Book Review: "Can't Stand Up for Sitting Down" by Jo Brand

Updated on July 12, 2018
Jamie Cahill-Kear profile image

Jamie is an English graduate who studied at Queen Mary University of London. He is a comedy enthusiast.

Jo Brand's Can't Stand Up For Sitting Down
Jo Brand's Can't Stand Up For Sitting Down

Introduction

Autobiographies written by comedians are great. What subject could a comedian know better or be able to work with as well as their own life story? None. Through their memoirs, we can learn more about what makes a comedian tick, how they developed their sense of humour, how they got into the business and so much more. Can't Stand Up For Sitting Down offers all of this, as well as something extra not usually found in this type of book.

Overview

Can't Stand Up For Sitting Down is Jo Brand's 2010 part-memoir, part informative guide to the world of stand-up. It takes us from the moment she decided to leave her stable job for the world of comedy to the time the book was published (beyond that would have been impressive). It follows on from Brand's first memoir Look Back In Hunger which covered the earlier parts of her life. The book is unique in that it offers all of the feelings of intimacy and insight offered by an autobiography, whilst also containing huge amounts of organised information about the stand-up comedy industry. As such, this book will be doubly interesting to anyone with an interest in comedy, the comedy business or comedians and Brand herself. Anyone who simply wants a laugh will also find plenty for them in this book- it is amusing and honest, as befits Jo's brand (if you'll pardon the pun).

More About Jo Brand:

Brand has been one of Britain's best-loved comedians for over three decades and is well known for her stand-up comedy, her appearances on QI, as a judge on Tom Daley's diving show Splash! and as the presenter of The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice.

Diving Deeper

Brand splits her book into three main sections, each of which contain a large number of smaller chapters (at three hundred and ninety-nine pages, Brand packs a lot in). The first of these sections is entitled "Trying To Be Funny" and it should be noted that we see a definite progression to 'being funny', as Brand charts her rise from member of the early-eighties 'alternative' comic scene to modern touring comedian.

In case you were wondering, the 'alternative' comedy scene, as it was known, started out in London during the eighties as an answer to more traditional comedy acts. The traditional acts of the time often used material that the comedians had not devised themselves (a bit like jokes that nowadays can be found in joke books) and this material was often racist/ sexist. Alternative comedy was conscious not to be such things and was devised by the comedians themselves. It was what many would nowadays consider modern, 'mainstream' stand-up comedy. It was during the early days of this form and as a member of this scene that Brand spent her first years as a comic.

We are told of grotty mid-eighties comedy clubs and a "civil war" between comedy styles- in which, one could argue, Brand was a foot soldier. Brand gradually grew her career as a frank female comedian at a time when every joke told on stage was a campaign against the old guard. The comedy scene of those days was very different to London's polished scene of today. We are treated (and I use that word lightly) to tales of naked comperes and police raids on clubs. But we're also told of a tight-knit community of comics with big hearts and Brand remembers the scene including such alumni as Alan Davies and Mark Lamarr. If you would like to find out more about London's eighties alternative comedy scene, Stewart Lee's How I Escaped my Certain Fate is a great resource and is available here.

A time of mega-laughs, a few fights and making really good friendships.

— Jo Brand, encapsulating what the 80's alternative comedy scene meant to her.
Jo Brand's Can't Stand Up For Sitting Down
Jo Brand's Can't Stand Up For Sitting Down

So you now understand the eighties alternative comedy scene but as we in the present day know, Brand eventually moved on from only working in these clubs. She documents her first television appearance (on the eighties comedy and music show Friday Night Live) in hilarious detail. "Having never done telly before I was swept along in a miasma of glamour and fear, doing a sound check, sitting in my dressing room telling myself all the clichés such as, 'You've made it'". Such sentiments give way to a performance involving Brand's arm "going up and down in a chicken-flapping-its-wings style", the use of a "monotone voice" and a heckler cutting through the crowd- "'Get off!'"

Brand is in fact too hard on herself when it comes to this performance- she is of course going for the comic element. It's fascinating to hear a first hand account of a comedy star's first foray into the spotlight and this section of the book is made all the more rewarding by the fact that said performance is available online, for you to judge yourself. You can watch it below.

Brand in fact does exceptionally well for a first-time media appearance, and her monotone delivery actually works very well. We're all our own greatest critic but as the book details, from this performance Brand does eventually springboard forward and doesn't look back. The rest of this section of the book is full of fascinating guides to her subsequent experiences. These include accounts of the touring process on various different scales, a guide to her favourite and least favourite comedy clubs (not all of which are still around), a brutally honest tour diary, a country-wide comedy guide (Maidstone apparently had "the worst toilets of any theatre") and of course a suitably hedonistic account of the frequently boozy Edinburgh Fringe Festival. As I mentioned and as will now be apparent, this book is a genuine goldmine of insight into the comedy industry.

The middle section of the book sees our author sharing more about the general business of "Being Jo Brand", as it is entitled. Brand is honest here about the demands of her job and perhaps more so, her role in the public eye. We are told of early mornings shooting, late nights performing and difficulties finding enough time to spend with family members even when at home, due to scheduling demands. Brand also shares her feelings towards getting recognised in public- a phenomenon with which she is distinctly good-natured. "Some people just think they know you and say hello as they pass; I always give a cheery hello back." Of course, there is still a flip side to this phenomenon, and Brand is rather less positive when describing an occasion where a doctor asked for her autograph whilst she was giving birth. Her evasionary tactics such as tying a false shoe lace or ducking into a doorway were not such an option here. You couldn't make it up. These tales are found in such sub-sections as "A Day in My Life", "Being Clocked" and "Comedy Holidays with Comedy People".

The back of Jo Brand's Can't Stand Up For Sitting Down
The back of Jo Brand's Can't Stand Up For Sitting Down

Writing this book has been bloody hard work.

— Jo Brand, Can't Stand Up For Sitting Down

As you may have judged from the quote above, Brand is even more loose and mischevious in the final section of the book, entitled "The Box". A smaller section where she mostly discusses the world of television, this part of the book includes her take on comedy panel shows, a section on writing this book and even a section devoted to whether any celebrities she has met are less pleasant than they seem (spoiler: the considerate Brand does not name and shame).

Conclusion

Brand's personality really radiates through this book, which is an utter joy. This is an especially considerate autobiography in that it doesn't just provide us with the story of a section of Brand's life, but provides huge amounts of information that you would struggle to acquire from another comic of Brand's standing, which helps us understand the world Brand occupies. As I said in my overview, whether your interest lies in Brand herself; or the comedy industry itself, this book is an absolute must-have. You will struggle to find another book that provides the same balance of material- or for that matter the same perspective- as this one. In my opinion, it is one of the finest and most refreshing comedian autobiographies available. If you would like to read it, it is available to buy here.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Jamie Cahill-Kearns

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)