Dead Funny: Horror Stories by Comedians, edited by Robin Ince and Johnny Mains, feels designed for my sensibilities, someone who grew up on horror stories and loves British comedy. However, as someone with a degree in Creative Writing, I was skeptical picking it up. Just because you can write comedy for the stage or the screen, does that mean you can write in the form of the written short story, or just because you have mastered the art of comedy short stories, does that mean you can write great horror? Well, yes and no. While there are a couple stories here that have tells of amateurism, most of them are surprisingly good. The real horror is getting to the end and realizing there are no more.
Perhaps what drew me most to this book was that this is raw sampling of the horror writing skills of some of my favorite comedians, not tainted by heavy editing or ghost-writing, which obscure many comedian memoirs. For example, I learned that if Phill Jupitus ever writes a novel, I will definitely buy it. His style, which is like Joshua Ferris meets The Twilight Zone, has both corporate hilarity and an eerie sense of dread. Amusingly, Michael Legge‘s, Katy Brand‘s, and Danielle Wheeler‘s all feel like they came out of the same writing prompt.
Where Jupitus and Legge rely on comedy, others go for the yuck factor. Sometimes it’s so disgusting, it’s funny, like with Robin Ince‘s story about a suitably scientific-minded person analyzing his decent into zombiehood. Other times, it’s so disgusting, it’s…disgusting, like with Neil Edmond‘s “All Warm Inside,” which makes best use of gross-out diction. And then there’s “Possum,“ Matthew Holness‘s bizarre story that I’m willing to go on record that, stylistically, is the one true horror story in the book. Almost every story in the book relies on some kind of cliche or recognizable monster, but “Possum” takes you into an uncharted mindset that twists your brain up at the rug-out conclusion.
Rufus Hound‘s is written in second person, putting you in the position of the evil-doer, someone you only recognize as wicked after you’ve sympathized entirely with his predicament. (Read it here.) Reece Shearsmith‘s “Dog” is an intelligent discussion on human nature, though difficult for me to finish because of the dog killing. I actually didn’t read it until a year after I read the others because my own dog had just died, it has a delightful darkness that you can expect from this comedy-horror TV writer. I should not have read Sara Pascoe‘s “A Spider Remember” because I’m an arachnophobe. People always ask, “Why are you afraid of spiders? What’s the worst that can happen?” and I fail to come up with anything truly awful except maybe waking up with one in my mouth, but Pascoe nails it on the head. Because it is an irrational fear, the fear isn’t what the spider can do to you like lay eggs in your skin or wrap you in web, or whatever you non-phobes think we expect to happen. The fear is in the seeing, so the ultimate fear is to never be able to un-see spiders. Bravo. Mitch Benn‘s “The Patient” will surely have the same effect on anyone with claustrophobia.
The real winner of this book is Stewart Lee‘s “A View from a Hill,” for which the real punch line came after I’d read the story and discovered on the copyright page that it had been published in The New Statesman, which means the entire thing must have been read by the Statesman editors as a sort of death threat, and to readers as just another clever plug for his Comedy Vehicle.
Both Al Murray‘s and Richard Herring‘s stories are based on true personal stories. Robin Ince explained Al Murray’s story to me once, telling me how it was based on his family line, but it is difficult to remember exactly what he said: he was speaking so quickly and then moved swiftly on to talking about the sequel, Dead Funny Encore, which he was excited to be including a story from Alan Moore, despite him not being a comedian.
Jaime Pond is the editor of Anglonerd. She lives and works in NYC. Follow her on Twitter.
Originally published March 9, 2015