American poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox once wrote, “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone”—wisdom contradicted by the gifted standup comedian, actress and writer Bonnie McFarlane in her often hilarious and sometimes poignant memoir, You’re Better Than Me. Saved, or cursed, by her instinct to find something funny in almost every situation, she advises her reader early on, “If you have the appropriate emotional response to things, congratulations, you’re better than me.”
Calling herself a “weirdo, but not a serial killer”—although her description of killing chickens on her family farm in Alberta, Canada might suggest otherwise—McFarlane recounts the trials (raped at 17) and tribulations (no television, no friends) of rural isolation and adolescent angst.
Moving to Vancouver, McFarlane works as a waitress and freelance writer, where she discovers comedy clubs and joke writing. Eventually she realizes that her jokes will only be told if she performs them herself. She gets lucky, lands a manager and continues her roller coaster career via stints in Toronto, New York and Hollywood. She struggles with relationships, sexist stereotyping, depression, income and insecurity. She auditions constantly, writes for and stars in television shows that quickly die, and wins a role on the reality show “Last Comic Standing,” where she becomes infamous for uttering an obscenity. She scores a spot on David Letterman’s late-night show, “kills” it (a good thing), then clumsily drops the microphone, greatly annoying her host. She gets fired, heckled, rejected by her comedy heroes (Janeane Garofalo is one), and occasionally derailed by her own poor judgment (like excessive drinking and bad timing).
Now married, a mother and podcaster (“My Wife Hates Me”) with husband-comedian Rich Voss, McFarlane continues to provoke her live audience. She needs their laughs, because, she confides, “the audience is the instrument the comedian is learning to play.” Her readers can now join in the experience. Cue the applause.