It seems like a lifetime ago since I first heard about this book. I was lucky enough to be one of the first people in the know, and ever since then I have been intrigued, and excited. I loved the premise of the book, a load of comedians and stand up comics tackling my most beloved of genres. A brilliant concept, when you consider that in my opinion both horror and comedy come from the same dark pit in our minds and soul. A part that loves to be shocked, look at some of the best comedy out there. It's shocking, it makes you uncomfortable, and it also makes you ever so slightly embarrassed for liking it. You think to yourself "I shouldn't be laughing at it". It's a surprise that no one has come up with it before.
Comedy, probably more so than fiction, is something that is more susceptible to suffering from personal taste. There are authors that you don't like, but you can see the merit in their work. But when it comes to comedy you either like them or you hate them. Would this rub off on the comedians writing? Would my personal taste, and my personal dislike for one of the comics in this book sway my judgement of the overall quality and appeal of the book?
Anthologies are a funny beast, not all of the stories will appeal to everyone, we all have different tastes and different feelings as to what makes for a good story. With this in mind it is important that the editor of an anthology knows his stuff. Especially when, such as is the case with this book, not all of the writers are seasoned authors. I would imagine that writing a short story is a world away from writing a stand up routine. It is clear that Johnny Mains and Robin Ince know this as there is a good ratio of seasoned writers in there. People like Charlie Higson, Reece Shearsmith and Matthew Holness stand in the line up like a rallying call.
Those of you going into Dead Funny expecting a laugh a minute are going to be severly disappointed, this is not a funny book. What it is, is a rather sick and twisted affair, especially thanks to the tale from Shearsmith, (which I'll talk about more later on), mixed in with some rather fine tales of weird and mystifying encounters. Don't worry though there is some dark twisted humour here just not the sort of jokes you'll be telling your mates down at the pub. There are vampires, mutant spiders, mysterious twins, and dead dogs a plenty.
It has to be said that Dead Funny is roaring success there are some genuine classic stories here, two of which really deserve to be on any best of year list. There a lot of great stories,a couple of decent stories, and only two stories which for me really didn't work.
Here are my personal favourites.
Dog by Reece Shearsmith has to tie for my favourite story in the anthology. It distills and captures Reece's magical gift of merging the tragedy, and horror, while slipping in a little twist of the blackest of sly humour. The story is about revenge, revenge for a brother who has been blinded by the parasite found in dog excrement. The boy and his brother go on a sick and twisted killing spree in the local park. Where this story excels is in how Shearsmith manages to keep the reader on the side of the brothers, despite the disgusting and horrifying deeds that they do. This is not a story that dog lovers, or indeed people who like sweet old ladies should really read, it will chill you to the core. I also liked how Shearsmith incorporated a time honoured ending without ever signalling it.
A View From A Hill: A Christmas Ghost Story by Stewart Lee, is the other story that ties for my personal favourite in the book. It is at the other side of the horror spectrum to that of Dog, more akin to a weird tale or a Christmas ghost story from M.R. James. Starting of with an excerpt from a police charge street, A View from A Hill takes the reader on a fantastic Christmas story, which sees our protagonist, one Stewart Lee give us an account on his life and the lead up to the events which see him in police custody. This is an acerbic story, full of wonderful Stewart Lee type rants, where he takes on, among others, the creator of the
and Paddy Power. His accounts of having to create a top twelve most hated list and another magazine article are heartachingly poignant and laugh out loud. The story almost becomes a battle cry for everything that is shit about the commercialisation of this once great country. Flitting in and out of the story like a mysterious revenant is the dapper Julien, a sort of Wooster to Lee's working class Jeeves.
A View From A Hill, is like a militant ghost story, weird and mysterious but with a leftie hook that will leave you rolling around the floor with tears of laughter.
Sara Pascoe's A Spider Remember is a one of those stories that literally gets under your skin. Starting of as rather sad and heartfelt look into the break down of a relationship, it slowly turns into a tale of paranoia, before turning into one of pure terror. The strength of this story lies in how Pascoe manages to shift the tone and theme of the story so well in confines of its rather short length. This is a cold story there is no love felt for the narrator, in much the same as she no longer loves her boyfriend. And when the story takes a left turn into terror, the reader is left scratching their skin and searching for floaters in their eyes.
Possum by Matthew Holness is a strange story, it is one of those stories where I'm not 100% certain as to who or what just happened, which is either a fault on my end or the fault of Matthew I just don't know. Despite having an ending that I didn't fully get, Possum is a triumph of atmosphere. This is a creepy story, whose protagonist is clearly psychologically damaged, obsessed with his possum puppet created from a real dead possum and the Frankenstein remains of other creatures, this is one disturbing image. There is a real sense of foreboding dread and terror with in this story. The story itself sails very close to style over substance, but I think that the man behind the greatest horror writer ever just manages to pull it off to deliver what is the most atmospheric story in the anthology.
Robin Ince's Most Out Of Character is an altogether more whimsical affair despite it's themes of cannibalism, loss of identity and spiral of humanity into a world of sex and violence. I hear you asking how can this be whimsical, well it all stems from Ince's wonderful lightness of touch, and a wicked sense of humour.
"after all, he was a vegetarian,