Monday, July 03, 2006
Remind me to never read autobiographies by people who have just become famous in the last few years.
All I caan say about Lewis Black's book, Nothing Sacred, is that it doesn't make me think any less of him as a comic. But it definitely cements his place as a comic and not a comedian. Yes there's a difference, which may reside solely in my own head, but a comedian is someone who's material is humourous in itself, and can be read on a page and still be funny. A comic relies on his performance abilities to draw laughs. The very best stand up artists combined elements of both, like Bill Hicks' much copied sound effects combined with his insightful social commentary.
Lewis black has built an entire career out of his delivery, but as it turns out, the thoughts and insights he has are entirely predictable. He's just really good at putting a voice to your internal crankiness about the weather or government that you think they deserve.
So the humour content in the book is quite a disappointment. Unfortunately the life story part is also pretty sorely lacking. Lewis Black's life just isn't that interesting, at least not the part he decided to write about. Much better accounts have been written about peoples' boring office jobs, their first LSD trips and moving away to college. Basically switch the place names around and you've got the life story of every reasonably intelligent American boy luckily enough to be squarely middle class but not too comfortablely so.
The narrative ends just as things might have conceiveably gotten interesting, after he abandoned an ill-fated theatre troupe and before he pursued stand-up comedy as a career. Yes, that's write, a famous stand-up comic writes an autobioography and neglects to include a single chapter of his real road to fame and success.
This is why 'fresh' autobiographies are often so bad. That part of his life probably isn't something he's fully digested and extracted meaning and significance and symbolism from yet. As of right now they're still jsut a bunch of stuff that happened, but haven't yet been turned over enough times in the subconscious to extract a little pill-sized life lesson from yet. So instead we get half-assedly told stories about student activism and his mother, the substitute teacher with such a famously sharp wit that she could stop a junior high class in its tracks, a story he told without mentioning, or even making up, a single thing she might have said that was so famously sharp.
This is just bad writing, and the only parts I chuckled at were recycled in whole chunks from his act, so I was mostly remembering how funny it was when he actually was up on stage saying them for the first time.
I'm afraid this is just plain bad writing, and a huge disappointment. But a good secondary lesson can be taken away from Black's example, that it's not so much what you have to say but how you say it that grabs people's attention and sparks their imagination.