Published Jun 02, 2016Exclaim! is reviewing every standup comedy special currently available on Netflix Canada, including this one. You can find a complete list of reviews so far here.
Less a standup special and more An Evening with-type night of stories, readings and general banter, beloved UK icon Stephen Fry's More Fool Me was recorded to coincide with the release of his memoir of the same name. Ever charming and loquacious, Fry is both a witty improviser and captivating storyteller, but caught somewhere between the looseness of improvisation and the formality of introducing the special, he starts off shakily here.
Fry mentions early that he has "no script" and it's obvious, as he thanks, in great individual detail, each country in which the special is being streamed to theatres, live. He tells an anecdote or a joke about each of Australia, Austria, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, Sweden and the UK, so by the time he's gotten to Sweden — which Fry has "licked almost all of" and "had no adverse effects" — the desire to get to the crux of the special outweighs the desire to hear a reprise of Fry's "Australian with acid reflux" impression.
From there, things feel more relaxed, and Fry is able to better balance his wry comedic side with pathos, as he discusses a wide breadth of anecdotes interwoven with facts and historical tidbits. An early bit about the impossibility of actually defining ourselves by race is thoughtful, and leads nicely into moments of self-reflection, as Fry delves into his love of Oscar Wilde's work. In an anecdote about discovering Wilde's work as a child, Fry notes that he expected to share a life of "pain and exile and rejection and shame" for his sexuality; the icon's writing made the young Fry feel "vindicated and not alone."
More Fool Me is a chance, foremost, for Fry to share his ideas, unfettered. He has strong feelings about the need for drugs to be decriminalized and government-regulated, and about homeopathy, "or bollocks, as it's known in English." There are blind spots: at one point, he makes vague reference to certain "moves away from the Enlightenment" he feels society is taking, and he turns a particularly moving story about an Iron Curtain-era Romanian woman whose son found a way to bring her to New York City to hail the West's freedom to buy things and live well, while avoiding confronting that privilege's thorny origin. "We writhe in guilty embarrassment" about non-ethically sourced product, he says, but avoids getting deeper into it.
Fry is at his best here when he plays the "fluffy and sticky and moist" Stephen Fry that eschews lecturing for pure wicked wit and storytelling, implying his thoughts rather than bludgeoning the viewer with them.
Near the end, he finally reads a chapter from his new book, about entertaining Prince Charles and Princess Diana, and he's never funnier than when he's swearing, playing up the hilarious juxtaposition between his over-the-top mannered dandyism and his sailor's mouth when he repeats Sir Martin's alleged claim that the royal family enjoy toilet humour: "The royal family loves the lavatory! I mean, obviously not your 'fucks' or your 'cunts'!"
Fry ends More Fool Me on a high note, quoting Richard Ellman's biography of Wilde as he wishes for a world that continues to praise "the life of the mind" as the means to set us free and urging his audience to turn to each other and connect, to shake hands and embrace — "or, if you're English, a small curt nod of the head is perfectly acceptable."