Stephen Fry in America. Stephen Fry, His Book, and His Take on California

by Mira

Who is Stephen Fry? I’d say he’s a super cool nerd. He knows his literature, has quite a few acting chops, and loves America and dry, wry, and slapstick humor.

He is also a worshipper of Cambridge and a fan of Mac computers ever since they came on the market with that brand-new graphic interface and mouse, costing a fortune that a young actor could barely afford. As he says in his latest biography, he still likes tweaking his computer. He’s now using Ubuntu.

If you have no clue who Stephen Fry is, there’s more about him below, by way of an introduction to his American travelogue, Stephen Fry in America, presented as both a six-part BBC documentary series and a book.

I wrote a bit about the book a while ago, but it was a terrible article, with nothing to make you read the actual thing. And it’s a wonderful read, one that I’m happy to have discovered. So this article is one of several in which I will attempt to present only one state or several at a time, rather than go through some of the pit stops in his journey by black London cab through the fifty American states.

It won’t be quite a book review of Stephen Fry in America, but more of a teaser to convince you that the book is well worth reading.

Stephen Fry in America
Stephen Fry in America
My copy

Who Is Stephen Fry?

In the UK Stephen Fry has been famous since his Fry and Laurie days, episodes of which are fortunately available on YouTube. The Laurie there is Hugh Laurie, who’s become a well-known actor in the US as Dr. House. (Yes, he is British. A Cambridge man, like Stephen Fry, part of a close trio of friends that also included Emma Thompson.)

Stephen Fry has since written four novels (The Liar -- reprinted as Revenge: A Novel --, The Hippopotamus, Making History, The Stars' Tennis Balls), a book on poetry (The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within), and two autobiographical books (Moab is My Washpot and The Fry Chronicles), as well as numerous articles. He’s also a well-known face on British TV and has starred in quite a number of films as well. I most recently saw him give a fabulously colorful performance in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. He’s been gaining notoriety all over Europe for his comedy routines and film acting, which also include a wonderful performance in the film Wilde. As reviewers say about such situations, he becomes Oscar Wilde. It’s pretty impressive.

He’s also written and narrated in documentaries, and is outspoken about being a gay man and a manic depressive. He also lends his voice as a narrator in movies and in audio books. He reads all the Harry Potter books, for instance, and was the voice in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

As he’s also a fan of computers and the Internet from the days when there was no such thing as the World Wide Web, and he got drawn to Twitter, where he has millions of followers and, as such, wields quite a bit of influence raising awareness of various causes he believes in.

To learn more about Stephen Fry, follow him on Twitter, I guess, watch him on YouTube, and read his books. I wish the articles he contributed over decades to newspapers and magazines were available somewhere, too. He’s a fun man with a fine intellect and a sense of humor covering a whole range from dry to slapstick.

Stephen Fry in America

Now that you know a bit about Stephen Fry, here’s what he has to say about the US in his book Stephen Fry in America.

First of all, he loves America. He was nearly born there when his father was offered a job at Princeton University in the 1950s. (He says as much in the Introduction to this book.) So this long exploratory travel of the US in order to film a documentary was a long time coming. Stephen has been fancying himself as American, too, ever since he was ten. In this book he explores both his Britishness and perceived notions of what the British think Americans are like. It makes for an interesting read. He doesn’t hesitate to be critical of both countries, as well as fascinated by many positive aspects in both.

Here are some of Stephen Fry’s comments about various states in the US. I hope you do read the book. No review, however shaped, can do the writing justice, with all of Stephen Fry’s humor and his insights into British English and American English differences. In fact, it’s quite a field trip for anyone interested in these two varieties of the English language. Also, Stephen Fry in America is a wonderful travelogue. Not very detailed, as he has fifty states to cover, but quite revealing of nice things to visit and experience in each state.

As I said, I won’t be writing about all fifty states, because I did attempt it once and it made for a poor article. Instead, I’ll write about one or two-three states per article. And no, I won’t cover the whole book, as I don't want to detract interest from Stephen Fry’s wonderful American travelogue.

That said, read on about Stephen Fry in California.

California

Stephen Fry starts off the California mini-chapter listing some of the celebrities, from Nixon and Schwarzenegger to Carlos Santana and Tupac Shakur, and then goes on to give some most amazing facts. Did you know that only eight countries worldwide have a stronger economy (as reflected in the GDP numbers) than California?

He’s in love with San Francisco, and writes, “I do not share the fashionable disdain for Los Angeles expressed by so many Britons, but love LA as I do, San Francisco is, to my mind, about as perfect a town as there can be.” He adds, in typical fashion, “If you can overlook, that is, its habit of being destroyed by earthquakes every two hundred years.”

He meets in San Francisco with Jonathan Paul Ive. Doesn’t ring a bell? You may have seen him in the recent movie on Steve Jobs. “Jony Ive” is the famous designer of the Apple iMac, the one who came up with the transparent blue box idea when Steve Job was called back to run Apple in 1996. Jony Ive went on to design / supervise the design of the MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iPod, iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, iPad Mini, and iOS 7. As Steve Jobs said, “Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

After his cherished meeting with Jony Ive, Stephen Fry goes on to visit Napa Valley and a shooting parlor in Ukiah (haiku in reverse, he observes, upon which he learns that the town actually hosts an annual haiku festival). He also rides along in Mendocino County with a small town’s sheriff, whereby he learns about cannabis farming and even gets to watch the police descend on a suspect.

Even though he covers California in only a few pages, there's more, of course, in the book, and not just fact-wise but also comment-wise.

Stephen Fry in Wilde (1998)

Absolutely Loved It
Wilde (Special Edition)

Stephen Fry in America (2009)

Stephen Fry in America

About the BBC Series Stephen Fry in America

Here's the first of two articles about Stephen Fry's TV documentary Stephen Fry in America. It's part travelogue and part social commentary, and all very interesting. It's also about Stephen Fry in parts, of course, as this is not just some run-of-the-mill documentary with the filmmaker disappearing behind all sorts of major tourist attractions.

My first article about the 6-part BBC series covers the first three episodes. Here are the states he covers in this first half of his America documentary.

Episode 1 (New World / New England and the East Coast): Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New York State, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, D.C.

Episode 2 (Deep South / South East and Florida): Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida

Episode 3 (Mississippi / The Deep South and the Great Lakes): Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota

Stephen Fry in America: The First Three Episodes of the Six-Part BBC Series

Updated: 12/19/2015, Mira
 
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Mira on 01/21/2016

I didn't even know that David Bowie chose to live in the US. The trend now for some Europeans and Americans seems to be to live in three different places: one in Europe, one in New York and one somewhere else in the US or Canada, or two in Europe and one in the US. I think the American writer Douglas Kennedy beats them all -- here's from Wikipedia: "He divides his time between London, Paris, Berlin, Montreal, Maine and New York."

DerdriuMarriner on 01/20/2016

Mira, It's interesting to understand Stephen Fry's perspective and also to compare it with other resident or visiting Brits. Just yesterday, I was watching a compilation of interviews of David Bowie, and it began with his impressions of living in Burbank for an extended time and anticipating moving back to Europe.

Mira on 01/06/2014

Thanks for your comment, Paula. Yes, he does like to play precious sometimes. But I love it. Because he IS that too: very sophisticated and in love with the old as well as the new.
I will look again at the states you mentioned.

WordChazer on 01/05/2014

Stephen Fry is unique. Yes, he can be precious, and sometimes obnoxious, but he is also intelligent, sensitive and able to bring both of those traits to his broadcasting and acting. I follow him on Twitter and have had the odd occasional interaction with him there too, just to swell my head further. As you say, he's a geek, and also a Cambridge man, and that combination endears him to me too. My husband bought me the book you are reviewing a few years ago and I think this calls for a re-reading now, given your series. How about New York? Georgia? Texas?

Mira on 01/05/2014

Thanks for reading, Abby!

AbbyFitz on 01/04/2014

Thank you for introducing me to Stephen fry!

Mira on 01/04/2014

:) He's very talented, that's for sure, and I imagine he's also lots of fun to hang out with.
And yes, wasn't that performance exceptional? It rarely happens that an actor morphs himself/herself into a character to that extent.

KathleenDuffy on 01/04/2014

Lovely article! Stephen Fry is a one-off! And his performance as Oscar Wilde was wonderful - to the extent that I still sort of think of him as Oscar. :) I am sure Oscar would be very proud of Fry.

Mira on 01/04/2014

Yes, it's a great travelogue, and I love his observations about various words, too, as well as his reactions to various things he does.

ologsinquito on 01/04/2014

His America series looks interesting. California is such a fascinating place.

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