Brenda Monk Is Funny by Katy Brand | Book review by Steve Bennett

Brenda Monk Is Funny by Katy Brand

Book review by Steve Bennett

Books about stand-up comics are legion, but Katy Brand’s first novel starts from the people so often overlooked in fiction – as they are in the green room –  the comedians’ partners.

The titular Brenda Monk is the girlfriend of Jonathan Cape, the hottest, most charismatic comedian at the Edinburgh Fringe. Heavily tipped for stardom because of his brutally frank routines, the industry buzzes excitedly around him. For Brenda, the problem is that much of this material revolves around intimate tales of their sex life.

While it would be easy to portray her as utterly shocked by this embarrassment, Brenda is more conflicted, since she’s a huge stand-up fan herself and can see the brilliance with which he relays her most personal secrets. Plus, from hanging around with Jonathan and his dysfunctional mates, she’s come to believe that exposing every detail of a life is the key to comedy purity.

Nonetheless their relationship not so much strains, but fizzles out, as Jonathan pursues his seemingly unstoppable career trajectory. And eventually Brenda decides to give stand-up a go herself, and see the art from the other side of the mic.

Unsurprisingly, Brand’s description of the comedy circuit at every level is meticulously precise, full of insider information. Were it not for the judicious change of venue names, you might think this a documentary about the industry, which is slightly unnerving if you know it. More intriguing, of course, is just who the characters in this fiction are based upon, especially the sleazeballs.

But you don’t need to be a card-carrying comedy geek to enjoy the cracking story, though it surely helps if you have at least an interest. Brand isn’t shy of injecting her opinions of the comedy world, and especially the lot of female comics, into the narrative. Very occasionally it veers towards soapboxy, but since the way Brenda feels her way through the comedy world is the engine driving the plot, such passages don’t feel too gratuitous.

Crucially, as she finds her own voice, Brenda broadly become a better person through comedy, while Jonathan became a worse one. Not least because she’s wary of using other people in her life as gag-fodder.

For all these questions about the nature of comedy, however, the book is a brisk romp about a woman discovering a purpose in life, with the backdrop of stand-up providing opportunities for extreme behaviour and soul-baring that, in this alternate world, don’t seem too out-of-place. It’s an entertaining and revealing read.

• Brenda Monk Is Funny be Katy Brand is published by crowd-funding publisher Unbound today, priced £8.99. Click here to order from Foyles for £6.74.

Published: 31 Jul 2014

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