Monday February 06, 2017

Vish Khanna on two memoirs by high-profile comedians

I'm Just a Person by Tig Notaro and Based on a True Story by Norm Macdonald were both released in 2016.

I'm Just a Person by Tig Notaro and Based on a True Story by Norm Macdonald were both released in 2016.

Listen 11:49

The Next Chapter columnist Vish Khanna is something of a connoisseur of comedic memoirs (or so he tells us). In this segment, he chats with Shelagh Rogers about two recent reads that really stood out for him... but not for the reasons you may expect.

Tig Notaro: Mixing comedy with tragedy

Tig Notaro had some great difficulties in her life. She was diagnosed with at least two illnesses that could have taken her life. And just at the end of one of them, she lost her mother very suddenly under very sad circumstances. And Tig has done something remarkable with her career and with her life. She was a very well-respected comedian, but on a relatively underground scale. But she turned all of her trouble into fodder for her act, and it became one of the most compelling stand-up concerts of all time. She confronted her diagnosis of breast cancer head-on, with no net — no idea what she was going to say. She received the diagnosis and then just went on stage and said "Hey, everybody! I have cancer!" Her career was elevated because of her frankness and how compelling her story was.

A lot of comedians find a way to find something amusing about tragedy and hardship, and Tig has become something of a poster person for doing this. Her book, I'm Just a Person, is a love letter to her late mother. She had this deep connection to her mother and to lose her the way she did was crushing. You dive into comedians' memoirs thinking maybe they'll be a little respite from the difficulty of life, but I was trying to fight back tears.

Norm Macdonald: This is not a memoir

The title of Norm's book is Based on a True StoryA Memoir. And that's telling, because it is not a memoir. It is a fantastical work of fiction with some elements of truth. He takes us on a journey, supposedly through his life, but he lures us into this sense of insight about him as a guy growing up outside of Ottawa. But then there are all these joke-stories that complement what seem like real biographical details. You get little vignettes about Saturday Night Live and his celebrity life, and they seem like they could be true, but then... I don't know!

I honestly can't recall reading a book like this before — it is a landmark achievement in comedic writing and autobiography. It's a testament to Norm's power as a comedic force that everyone who is a top-notch comedian says that Norm is the funniest person alive.

Vish Khanna's comments have been edited and condensed.