I enjoyed this Goodreads review so much, I had to share it. Thanks to stand-up comic Kel Anderson for taking the time to tell everyone what she thinks.
Pundit by Freedom Chevalier
Kel Anderson rating: 5 of 5 stars
I was given this book by a friend, and fellow comic. I'm a comic, part time and I've done shows in Toronto and other places. I haven't read another book about standup comics, let alone one about Canadian standup comics so I thought, why not?
I read the entire book in two days. From the opening tribute to the late Robin Williams you can tell this is personal, but it’s not maudlin. Holy God this thing has teeth!
Pundit, I found out, is the first novel by the author, Freedom Chevalier. It's a damn fine debut, if you ask me. It's takes place world of a standup comedy club in Toronto during the early 90's, which you'd think was all laughs and jokes and funtimes, right? That's what everyone thinks. Well, it wasn't! I was impressed, Freedom got it and got it right. It's hell up onstage, and it's a different hell altogether offstage.
This book is a throwback to a time when you read books for pure pleasure, and to be entertained. (and I’ll bet Quentin Tarantino would love this book). The sorta-hero is Krishna Johnson (he goes by K.) who's the owner of the biggest comedy club in Toronto, The Polaris. I don't know if he's supposed to be Mark Breslin, but I kept wondering that as I read the book. The constant is-he-or-isn't-he is something I think anyone who has ever done a show at Yuk Yuk's will be thinking. But as far as I know, no one's ever really plotted to kill Mark Breslin, even though I could easily imagine few comics who might have fantasized doing it.
K is a hard person to like, but Freedom does a solid job at letting you understand why he does the things he does. I almost empathize with him... almost. He runs his club with an iron fist and is brutal at times to some of his staff. He’s lost his bid to host the Sweetwater festival (Just For Laughs anyone?) and he goes off the deep end to try and win the next one.
We get to meet a bunch of comics like Lisse Bergen (I get the feeling I should know who this is supposed to be, but I can’t put my finger on it) and Sheldon Currie (again, the familiarity of the club's inner circle of comics is almost annoying because I think I’ve met them, but I can’t unravel who they really are.). Cowboy comic Wyatt Anderson is just perfect. A loser if there ever was one. We ALL know guys like this one, there’s one in every green room in every show I’ve ever be in.
For me, the funniest character is the French assassin, Guillaume, who's not even a comic. I had just seen Marsaille on Netflix and all I could think of was the French actor Gerard Depardieu from that show playing this role.
Pundit is a book that reads like a movie, thanks to great dialogue – it’s where the book really shines. Scenes in Pundit are tight and short. You get in, you get to the meat of the issue, and you get out. Onto the next page. There are tight turns of phrasing and funny one-liners (and plenty of swearing. These are comics after all) and I won’t be surprised if it gets picked up. I can totally see Jane Lynch as Lisse. Half the fun of reading this book is casting it in your mind.
Freedom tells a good tale here. The competition for the festival anchors the book and drug overdoses, torture (I may never eat shish-kabob again, thank you very much) and an attempted murder all spin out from there.
I was surprised to learn Freedom wasn't a comic, but her research is solid. She was an actress and I guess that's why she gets the entertainment point of view. I read another one of Freedom's short stories after Pundit, the story was called Low Tide (another really good dark piece). It was on a New York website and Liz Smith still has a column there talking showbizness. But talk about a throwback! Used to be, if Liz Smith mentioned you in one of her New York columns you were a star. There’s a ton of legend about how upcoming celebrities would compete to have her say something good about them in print because if she did you had it made and that again gave me that throwback feeling again. Like if this were the seventies and we're listening to Iggy Pop while we dive into Pundit, after having just finished the latest Harold Robbins work. It's a great summer read.