Curious about what it’s like to be a child actor, a standup comedian, a podcast star or some combination of the above (and beyond)? You’re in luck: These memoirs offer a fascinating peek behind the curtain of fame.
In Scrappy Little Nobody, Anna Kendrick chronicles her journey from auditioning for roles at age 5 to being a Tony-nominated singer (High Society) and Oscar-nominated actress (Up in the Air). “[P]erforming is all I’ve cared about since the first time I can remember caring about anything,” she writes. While Kendrick shares self-deprecating and I’m-just-like-you sentiments in her memoir, she also expresses pride in her uncommon career, noting that theater work “gave me a basic work ethic that I may not have gotten if I started in film and television. I worked six days a week, eight shows a week. . . . I was held accountable for my work.” A heavy load for sure, but Kendrick persevered, getting more and more high-profile roles (The Twilight Saga, Into the Woods, Pitch Perfect) along the way. Plenty of revelations about the non-magical side of moviemaking and an irreverent Reading Group Guide round out this entertaining, appealing first book.
COMEDY OF THE MIND
On a recent talk show appearance, Norm Macdonald said his book, Based on a True Story, is 50 percent true and 70 percent made-up. That feels about right; this elliptical memoir loops its way through Macdonald’s life so far, bringing the reader along on a hallucinatory road trip filled with strange characters who may or may not be real people. When he’s being more straightforward, Macdonald shares stories both funny and poignant from his formative years in rural Canada and details his experiences competing on “Star Search” and being the new kid on “Saturday Night Live.” At book’s beginning, he says standup comics are “never in one place long enough to experience anything but the shabbiest of love.” But at book’s end, he writes, “I’ve been lucky. If I had to sum up my whole life, I guess those are the words I would choose, all right.” Both feel like moments of honesty shoring up a performance-art-esque tale.
After reading You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain, readers will want to be Phoebe Robinson’s friend. But they better not try to make her TBF (The Black Friend), “a singular dash of pepper in a bowl of grits.” Witty, truth-telling commentary abounds here, and it’s delightful. Robinson wasn’t always this confident; she uses her childhood relationship with her hair as a metaphor for her growing awareness of the assumptions projected onto black people—women in particular—based on their hairstyles: “‘[H]ire-ability,’ acceptance, and attractiveness are all on the line when someone wears his or her hair naturally? That’s a lot of weight to assign to a physical attribute.” Indeed. She now has a thriving career in standup, as well as acting, and writing for the New York Times, Glamour and “Broad City”—and she wears her hair however she wants. Chapters like “Dear Future Female President: My List of Demands” and “People, Places, and Things That Need to Do Better” are funny and on-target, while personal stories in “Uppity” and “The Angry Black Woman Myth” illustrate how systemic racism has affected the way she communicates every single day. It’s exhausting, yes, but Robinson is hopeful: “We all have some growing to do. So let’s try and get better together. Cool?”
Amy Schumer is a household name, thanks to her hilarious, award-winning TV series, “Inside Amy Schumer”; her worldwide comedy tours; and the movie Trainwreck, which she wrote and starred in. In The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Schumer says, “I wanted to share these stories from my life as a daughter, sister, friend, comedian, actor, girlfriend, one-night stand, employee, employer, lover, fighter, hater, pasta eater, and wine drinker.” And that she does, in a book that’s a mix of funny, smart, straightforward, raunchy and sweet. A more serious side of Schumer emerges here, as well. When she explores the ways her parents’ tumultuous marriage and an abusive dating relationship have affected her, she plumbs her pain to share what she’s learned and demonstrates that she’s a survivor in more ways than one. The tattoo story is in there, too, as well as a strong stance for gun control, a stand against body-shaming and ultimately a case for being OK with imperfection: “My vulnerability is my ultimate strength,” she proclaims. With this book, she proves that writing is a close second.
TALL AND HANDSOME
Joel McHale hit his head a lot as a kid. Did this lead to his becoming a comedian and actor (“Community,” “The Great Indoors,” Ted), host of E! Network’s “The Soup” and a relentless commercial pitch-man? In Thanks for the Money: How to Use My Life Story to Become the Best Joel McHale You Can Be, McHale hints at a link between his multiple head injuries and his fearless quest for attention, performance and money. McHale’s fondness for dark, somewhat disturbing humor will be familiar to fans and makes for an entertaining through-line in the book, which begins at childhood—well, before childhood, really (see the detailed and discomfiting “Mama-and-Papa-Sutra”). He was born in Rome, Italy, grew up in Seattle and takes us up to now, with a variety of weird and wacky pit stops along the way—a Mr. McHale’s wild ride, if you will. Said pit stops include “Midbook Reading-Retention Puzzles,” an infographic called “How to Survive a Chevy Chase Attack” and a response to rumors about hair implants (yep, he got ’em—twice). Insider info ranges from celebrity quirks to career strategies to details on the free stuff you get once you’re wealthy and don’t really need it. This is an edgy, entertaining memoir/self-help combo from a sharp, successful showbiz guy.
This article was originally published in the November 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.