Saturday, February 08, 2020

Unlucky Jim

The undoubted egotism involved in fancying yourself as a "critic" leads you to believe vehemently in your own opinion but to be instinctively mistrustful of the opinions of others. Or maybe that's just me. Either way, my immediate reaction to the fulsome puffs on the cover of James Acaster's Classic Scrapes - including Richard Herring making the grand claim "I don't think I've ever read a book that has made me cry with laughter as much as this one" - was to be sceptical.

In this instance, I'd suggest, that scepticism was reasonably well-founded - the book is only sporadically "laugh-out-loud hilarious" (Chortle), Acaster's voice doesn't translate as well on the page as it does on stage or on TV, and (as he himself anticipates) he emerges as a less likeable figure than the endearingly gawky oddball character he's cultivated. But to sum it up/write it off in those terms is to do it (and him) a disservice.

The book is a compilation of unfortunate and often undignified incidents that have befallen its author, who first regaled audiences with most of them as a guest on his friend Josh Widdicombe's radio show. It opens with the arresting line "When I was a baby, I urinated into my own mouth"; as Acaster admits, "this book is essentially the tale of a man repeatedly urinating into his own mouth", and ends with no real lessons learned.

Arranged chronologically, the accounts form a curious sort of memoir - one that starts with scarring experiences at school and moves through disastrous early public performances, various ill-advised forays into music, ill-fated attempts to broaden his horizons and range of interests, and a number of car crashes. (Warning: do not get into a vehicle if he's at the wheel.)

In fairness to Acaster, the title of this post is a bit misleading - he doesn't see himself as one of those people to whom things just seem to happen. On the contrary, he's sufficiently self-aware to acknowledge that his naivety (often extreme), his twisted sense of logic, his impulsiveness and his Larry-David-esque capacity to dig himself an ever deeper hole are all factors that help to explain why there are enough incidents to fill a book.

Inevitably, some of the scrapes are more amusing than others. 'Fell Foot Sound' (about a catastrophic amateur music festival) is a particular favourite, though I won't give away any spoilers. However, regular viewers of Would I Lie To You? will already be familiar with the phenomenon of cabadging and know that Acaster once spent the night wearing a dress in a bush outside Basingstoke train station.

Which begs the question: now that these episodes are published and out in the public domain, will he have to land himself in more awkward and bizarre situations to have enough material to be invited back on the show? Given his track record and incorrigible nature, I suspect he won't have to try very hard.

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