In 2012, I wrote a book called You Are Nothing about a comedy phenomenon of the mid-nineties called Cluub Zarathustra. Stewart Lee described my book variously as “Excellent,” “Interesting,” and “Important” and he sells it as part of his official tour merch.
It was published by the mighty Go Faster Stripe, who still make the book available to discerning people such as yourself.
This post collects some comments and cuttings about the book and about Cluub Zarathustra itself.
- For a while, the book didn’t have a title. It was known by its project code GFS42, about which Chris Evans rightly said “Sounds special doesn’t it?”
I thought the confrontational title eventually arrived at would be brilliant, but I’m already tired of explaining it (and by extention, myself) to my girlfriend’s foreign family and people I sit next to on planes.
The subtitle was originally “Or: a tonne of worms in an acre”. It’s a reference to Beckett and to The League Against Tedium’s infamous worm execution. In the end, it looked unwieldy, so like The League to a worm, I chopped it.
Shorter things I wrote about Cluub Zarathustra
“The club (or ‘Cluub’) saw some of the most exciting, experimental and downright weird comedy to ever grace the fringe. This is not hyperbole. Traditional stand-up was banned, and over the years it would feature sketches, opera, pyrotechnics, stunts, melting ice, and jelly in the shape of human faces.” — British Comedy Guide
“There’s a certain flavour of British comedy – perhaps epitomised by Munnery and Lee – that has never successfully exported to North America. Goodness knows we’ve tried. We’ve sent it to your comedy festivals. We’ve tried to get it on your telly. We’ve even had small victories by smuggling our writers into films like Borat and shows like Veep. But for all our efforts, the kind of comedy I’m talking about has never been taken to the American bosom, preferring to embrace, as you do, mechanical bulls and Toddlers in Tiaras instead. That’s what you like.” — Splitsider
Reviews and Praise
“Superb book” — Telegraph.
“Cluub Zarathustra was funny, fuddled, bonkers, lovingly curated. Thanks to Robert Wringham it has a likewise history.” — Ben Moor
“For many, Cluub Zarathrusta holds a unique, legendary status in the history of cult comedy. But then they probably never actually had to watch it.” — Steve Bennett on Chortle
“Normally, a book’s epigraph either gives us a sense of the diverse elements to its story or hints at something brilliant inside. With ‘Thee fyrst and onlie hystorie of Cluub Zarathustra’, Robert Wringham has opted to make the comedy outfit sound absolutely rubbish.” — The List
“Wringham unpacks the ideologies and inspirations for the cabaret/alt-alt comedy style of the Cluub with ease and a scholarly touch.” — Goodreads
“You Are Nothing was an excellent read! Now annoyed that I was born in the wrong time and place. Anyone got a time machine?” — @Aino_K
“Our enduring ignorance concerning Cluub Zarathustra is sporadically alleviated by Wringham’s tentative delineation of the hauntology through which the Cluub excelled aesthetically. Accessed voices – both deliberately and accidentally accessed – abounded in the Cluub’s performances.” — HairyAppleFeed
And in Stewart Lee’s own newsletter.
A reviewer for The List felt that a better book could have been written by someone who had seen actually the show. Well, maybe. Perhaps we should have given them another twenty years to step up.
My never having seen the show was part of the narrative thread of the book: an unreliable history pieced together by an enthusiastic outsider with only the blurry half-memories of the insiders for reference. We hinted at this on the back of the book.
Interviewed in The List in 2019, comedian Amelia Bayler mentions the book:
“my friend Gabriel Featherstone, who I perform with regularly at alt comedy nights Chunks and Project X, loaned me this book about a 90s experimental comedy night called Cluub Zarathustra. It’s called You Are Nothing by Robert Wringham. My fave bit is where he describes Stewart Lee mispronouncing Doritos as ‘Dorritoss’. Definitely worth a read!”
“Cluub Zarathustra was shambolic, under-rehearsed, willfully obtuse, self-indulgent, amateurish and often in questionable taste” — New paragraphs from Paul Hamilton and The League Against Tedium in Kevin Eldon’s 2014 book.
“Cluub Zarathustra was a fringe comedy cabaret act and troupe active between 1994 and 1997.” — Cluub Zarathustra on Wikipedia.
- To get the book started, I interviewed Simon Munnery in a Glasgow cafe called Cafe Rio. Sitting nearby were comedian Ian Macpherson and novelist Alan Bissett. Glasgow is a showbiz city.
In Cafe Rio, Simon Munnery ordered soup and tea. Write that down, comedy fans. Soup and tea.
Thanks to the rip-roaring success of this book, I got a gig proof-reading Richard Herring’s second volume of old blog entries, which was my evil capitalist plan all along. It’s about the long game, my friends.
Older Links about Cluub Zarathustra
“Let’s get one thing very clear: the only way that you can have ever seen anything like Cluub Zarathustra before is if you’ve seen Cluub Zarathustra before. This is one of the most obsessive, original and vicious shows at the Fringe. End of statement.” — A good fanzine review of the 1997 CZ Edinburgh show.
“I’ve always liked Simon as a person but it wasn’t until I saw Cluub Zarathustra at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1994 that I really started to appreciate his act. I thought the subsequent 2001 TV series Attention Scum! slightly watered-down the amazingly admirable nastiness of Cluub Zarathustra.” — John Fleming remembers Simon Munnery’s early work and the original CZ run.
“You also had an anti-heckling device” – An excerpt from Simon Munnery’s second appearance on Richard Herring’s Edinburgh Fringe Podcast, in which the two briefly mention my book and talk about Cluub Zarathustra’s ‘self-knowledge impregnator’.