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An unauthorized autobiography

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Norm Macdonald's 'Based on a True Story' weird, wildly entertaining

Be honest whenever you see the words 'based on a true story,' you immediately start wondering just how much of what you're about to read/watch/listen to can be considered truth. Truth is a funny thing, particularly in the realm of biography or memoir; our memories tend to recall actual events with a surprising amount of flexibility.

Comedian Norm Macdonald has embraced that flexibility in his new book 'Based on a True Story' (Spiegel & Grau, $28). It is ostensibly a memoir, but Macdonald has chosen to run his life story through the twisted prism of his wry/dry humor and absurdist sensibilities. The end result is a book that while probably almost entirely untrue nevertheless tells us a whole lot about the life and times of Norm Macdonald.

'Based on a True Story' unfolds in a manner not unlike some of Hunter S. Thompson's classic works, with Macdonald filing dispatches from the road onto the answering machine of a put-upon ghostwriter as he road trips to Las Vegas alongside his assistant/sycophant Adam Eget. He's on his way to Sin City with a plan one that will either end with Macdonald's retirement to a Montana ranch or with his death.

Along the way, he recounts numerous tales from his life. He shares stories from his youth on a farm in smaller-than-small-town Canada. He talks about his life as a road comic and his unwavering belief that he has written the world's greatest joke. Obviously, his time at 'Saturday Night Live' comes up; he shares thoughts on how he got the job and how he ultimately lost the job, as well as the friends (and mistakes) that he made. His spotty and weird film and TV careers also get some mention, as do his gambling, drug and various other addiction.

Ultimately, Macdonald crosses the wrong people and winds up with a price on his head. Meanwhile, the ghostwriter starts recounting some history of his own as he becomes increasingly unhinged. When the two collide in a maelstrom of 'The Norm Show' t-shirts and 'Dirty Work' hats, the lines become even more blurred and lives are at stake.

Right off the top, let's get two things straight about this book. First, I really, really liked it. Second, it is really, REALLY f---ing weird.

This is not a memoir in any traditional sense of the word. While there are a few foundational nuggets of fact, the wild narrative built atop them bears little resemblance to anything remotely connected to reality. This version of Norm Macdonald is a deluded hack, one whose occasional stumbles into success were quickly snuffed by his own ineptitude. He is a serial morphine abuser and a degenerate gambler. And perhaps most unbelievable of all he doesn't seem to be that funny.

All of which makes the book itself hilarious.

Macdonald the REAL Macdonald has jammed these pages full of the sardonic anarchism that informs his comedic style. The story being told isn't just both ridiculous and sublime it is sublime BECAUSE it is ridiculous. The absurd twists and turns of this meticulously constructed narrative likely bear little resemblance to Macdonald's life; in a way, he has created a book that is less an autobiography of a comedian and more an autobiography of his comedy.

'Based on a True Story' is not the sort of showbiz memoir people have come to expect. It is not a retelling or a recounting it is a reimagining, a few basic facts tossed into a framework of inspired lunacy and left to fend for themselves. By playing fast and loose with the truth, Macdonald has produced a book that is crass and clever and wildly funny. It is an autobiography unlike any you've seen one whose title, while technically accurate, doesn't begin to describe the comic chaos contained within.

Last modified on Wednesday, 21 September 2016 12:47


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