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Stay Up with Hugo Best

Review

Stay Up with Hugo Best

June Bloom is stuck in career limbo. In her late 20s, she’s recently been promoted to writer’s assistant on the long-running late-night TV talk show “Stay Up with Hugo Best,” only to learn just weeks later that the program is on the verge of cancellation, at least with its current host.

Now in his mid-60s, Hugo Best has been a fixture on the late-night roster for longer than June has been alive. Once he was on the verge of being promoted to the coveted 11:35 time slot, only to permanently ruin his chances by being caught associating with a 16-year-old shoplifter. Since then, Hugo has been accused of phoning it in at 12:35, and his brand of pop culture-centered comedy just doesn’t seem as relevant in the present-day landscape of politically inflected comedy.

June, an aspiring comedian and comic writer, endlessly listened to Hugo’s standup albums in her youth. She should be thrilled to be working in the company of her idol --- but now she finds herself on the eve of Memorial Day weekend at that idol’s (forced) retirement party, complete with warm champagne and insincere well-wishes. June decides to wash the disappointment out of her mind by performing a standup set at an open mic, the kind of club where you get a free terrible hot dog with each terrible drink.

"STAY UP WITH HUGO BEST is a novel perfectly timed to the #MeToo movement, and one that sadly will remain relevant for years to come."

Much to her surprise, who should show up at the tail end of her set but the man himself, Hugo Best? On a whim, he invites her to spend the weekend at his home in Greenwich, Connecticut. And on a whim, June blows off her semi-serious boyfriend and accepts his offer. She’s not exactly sure what to expect from this weekend, but she’s pretty sure it’s not what she encounters, which is a beautiful but sterile country estate, a disaffected teenage son and a whole lot of regret. It turns out that Hugo hosts an annual Memorial Day party, and June is apparently expected to attend. In what capacity is still up for debate --- young girlfriend, former colleague, protégé?

The weekend offers June a golden chance to discuss the changing nature of comedy, as well as to cynically contemplate her own future (if any) in the industry. She also addresses a constantly shifting impression of her idol, who reveals himself to be vulnerable and on some levels insecure, but also woefully out of touch. Throughout, June continually asks herself what, if anything, this opportunity means: “I’d spent my childhood yearning for him, the last however many years working for him. I needed to find out what all that time meant, and what it might mean now that it was over. I thought Hugo might reveal it to me, or the weekend might. Because surely it hadn’t meant nothing.”

STAY UP WITH HUGO BEST is a novel perfectly timed to the #MeToo movement, and one that sadly will remain relevant for years to come. The dynamic of a young, aspirational woman in a male-dominated industry, alternating between viewing her older colleague as a potential mentor, a likely lover and just a pathetic, disillusioned older man, offers plenty of opportunities for reflection on real-world antecedents. Erin Somers’ debut is also, appropriately enough, a successful comic novel, although its brand of humor is quieter and less broad than the standup and late-night comedy that she so effectively interrogates.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on April 19, 2019

Stay Up with Hugo Best
by Erin Somers

  • Publication Date: April 2, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Humor
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 1982102357
  • ISBN-13: 9781982102357