Writing your comedy memoir
Christmas is almost upon us.
I know that because the supermarket shelves are filled with citrusy balls of chocolate, twig-based snacks and most importantly, comedy memoirs. Oh, the memoirs.
Whether it’s earnest entertainers flogging books, or your auntie Jean explaining, in graphic detail, her battle with IVF, what is it about Christmas that brings out this overwhelming desire to share personal stories? I’m pretty sure Jean isn’t getting a sizeable advance from Random House.
So far we’ve only just grazed October’s knee and we’re already seeing an influx of these tell-all (right up until the point we can tell all again in next year’s follow up) books. Steve Coogan, Nick Frost, Sue Perkins, Terry Gilliam and Chris Evans are all peddling their prose.
Though let’s not count Chris Evans. For a start, he’s not a comedian, and secondly he’s released more autobiographies than Michael Joseph (a publisher that releases a lot of autobiographies).
Even Del Boy is releasing a memoir and that defies several levels of sense.
If you couple these books with the number of series we’ve had recently, charting the early lives of popular entertainers – Cradle to the Grave, The Kennedys, Raised by Wolves – it seems we can’t get enough of these nostalgic trips down various memory lanes.
So what is it about these books that litter our shelves and stockings around this time of year? Are they saying something interesting and original that we haven’t already heard on The One Show between segments on the winter heating allowance and the resurgence of the kumquat? Let’s face it – often they don’t say anything new. In many cases what you’re left with is a ghost written exercise in padding out a word count.
Sometimes though, you find people with something interesting to say. I can’t knock Coogan, Perkins or any of the above (Evans aside) as I haven’t read their new tomes, but I can imagine that there’s enough between the pages to make that RRP well worth while.
It just surprises me that people feel this desire to share where, really, it isn’t necessary. I mean, if Phil Cool didn’t release a blow by blow account of his upbringing, would any of us really miss it?
The answer to that question is: probably not. Although I’d love to hear about the origins of Phil’s Aquaphibian impression – it’s a classic. But the lack of demand shouldn’t necessarily negate Mr Cool’s desire to write a memoir, in much the same way that any disinterest in what I have to say shouldn’t – and clearly doesn’t – stop me from shooting my mouth off.
If you look at the names mentioned above, they’ve all (Evans aside) done pretty well to keep their private lives just that – private. The only notable exception is Coogan, who has tried to keep certain aspects of his extra curricular activities to himself, with little help from the national press. Even still, in the past his frank and direct approach to the known stories goes hand-in-hand with his decision to withhold other information.
It’s definitely a noble thing to do, especially for the people close to him, but then why did he decide to write a memoir – opening up an alley of inquiry that would otherwise remain closed?
Only he will know the answer to that, but I can say – having shared a lot of personal stories on this blog over this last three years – that sometimes it feels good to share.
I get that that sounds like a strap line for the Samaritans – or indeed a grab bag of Malteasers – but it’s true. This last year or so has been incredibly busy for me – from my decision to quit stand up and refocusing my efforts, to buying a house with and then marrying the girl of my dreams – and I’ve shared all of it.
I have one remit with this article and it’s to keep the topic vaguely comedy-related. It’s fair to say I’ve pushed that boundary to the limit – but a big reason for that is because comedy and the things I love about it are inextricably linked to every other aspect of my life.
And while it may not be interesting to some, it interests me – and that’s the only reason I need to write about a specific subject matter, sharing as much or as little as I feel I want to.
It’s a tremendous honour to be given a platform like this to share my thoughts, however insignificant. While I could easily write it down in my own blog, having this site and the ready-made audience has been a luxury other writers don’t have and I’m truly grateful for it.
So if you do find a copy of an autobiography sitting under the tree this year, I hope you enjoy it, because for someone to take the time to share it, it must be worth reading. At least once.
This was Rob Gilroy’s final Making A Stand column for Giggle Beats. You can follow him on Twitter by clicking here.