Telegraph review of Way With Words

Ways With Words 2010: Richard Herring
The real reason comedians feel compelled to tell us their life stories was revealed at Ways With Words.

By Sarah Crompton
Published: 5:12PM BST 15 Jul 2010

There seems to be a publishing trend at the moment for memoirs from comedians. After volumes of reminiscence from Peter Kay, Jo Brand, Russell Brand and others flew off the shelves last year, a new rash — or should it be laugh? — of autobiography is currently appearing.

Richard Herring has written an amusingly dyspeptic but also surprisingly thoughtful and honest account of turning 40 called How Not to Grow Up! (A Coming of Age Memoir. Sort of), which he discussed at the Telegraph Ways With Words festival.

Not to be outdone, his erstwhile comedic partner Stewart Lee is about to publish How I Escaped My Certain Fate: The Life and Deaths of a Stand-up Comedian (notice how long titles are characteristic of the genre), which recounts the story of his return to the stage after writing Jerry Springer: the Opera.

Jeremy Hardy, on the other hand, has described his hopeless travails in the world of genealogy in My Family and Other Strangers. During his talk at Dartington, he offered one reason why there are suddenly so many of these books by comics, by describing the conversation he had with a publisher.

“ ' I’d like to write a book of short stories,’ I said. 'Young people don’t like short stories or novels by comedians,’ he said. 'What hobbies have you got?’ 'I haven’t got any hobbies,’ I said. 'Well, get a hobby and write about it.’ ”

This exchange doesn’t exactly make you feel that the publishing industry knows what it is doing. But, in the case of Hardy, it has produced a fresh and funny memoir, thanks mainly to the fact that he is such a hopeless genealogical investigator that he does things such as setting off to the wrong village, without a map and without his reading glasses.

As he said: “It’s very lonely this stuff. Most people trying to discover their ancestors are very nearly ancestors themselves.You should really do it when you are young.”