Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Greedy Bastard Diary: A Comic Tour of AmericaThe Greedy Bastard Diary: A Comic Tour of America by Eric Idle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"You haven't really lived until you have stood onstage at Carnegie Hall in full drag singing 'Sit on My Face'"

The longest book I have read in quite some time (325 pages!) has left me with a feeling of disappointment. Eric Idle's The Greedy Bastard Diary (2005), a journal from the author's comedy tour of the U.S. and Canada in late 2003, contains entries that were originally published daily on the PythOnline website in the form of what we would call today a blog. The writings about the preparations and performances at the almost 50 gigs that composed the tour are punctuated with reminiscences of events from the author's extremely successful career in comedy. Although the tone of the diary is very light and the book sparkles with high-quality humor several passages are quite serious and moving.

Eric Idle does not need an introduction as a Monty Python member ("the sixth nicest Python," he calls himself), the comedy team responsible for by far the funniest show in the history of world television and in my opinion the funniest ever event in entertainment, one that has never yet been matched in its combination of wit and hilarity. Mr. Idle is the author of many famous sketches - Nudge, Nudge is probably the best known - and the composer of many Python songs of which Always Look on the Bright Side of Life may be the most universally acclaimed. During the U.S./Canada tour that is portrayed in the book Mr. Idle, accompanied by a small team of comedians and musicians, performed both the original Monty Python materials as well as his own post-Python work.

Greedy Bastard is a truly hilarious read: I smirked, giggled or laughed out constantly, and there are funny bits on almost every page. The humor is mostly based on language, apparently Mr. Idle's specialty - remember "The man who speaks in anagrams" sketch? - and spans the whole spectrum: we have silly puns like "You can't make a Hamlet without breaking Eggs" or "The Old Yolks Home", we also have obvious but hilarious gag lines like
"The Aladdin Theater is famous for having screened the longest-running film in history: Deep Throat [...] It ran here for more than twenty years. Frankly I think the movie sucks."
as well as more subtle punchlines:
"[...] for me a show isn't a show without leggy girls in spangly tights putting their legs over their heads, and that's just backstage."
So why am I complaining? What is wrong with the book is the utterly irritating name-dropping: Mr. Idle meticulously lists the celebrities that he met, knew, or was friends with. I do not have time to count all famous people mentioned in Greedy Bastard but here are just some names from about 30 pages of the book: George Harrison, Robin Williams, Uma Thurman, Paul Simon, Lauren Hutton, Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Bill Maher. There probably are five times as many in the whole book. I find it inexcusable that Mr. Idle had not spent any time with Jesus Christ: an unfortunate omission. Most likely the reason of prodigious name-dropping is that the book is aimed at the American audience - that's where the money is - and Mr. Idle caters to the Religion of Celebrity, the faith whose adherents outnumber followers of any other religion in the United States.

Again, this is an extremely funny book with a few serious, contemplative fragments - the author writes touchingly about his mother's and George Harrison's deaths - so it is a great pity that the name-dropping and the obsession with celebrity make the book so much less readable.

Two and three-quarter stars.

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