With her new book, Buddhism for Breakups, due for release in February, Australian comedian and radio presenter Meshel Laurie delivers laughs instead of tears with her top five comedy memoirs:
My Life with Groucho by Arthur Marx is a true Hollywood classic. As quirky comedy trailblazers from the Jewish slums of New York, via Vaudeville, The Marx Brothers and their extended family invented a ton of Hollywood cliches. When it comes to super star self indulgence and wacky domestic set ups, The Brads, Angies and Jonny Depp’s of the world have nothing on the Brothers Marx, who did it all from ill advised marriages and messy divorces to large adopted families and even larger child psychiatry bills.
They gambled with gangsters, went to war with movie moguls and made and lost fortunes several times over. Watching it all from the sidelines was Groucho Marx’ eldest child Arthur, who really roots for his (pretty selfish) Dad as only a child can.
Towards the end of Groucho’s life, father and son experienced an inevitable falling out and period of bitterness, exacerbated by a much younger woman’s possessive hold over Groucho, still creating cliches into his 90s!
This book is a charming historical document, not to mention predictably hilarious.
Live From New York by Tom Shales is a rough and tumble telling of the History of Saturday Night Live. An establishment staple now, in its infancy it was American TVs most dangerous and subversive product. Behind the scenes it was even edgier, as the self destructive behaviour of stars like John Belushi, Chris Farley and Gilda Radner had to be “managed”. The omniscient Lorne Michaels still oversees the production now in its 42nd season. You get the impression he learnt the hard way to keep a paternalistic distance from his performers, having been burned by more than one bright sun.
The real joy for me was the discovery that you don’t have to be a big SNL fan to enjoy this book, because I must confess, I am not. This is just a big book of great yarns traversing territory from salacious show biz gossip to good old fashioned office politics.
The Pythons Autobiography by The Pythons is a fantastic companion piece to “Live From New York” in that it covers essentially the same period in comedy history, but from a very different perspective. While the American comedy elite was indulging in a very sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll kind of rebellion against cultural conservatism, the Monty Python team was doing it with their signature silliness.
With the notable exception of Graham Chapman who died in 1989, The Pythons have all remained prolifically employed. It’s hard to believe they’ll ever not be part of popular culture, but the recent revelation that Terry Jones is suffering from dementia is a reminder that the Pythons are ageing. It’s one of many great reasons to relive their glory days in their own words.
Born Standing Up by Steve Martin is a typically deep and dear read, for those of us who love the author.
Steve Martin holds a special place in my heart as the star of some of my favourite childhood movies like The Jerk, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, The Three Amigos and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. As I grew up, Martin was maturing as an actor and finding new depths in performance. He became increasingly adept at bringing heartbreaking pathos to his comedy roles and I just kept on loving him.
This memoir though is all about the early days, from his childhood obsession with developing and perfecting a comedy/magic act, (which he performed 12 times a week in the Disneyland magic shop) to his ascension to the very top of the American stand up comedy circuit.
He retired from stand up in 1981, at a time when most of us would be cashing in for all we were worth, but as we learn from this book, that’s not Steve’s style. His style is to constantly seek personal perfection in an art form, and then move on to another challenge.
Above all else, Steve Martin is a beautiful writer, and this is a gorgeous read.
My Happy Days in Hollywood, A Memoir by Garry Marshall is a reminder of how much our attitude and outlook had to do with the happiness of our lives.
Garry Marshall, who passed away recently at 81 was a bona fide Hollywood power player and yet it would seem no one has a bad word to say about him. Strange and unprecedented I would say!
He oversaw production of classic sitcoms like Happy Day’s and Mork and Mindy as well a blockbuster movies like Pretty Woman and Beaches. He had great instincts, but instead of being obnoxious about it, he conducted himself with warmth, good humour and genuine excitement, and he brought the same qualities out of people he worked with.