[Review] - Stephen Fry Live! More Fool Me
I hadn't a clue what it was about when I bout the ticket. It didn't matter. I assumed that it would involve Stephen Fry talking, and perhaps Stephen Fry reading. For all that it matter, it could have been Stephen Fry standing and sweating (and it was a good bit of that too). But I operated entirely on the assumption that whatever it was that Stephen Fry was going, it would be Stephen Fry doing it, and that was worth the price of admission.
Turns out, I was right. Part of his More Foll Me book tour, Fry was broadcast worldwide from the Royal Festival Hall, and entertained in the way that we've come to expect from Fry these last ten or fifteen years. The comedy is there, to be certain, but this is no stand-up gig. Fry, with his national treasure status and nearly infinite depths of arcane and obscure knowledge (in multiple languages) is a raconteur in the strictest of definable ways. To listen to him babble on with only the slimmest of margins of intent, he still manages to hold your attention and make you laugh. Even if he does take his time getting there, and in the course of the journey, prove that a thought out word is worth twice the one off the top of your head.
Hit the jump for the review.
Fry makes a point, off the top, to draw attention to the fact that there is no script for this twenty-first century walking tour. This is an illusion, and while prestidigitators (like Penn Jillette, whom he mentions later in the show) use their hands to draw attention away, Fry use his words to distract. There might well be no script, but Fry isn't being entirely truthful. There is clearly a plan in the considerable volume of his head, as some of his lecture (and that's what it is, ultimately) rolls off his tongue with a greater strength of conviction and familiarity than others.
When Fry is working from the top of his head, it is apparent, and all credit to him that he pulls facts from caverns of experience deeper than most of use have in our entirety. All the same, when he stutters and sweats his way from fact to fact, it's obvious when he is grasping for something to say. And when he's drawing from a well rehearsed material, or when he's reading directly from the page, he's unshakable.
The show opened with Fry greeting each country taking part in the broadcast in turn and all but one in the language of those peoples, expelling some QI-worthy bit of information about that country, many based on the first hand experience that his life of comedy legendry has granted him. He acknowledges his tendency to ramble, as he assumed us multiple times that a point was on the horizon. It is a slow, and at times floundering way to start the show, and is mostly for Fry to find his own comfort. Beyond this, when he starts being able to draw on his internal script, the show found it's feet.
As one would expect from a book tour, a sizable chunk of the show is taken up by the author reading aloud form his published tome, in this case the or third volume of his biography, following directly off of The Fry Chronicle. While that previous book held a light focus on this college years and entry into the world of comedy, More Fool Me draws attention to the bleakest years in Fry's life, when addiction, depression and the rigors of success created a turbulent cacophony.
Fry speaks to these years candidly, and his life of self destruction with what he himself identifies as a detachment. He wisely chooses a highly comedic and gossipy section to read from, while admitting that the book is much the same considering the years it covers were when Fry was at his initial peak of success. He warns of the hazards and the miseries he details, but avoids them in favour of audience pleasing anecdotes about Princess Diana.
When Fry lost me somewhat was in the devotion of much of the latter part of the brisk hour and a half long show to Oscar Wilde. I respect his admiration for the writer, and Fry adequately expresses the importance that discovering Wilde as an isolated youth had on who he is as a person at a fundamental level. But as much as Wilde informs who Fry has become, it's Fry I'm interested in. As much as it might seem self serving and egotistical from his perspective to send the entire evening speaking of himself, from my perspective it seems equally self serving and egotistical for him to spend the evening speaking on subjects near and dear to himself, but less about himself, especially considering that he's flogging an autobiography.
In the end, however, I'd listen to Fry read the nutritional information off a microwave pizza box, so I left the evening with sore cheeks and a warm heart.