It doesn’t shy away from forging connections between philosophy and ordinary life. Which is the essence of stand-up comedyby Bill Bailey / May 9, 2019 / Leave a comment
An Intimate History of Humanity by Theodore Zeldin
When I was in the sitcom Black Books, we were surrounded on set by all sorts of real books: I remember one called How to Play Darts, mainly filled with pictures of a pudgy bloke about to throw. But among the shelves there, I never chanced on anything quite as inspiring as something my manager Maggie recommended some 20 years ago when I was touring Australia: Theodore Zeldin’s An Intimate History of Humanity from 1994. It’s a book that changed the way I think about the world, and it’s been a constant companion.
The book is a series of case studies—personal accounts of people’s lives followed by how those lives fit into their historical context. So one chapter is about a domestic worker in Paris, and then talks about the role of women in work. In fact Zeldin makes all the case studies about women—as well as the domestic worker, there’s the head of a company, a lawyer, a doctor.
Zeldin, an Oxford don, makes the most unlikely connections between us and the ancients. His quotations from the Rig Veda on the Hindu tolerance of doubt have inspired my own stand-up routine about religion. Especially this one: “He who surveys from the highest heaven, He knows. But maybe He does not know.”
It’s become for me a kind of manual of how to approach comedy writing. You get a sense from the chapter titles: “How curiosity has become the key to freedom”; “Why friendship between men and women has been so fragile.” Written with intellectual rigour, it doesn’t shy away from forging connections between philosophy and ordinary life. Which is the essence of stand-up comedy.
See Bill Bailey in his Larks in Transit Tour on the Baillie Gifford Stage, Sunday 26th May, 9.30pm
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