again."
I guess humour is a personal taste.

Stephen Stratford said...

That joke is a good example of what I don't like. I don't think it's funny, but that's just personal taste., More to the point, it isn't his - he quotes it in Vol 3 (I think) of the memoirs as being somebody else's. Also, it isn't true. He had a girlfriend at about 16 whom he shagged, and he says several times that he is 90% gay, 10% not, whatever that means, so is attracted to some women - there is one other he talks about whom he seriously considered as a possible partner. So it's someone else's joke expressing something he doesn't mean. Bah, I say.

Paul said...

We know so little about Hugh Laurie's preferences.

Stephen Stratford said...

Probably an introvert.

homepaddock said...

Autobiographies of funny people often aren't funny.

After reading David McPahil's autobiography I came to the conclusion that's because funny people don't always have funny lives and we're disappointed when they don't right about them in a humorous way.