Friday, November 18, 2016

Based on a True Story: A Memoir

Just so we’re clear, Norm Macdonald’s Based on a True Story: A Memoir is not a memoir, though it says memoir on it, it’s a novel. Norm explained this fact in usual Norm fashion while on with Conan; “It’s like if you buy Grapes of Wrath, and you’re like, hey there’s no grapes. Or you put it in the grapes section, that’s smart; then everyone will find Grapes of Wrath. People that like grapes.” Yes, that sort of nonsensical absurdity is scattered throughout this novel’s (not a memoir) pages, which makes for some head-scratching, eyebrow-raising, guffaw-inducing reading.

From the publisher: “As this book’s title suggests, Norm Macdonald tells the story of his life—more or less—from his origins on a farm in the-back-of-beyond Canada and an epically disastrous appearance on Star Search to his account of auditioning for Lorne Michaels and his memorable run as the anchor of Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live—until he was fired because a corporate executive didn’t think he was funny. But Based on a True Story is much more than a memoir; it’s the hilarious, inspired epic of Norm’s life.”

While the book is liberally laced with facts and anecdotes from Norm’s life, including his childhood in Canada, time on SNL's Weekend Update, and gambling addiction, Norm gave himself free-rein to copious amounts of artistic license in ‘tweaking’ (for lack of a better word) each tale to farcical proportions so that at times you didn’t know exactly where the truth ended and lie began; at other times, it was pretty obvious. Case in point is the story of his SNL job interview and how he earned the gig by offering Lorne Michaels a bag with seven grams of government-grade morphine (love the commitment to detail). Truth or fiction? You be the judge. Or the forlorn confession to his unrequited love for fellow cast member Sarah Silverman, and his sinister but thankfully unsuccessful plot (thanks to Colin Quinn, the snitch) to hire a hit man to dispatch of his rival and Sarah’s love interest, SNL writer Dave Attell.

I gotta admit that having read this hilarious novel, I hope against hope that Norm writes a real honest-to-goodness memoir for it was the chapters where he was most vulnerable and honest that I loved most. 'My First Five Years' was a hoot; as he laid claim to the fact that at age one he was in peak physical condition and that his best friend was the cat, “who only knew one word, “meow”, but at the time it was one more word than I knew. I thought the cat had it all figured out.” Or his droll self-mockery at the fact that at that age he could do no wrong in the eyes of his parents; “sometimes all I had to do was show up” but how that changed at age three when the “aren’t you the smartest boy in the whole wide world?” changed to “is there something wrong with that boy?” Most notable of all and utterly heartbreaking if it contained even a kernel of truth was the chapter dealing with a family friend (Old Jack) that worked on his parent’s farm that (perhaps, possibly) subjected him to years of silent abuse.

Based on a True Story takes readers on a mindbender of a road trip filled with laughs such as only Norm could deliver. A raw if not honest look at an often underrated, overlooked and underappreciated comedy icon.