Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Based on a True Story: A Memoir by Norm MacDonald Review


Norm MacDonald’s book Based on a True Story is a nonfiction memoir. And I am Batman, aka The Dark Knight, protector of Gotham City. Yup, neither statement is true!

Maybe he thinks his life isn’t that interesting or that it’s funnier to do it this way, but Norm has framed his memoir/debut novel with a story that resembles a cross between Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Ocean’s 11! He writes himself as a scheming conman and morphine and gambling addict, determined to borrow a million bucks from crooks, turn it into multi-millions at the casinos, and retire to a ranch. Norm MacDonald by the way is a Canadian stand-up comic best known for his stint on Saturday Night Live as the Weekend Update anchor. 

It’s an unexpected direction to take an autobiography but it’s a creative choice that results in a decent read. It’s also unclear just how much of this is real but I’d wager almost all of it is made-up! Norm briefly mentions growing up on a farm and being molested by a slow-witted farmhand before launching into his stand-up career, touring with and learning from the likes of Sam Kinison. And that’s basically it for his formative years! 

There are some brief chapters on working at SNL and his movie Dirty Work, neither of which are very illuminating but the chapter on Weekend Update jokes was funny and the bizarre serial-killer subplot behind the making of Dirty Work as a way of explaining why it bombed was amusing (it made $10 million on a $13 million budget though Norm claims the movie made $250 million!). 

And aside from writing Lorne Michaels as a morphine addict like him, the numerous famous people who appear throughout only get brief mentions. I liked though that Norm wrote the Rodney Dangerfield and Don Rickles scenes in the style of those comics – very funny! 

Things get meta when Norm introduces his “ghost writer”, Terence Keane (real name Charles Manson – not THAT one!), who despises Norm and lets the reader into what he’s really like. Keane’s bitterness that his arty novels get passed over is heightened after being paid to write the boorish Norm’s book who’s making a small fortune out of the deal. It’s another unusual and silly angle to a book that’s increasingly about creating and destroying a fictional Norm MacDonald as thoroughly as possible! 

Given the prominence of a made-up character like Terence Keane (among others) I thought his Sancho Panza Adam Eget also wasn’t real and the name was a thinly-veiled pun - a damn eejit/idiot = Adam Eget. Especially as Adam Eget does act like a damn idiot all the way through! But apparently he is a real person and is Norm’s podcast co-host. 

Ironically, the fictional gambling stuff, which is clich├ęd and cheesy, turns out to be far less interesting than the real life sections which makes me wish Norm had been less unconventional and written a straight memoir, and I suspect readers hoping for the latter will be disappointed with what they actually get. Maybe next time Norm should jettison the pretence and just write a crime novel instead? I might like that better…. BECAUSE I’M BATMAN!

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