Beyond a Joke – Inside the dark minds of stand-up comedians

  • Beyond a Joke – Inside the dark minds of stand-up comedians by Bruce Dessau
  • Book Review Rating: *****
  • Publisher: Arrow Books

Public speaking is often cited as one of most people’s biggest fears. In fact in 2015 it was deemed to be Briton’s #1 fear. Even greater than a fear of spiders, flying, confined spaces or heights. To think there are a select troupe of people, whom we  know as Comedians, that make a career of not just of speaking in public, but being expected to make strangers laugh via their on stage utterances is quite something and would surely rank as a far, far greater fear than ‘mere’ public speaking.

Speaking of the uniqueness of the situation facing Comedians, Jimmy Carr’s succinct and highly pertinent quote on this is featured in the book: “There are 500 people in the room and I’m the only one in the room facing the wrong way.

Beyond a Joke is about the people facing the wrong way.’ It is an excellent book that gets right inside the minds, personalities and characters of the men and women who have made a successful career out of facing the wrong way. Being just that little bit, or in a number of cases, often a lot, different, to the typical man or woman who would run a mile at the thought of having to go on stage and make a room full of total strangers laugh.

Not only does the book detail numerous storiesthat let us into some of the little known history of many of our well known, much loved comedians such as Jimmy Carr, Russell Brand, the late, great Bob Monkhouse and Richard Pryor, it also takes the reader on a fascinating history of the start of stand-up comedy from Joseph Grimaldi in the 18c through to modern day superstars such as lee Evans, Michael McIntryre and Peter Kay.

Comedy connoisseurs will love ‘Beyond a Joke’ as it a thoroughly well  researched, anecdote filled, extremely funny book, full of insights into what goes on behind the scenes, including many less than savoury stories that many probably wish had never happened and were not featured in the book!

With observational and personally revealing, self-focused, confessional style comedy dominating the modern day stand-up genre, this book is quite prescient to understanding the psyche of Comedians. Now that people are encouraged to be as open about and generally alert to their mental health in as normal a way as they would, for instance, discuss physical health, I think we should be thankful for the countless Comedians who are so open and frank on stage for our entertainment. For them it’s potentially usefully cathartic, whilst audiences “enjoy their pain” by laughing at their discomfort thinly disguised as jokes. In return the Comedians get their catharsis, plus the added bonus of the buzz they get from seeing their audience laughing at what is now effectively their material. Doubtless there are some in the audiences finding such talk equally beneficial, finding the comedy to be ‘light therapy’ and providing an entry for them to go on and start a conversation about their own issues.

The countless highly personal anecdotes and revelations indicate this book could only have been written by a comedy insider and true lover of the genre. That most definitely is the case here, for Bruce Dessau has been writing about comedy for 30 years for a variety of publications including the London Evening standard and knows just about everyone and everything there is to know about stand-up comedy worth knowing. That shows throughout the book with

Beyond a Joke  enriches the reader with a far greater understanding of the psyche of a Comedian by pointing the spotlight away from the stage and TV screen onto their lives off stage to illuminate the dark and often humorous life of a comedian whilst they are far from the public view.

© Tiemo Talk of the Town


  1. Beyond The Joke – Bruce Dessau website
  2. What are you scared of? Britain’s Top 10 Worst Fears revealed! – Good To Know – 28th October 2015
  3. Funny Business – Can’t you take a joke? Tiemo book review – 25th April 2014
This entry was posted in Book reviews, Comedy Reviews 2018 and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Beyond a Joke – Inside the dark minds of stand-up comedians

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