Where Do Comedians Go When They Die?
Write what you know, that’s what novelists are always told – and it’s advice Milton Jones has certainly taken to heart. His debut literary effort charts the life story of a jobbing stand-up, from eager open spot to successful, but not famous, road slave; a career that ultimately leaves him somewhat detached from real life, especially his family.
Where Do Comedians Go To Die? is, it should be stressed, fiction, not autobiography. Central character Jerome Stevens, for example, won the 1996 Schwepps Best Newcomer Award – nothing at all like the real-life Jones, you understand, who just happens to won the Perrier best newcomer award in that very same year.
‘Thinly disguised’ is definitely the watchword here, and comedy aficionados can have fun guessing the inspiration behind some of the familiar characters that populate its pages: Mickey Spinoa, the comic who got hugely famous by appropriating bits of other stand-up’s acts; the flashily soulless big-shot agent Gary; Tony Tundass, the thick-skinned hack, bitter at all the clubs who won’t book him but blissfully ignorant of the fact it’s because he’s dreadful.
Jones certainly draws on his experiences to make each episode feel utterly authentic. A little less convincing is the device that links all these together – Stevens being incarcerated in a Chinese cell, prompting him to reminisce about all the experiences in his career, and occasionally his personal life, that made him who he is.
It starts with indelible memories of the gut-wrenching nerves of early gigs and the struggle to find material and a persona. And even though success comes his way, the insecurities of the demanding profession never leave him. ‘That’s the thing about this game,’ Jones writes. ‘In theory you’re just a phone call away from zipping up a ladder, but in reality you always seem to be trying to shin up a snake.’
As you might expect from a comic who’s act is based on exquisite one-liners, Jones has a lovely turn of phrase, that sometimes leaps into the very funny. Although the character is usually too busy fretting about whether a line is funny or not for the text to contain many useable jokes, it is consistently witty and eminently readable.
Each chapter is based on Stevens’ journey back from a particular gig, such as ‘October 1995: Car from Folkestone to London’, as he muses over the job just done. Together, they form an evocative insight into the off-stage processes that every comic goes through at every stage of their career – the surreal night bus trips home, the dreaded-but-lucrative corporate gigs, the odd fans, and the incredible experiences comedy can bring, as well as the crushing sense of isolation.
It’s more rounded, and more real, than most literary depictions of stand-ups as tortured geniuses, and so is closer in turn to genuine tour diaries such as those previously written by the likes of Frank Skinner or Mark Steel. It will prove fascinating to anyone wanting an insight into the realities of life on the road, and feels remarkably accurate for those already living it – though its appeal beyond that audience may be limited. But given that you’re already reading Chortle, consider yourself in the target demographic.
- Where Do Comedians Go Where They Die?, by Milton Jones, is published by JR Books at £14.99. Click here to buy from Amazon at £8.99
Published: 7 Dec 2009