A true story:
- My favourite author in the world is C. S. Lewis. I’ve read everything of his that I’ve been able to find, most of it four or five times. I long ago lost count of how many times I’ve read the Narnia books.
- Long ago (in Internet years) I searched for a C. S. Lewis FAQ, and found one that was written by someone called Andrew Rilstone.
- I started reading the rest of Rilstone’s web-site (as it then was), then his blog once he started writing in that format. Highly recommended, by the way: full of insight, wit, and a gloriously eclectic mix of high literature and pop-culture.
- One of the more frequent commenters on Rilstone’s blog was Andrew Hickey, whose blog Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! I also started to read.
- In one of Hickey’s link round-ups, he linked to an article about James Ward’s fruitless efforts to change his name to James Ward.
- I immediately liked Ward’s blog, I Like Boring Things, and started to keep an eye on it. (Also highly recommended, by the way. He repeatedly demonstrates that, really, nothing is boring.)
- A post on Ward’s blog included a video of his talk at The Lost Lectures. At about 4:55 on the video he very briefly mentions Stewart Lee’s book How I Escaped My Certain Fate [amazon.com, amazon.co.uk]. It was the first time I’d heard of Lee.
- On a whim, I bought the book — something I can hardly explain, as Ward in his video says nothing at all about it except that it quotes someone else he wants to discuss. It turned out to be very funny and insightful. Among other things, it mentioned Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, a TV series (consisting so far of two seasons of six episodes each.)
- Having read quite a bit of Lee’s stand-up (the book contains exhaustively annotated transcripts of three of his full-length shows), I was interested to see how it worked in performance, so I torrented the first series [amazon.com, amazon.co.uk].
- And then I liked that so much that I bought the second series on DVD [amazon.co.uk; doesn't exist on amazon.com except as an expensive region-2 import].
There are a few things we can learn from this.
- You can’t predict how a sale will be made. There’s nothing Stewart Lee could possibly have done to make this sale happen. It happened because of chance, and also because he is good at what he does. My conclusion? You can’t control the chance, but you can control whether your’re good at what you do. Be good.
- Over a period of a decade, the Internet can take you somewhere very different from where you started. Part of why I love C. S. Lewis’s writing is because it shines such a clear light on, and through, Christianity. Stewart Lee is absolutely not any kind of Christian. But I love his work because there is a common thread of insight and wit that leads through Lewis, Rilstone, Hickey and Ward to Lee.
- Piracy is good. It leads to sales. If I had not been able to pirate Comedy Vehicle series 1, many publishers like to think the alternative would be that I’d have bought it instead. But I wouldn’t; the only difference would have been that I’d never have seen series 1 so I’d never have bought series 2 either.
- Finally, unavailability leads to piracy. Since series 2 of Comedy Vehicle is not available as a region-1 DVD at any price, Americans who want to watch it have a choice: buy an overpriced import and watch it on an illegally region-unlocked player, or torrent it. Which do they imagine will happen?
The publishers of Comedy Vehicle can only hope that Americans will torrent series 2 and like it enough to buy series 1 — the opposite of what I did.