James Acaster's Classic Scrapes | Book review by Steve Bennett

James Acaster's Classic Scrapes

Book review by Steve Bennett

The cover line of James Acaster’s collection of autobiographical stories says it all: ‘Too err is human; to err enough to fill a book isn’t.’

For it’s sometimes hard to believe that this collection of bizarre anecdotes all happened to one man. Acaster almost seems to be an archetypal sitcom character, not just for the litany of embarrassing situations that befall him, but for the way that whatever he does get out of them always seem to make the predicaments ten times worse; acting with a sort of internal, but woefully misplaced, logic that any reader will see spells trouble.

Extending the sitcom analogy, Acaster also admits he never learns from his mistakes. ‘if you compare the first story in this book to final story,’ he writes. ‘You’ll see that they essentially happen to exactly the same person, a person who has learned absolutely nothing throughout his entire life.’

That first story is, perhaps, is simple enough: the time when, in primary school, the young Acaster wiped his soapy hands on a fellow pupils’ coat. No biggie, just slightly whimsical, though things quickly escalate through teenage bands, multiple car crashes, picking fights with an aggressive gang on a bus for reasons best known to himself and skydiving, which you might not have thought the ideal activity for an accident-prone guy like Acaster.

But he had the perfect combination of being socially awkward and painfully self-aware – at least in retrospect – of how bizarre his actions often are, which makes for an hilarious retelling of some of these stories, with a slightly detached edge, as if he can’t believe they happened to him either.

Between them, the stories amount to a memoir of sorts, and certainly make up a portrait of what manner of man Acaster is. ‘Adrift’ is probably the answer for a lot of his life, seeking some creative outlet but not really finding it through his band The Wow! Scenario. Mostly when you read youthful reminiscences of being in bands, they come from stars who went on to become famous musicians. Acaster’s experiences, of bumbling around Kettering and beyond, not really achieving much, is surely more common. Though the collection of  giant letter Ws he amassed is surely unique. 

It’s lucky he found it through comedy instead, and there’s a vivid description of possibly the worst date ever – as well as a story of a post-gig hook-up that veers from the terrifying to the frustrating with surprises at every turn. 

There might, on the face of it, not be much interest in the life story of a stand-up not much known beyond comedy circles or viewers of Mock The Week, but the painfully funny retelling of these anecdotes makes it universally hilarious. Anyone who’s ever gone crimson with embarrassment will relate. To go back to that sitcom analogy, you would be watching his cringe-inducing decisions through your fingers.

Listeners to Josh Widdicombe’s Radio X radio show will have heard many (but not quite all) of these stories before – indeed it was his comedy mate who came up with the word ‘scrape’ to define all these troublesome incidents. Acaster's  practical joke ‘cabadging’  feud with Mick Trent, the nine-year-old son of fellow comic David Trent, has certainly been well-documented on air.

If the cliché of the Celebrity Autobiography is the score-settling phrase: ‘Naturally I had the last laugh…’ Acaster’s Classic Scrapes is the polar opposite, a series of awful memories in which everyone else gets to dwell on his mishaps, whether accidental or self-inflicted, and often laugh-out-loud hilarious.

James Acaster’s Classic Scrapes has been published by Headline, priced £18.99. Click  here to buy from Amazon for £12.91.

Published: 5 Sep 2017

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