Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Art Imitates Life...Sort Of: A Review of Milton Jones' Where Do Comedians Go When They Die?: Journeys of a Stand-Up

Title: Where Do Comedians Go When They Die?: Journeys of a Stand-Up
Author: Milton Jones
Edition: Hardcover
Publisher: J.R. Books (2009)
Pages: 245
How I Came By This Book: I was first introduced to the author, Milton Jones, through watching the British panel show Mock the Week. When I found out that he had written a novel, I decided to order it through my library's ILL system.
Challenges: GoodReads 2011 Reading Challenge

Synopsis: A star of everyone except his own home, it's hard for Jerome Stevens to balance the demands of touring with family life. The circuit is a cynical world of extremes where money talks, agents slither and audiences throw mince pies.

We meet Jerome as he tries to make people laugh for a living. We follow him from the blind terror of a first open spot, facing an audience of trained killers in the Falklands, and the trauma of live television, to being chased out of Wales by an angry mob of brewery staff. Violent bouncers, paranoid celebrities and comedy producers without a sense of humour all compete to milk that cash-cow that is comedy, each desperately trying to grab at what they think are the udders of laughter.

But throughout it all, the hero's biggest critic remains his own seven-year-old son. Oh, and Jerome is actually in prison in China.

This hilarious account could only be written by somebody who's been there, with many of the extraordinary characters in the book being an amalgam of the personalities and characters and oddballs found on the comedy circuit. Fizzing with the one-liners and surreal humour for which Milton Jones is famous, this is an authentic, hilarious story of the life of a stand-up comedian.

Review: Milton Jones is punny. I mean, funny. Okay, he's punny, too. As an occasional panelist on Mock the Week, a British panel show that makes fun of the week's news headlines, Milton Jones has endeared himself to me with his crazy hair, his Hawaiian shirts, and his strange, but hilarious, one-liners. While I've never seen his stand-up, I knew once I heard that he had written a book that, if it was anything like what I had seen on Mock the Week, I wanted to read it. What I found when I did was a consistently funny, at times heartwarming, and all-around enjoyable novel.

Jerome's story is told in two ways: the first is through his history as a stand-up comic, starting with his first unsuccessful shows and following him through all the way to stardom; the second is through the recounting of the 18 nerve-wracking hours he spent in a Chinese prison. Told in first-person narrative, we are privy to Jerome's every thought, misgiving, doubt, fear, joy, anguish, triumph, and, yes, joke. We meet his friends, his family, his enemies, and his fans and are along for the ride as he traverses the British comedy circuit in search of fame.

For a first (and so far, only) novel, Milton Jones got a lot right. The writing is smart, the characters are fun, and the humor isn't forced. Jerome is a great narrator, one who doesn't hold anything back from the reader. He's a genuine human being with lots of flaws and, while he doesn't show them to his audience in the book, the reader is privy to them. We see him as he really is, which makes him not only likeable, but also a character that we really want to have succeed. Even as his comedian friends devolve into drugs, drinking, and debauchery, we hope that Jerome will be able to rise above all of that and stay true to who he is. Thankfully, we aren't disappointed.

Anyone familiar with Jones' work will recognize that Jerome's humor is rather similar, although not entirely. Jones' writing contains that surrealistic quality that he's known for, but as this is a novel and not a comedy routine, the humor slides into the narrative, building it and supporting it, rather than being its entirety. Jones' uses a lot of similes (some more successful than others) and relies on Jerome's reactions to his situation at that point in time for a lot of the novels funniest moments.

In the same vein, people familiar with the British comic scene in general will be able to pull apart some of Jones' characters to find possible influences for them. Jerome's fellow comedians are sort-of-but-not-quite people that Jones is familiar with. Hints of Canadian comic Stewart Francis, Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle, and others can be found upon examining the characters that litter the pages of Jones' novel.

Where Do Comedians Go When They Die? deals with the good, the bad, and the ugly of life as a comedian. Jones uses fiction and humor to examine life on the circuit, breaking into television and radio, the problems of juggling a family and a career, and other situations that comics find themselves facing. Most notable is Jones' exploration of joke stealing--a common enough occurrence, but one that about a year later would personally affect him after Keith Chegwin was accused of stealing some of Jones' jokes on Twitter. Simon Evans and (one of my personal favorite comedians) Ed Byrne stuck up for Jones in that instance but Jerome's situation shows just how little you can really do about it and how alone you sometimes are when it happens. While Jerome works his way up the ladder of success, the audience gets to glimpse a little of what it's like to be a comedian, both the highs and the lows.

This book was really fun to read and has a fast moving plot that covers the highlights of a little over a decade of Jerome's career. While people who aren't familiar with British slang, spelling, etc., might need to keep Google open in case of a misunderstood word or phrase here or there, I can sincerely recommend this book to anyone who loves comedy, Milton Jones, fun/creative characters, or just a good laugh. I'd love to see Jones write more novels and branch out from writing about comedians. In the hope that this will happen, I'm giving Where Do Comedians Go When They Die? 4 out of 5 Gabriels (can't give him a full score on his first try, right?).



  1. Sounds like an extremely interesting life!
    Wanted to let you know that I nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award. My latest blog post has the details. :)

  2. wow what a indepth review, great :D

    Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net