Monday, November 16, 2009

Seb Hunter - How To Be A Better Person

Atlantic Books

The basic upshot of Seb Hunter's latest project was to spend two years volunteering for various organisations in his local area in an effort to better himself as a person, or rather to answer the question "does volunteering make you a better person?"

The resultant book is essentially a diary of these two years, detailing the various jobs and tasks he undertook, the people he worked with, and people he helped, with short conclusions from time to time on whether or not each job really did make him feel like a better person.

Hunter's semi-autobiographical humourist approach is consistently easy to read and his tone is always warm and friendly. He describes infuriating situations not with venom and malice but in the manner of an old friend reminiscing the ridiculous, or a dinner party guest relating a story for comedic effect. It's easy to relate if not to his exact situations, then to the people he encountered as many of them are either the kinds of people we've all encountered (embittered Oxfam shop worker Gladys in particular), or can imagine from Hunter's descriptions, and would probably see ourselves behaving in the same ways he did towards them.

Some of the entries are clearly chosen more for their comedy merits than their contribution to his story, but at no point do you get the feeling he's undertaken this whole charade simply to produce a funny book, even if that is in fact what he did, to offer a cynical view. He never lets go of the serious aspect to his adventures in favour of a cheap laugh, adding a level of sincerity that a lot of humour writing lacks.

While writing this book it's clear many afterthoughts struck Hunter, which he dispenses via footnotes so as not to disrupt the sense of "now" in the main narrative, which works well and in actual fact there's almost as much humour in these short asides as there is in the text. The thought of these might seem irritating on the surface, and when one or two of the footnotes take up half a page to themselves, they can be, but most of them are single, sharp sentences that often show more of Hunter's cynical side than the paragraphs they're attached to.

'How To Be A Better Person' is not hilarious. Instances of laughing out loud are likely to be rare, if they occur at all, but it is amusing more or less all the way through, and while it probably isn't going to inspire many people to spend a Summer behind the counter at Oxfam, it may provide some food for thought on the whole volunteering thing and what good the various avenues of volunteering actually do for people in need.

“ easy to relate ”

First Hardback Publication Date: N/A
First Paperback Publication Date: April 1, 2009
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Pages: 304
Language(s): English

Thursday, November 12, 2009

DVD: George Carlin - It's Bad For Ya

Anchor Bay Home Entertainment

Directed by Rocco Urbisci
Written by George Carlin
Starring George Carlin

A year behind the US with this release, this is George Carlin's final HBO comedy special before his death at the age of 71 in 2008; his 14th HBO special in total, which is currently the record for a comedian. And, remarkably, it's only the second of his stand-up DVDs to get a commercial release in the UK, the other one being 'Complaints And Grievances' from 2001 (not released until 2003). 2005's 'Life Is Worth Losing' will finally be released in February 2010.

On his final tour Carlin delivered a typically vitriolic tirade tackling topics like death, children, old age and parents, and the original show was nominated for an Emmy. After release the CD equivalent won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album. How much his death contributed to this would probably be a valid question, but compared to most comedians' output, this is amongst the best. Against the formidable measuring stick of Carlin's own output however, it isn't his best.

Easily the funniest section is his closing rant about rights, where every one of his observations is on the nail when some of his previous ones in this show, like some of the ones about children, aren't. In some instances he is intentionally making silly arguments (like saying babies are ugly because their heads are too big), but some are just a little off the mark.

Other particularly funny segments are his observations on boring conversations, professional parents, swearing on the bible, and "the self-esteem movement", mostly concluded by the phrase which gave the show its name "It's all bulls**t folks and it's bad for ya."

If you're a Carlin fan, get this. We have precious little of his material available in this country and this is a good example of his work. The filming, sound and picture quality is of course first class as you'd expect for a show recorded as recently as March 2008, and George was still as sharp as ever, even at 70.

Hopefully this, February's release, and the two forthcoming books, will at some point be followed up by the 'All My Stuff' box set, which contains all 12 HBO specials from 1977's 'George Carlin At USC' through to 'Life Is Worth Losing' (the 1997 special was a kind of "best of" and isn't included).

“ a typically vitriolic tirade ”

Special Features: Too Hip for the Room* Carlin on December 17, 2007: Selections from the Archive of American Television s 3-hour interview with George Carlin /
Carlin on The Jackie Gleason Show - January 25, 1969

DVD Release Date: October 26, 2009
Studio: HBO
Feature Running Time: 69 mins
Certificate: 15
Language(s): English
Subtitles: None
Other Format(s): Blu-Ray / CD