By Vanessa V. Friedman
Updated July 30, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

What makes a great humorist? What weird experiences form a sensibility that can twist observation into amusement? Boarding school and prison, at least in the case of Stephen Fry, the English writer (The Hippopotamus) and actor (Wilde). Between prep-school tales of stealing change from other boys and mouthing off in class come musings from the older Fry on homosexuality and the intersection between fact and fiction. Fry writes affectingly of the year he turned 18, when he embarked on a minor cross-country crime spree and landed in jail for credit-card fraud — an experience that promptly induced him to attend Cambridge University. The memoir ends when he turns 20, making this only a glimpse of one of England’s wittiest performers. B+