Billy T by Matt Elliot
The first in-depth biography of New Zealand’s most beloved comedian.
Honestly, I didn’t love this. I’m as big a fan of Billy T James as anyone of my generation (or the generation immediately preceding mine, who liked him a lot more than many of my contemporaries) so it was nice to read about his life in more detail than has previously been covered. That having been said, the book was simply not written well. Elliot falls into the trap that I hate so much of meaningless digressions. It is hard to argue that giving paragraphs of information about the lives of the people who consented to be interviewed provides necessary context for the story of James. (As an aside regarding the interviewees, I was a bit leery from the outset when the introduction was used not only to thank those who had provided support, but also to passive – and not so passive – aggressively insult people – by name – who didn’t want to be involved in the writing of the book.) And Elliot may have a past as a historian of comedy, but that is no reason to dedicate paragraph after paragraph to detailing the lives and acts of comedians who were stylistically a little bit like Billy T James but in all other ways unconnected. It’s simply not relevant. Of course, worse than that is when the academic in him takes over, and he minutely deconstructs why James’ jokes were funny. Given that he also openly admits that Billy T’s jokes were often corny and out-of-date, funny more due to the delivery than anything else, this sort of point-by-point sociological breakdown is as irrelevant as it is annoying.