Based on a True Story: Not a Memoir

Based on a True Story: Not a Memoir



The Pequod Review:

Norm Macdonald's deadpan stand-up comedy style doesn't fully transfer to the page, but his memoir Based on a True Story has enough moments of honesty and seriousness to make it better than most in the genre. Here for example is "The Final Chapter": 

There is the way things are and then the way things appear, and it is the way things appear, even when false, that is often the truest. If I am remembered, it will always be by the four years I spent at Saturday Night Live and, maybe even more than that, by the events surrounding my departure from that show. As long as SNL exists, then so do I.

When people come to see me do stand-up, it is because somewhere in their memory I live on SNL, dressed as a young Burt Reynolds, insisting Alex Trebek refer to me as Turd Ferguson. And they come to see me and I am old and fat and I don’t mention SNL and I do my answering-machine joke and they are happily disappointed. After the show, they stand beside me and take pictures, the way you would with a donkey at the side of a road. They tell me they are big fans and they don’t care what their girlfriends say. They understand me even though they know good and well that nobody else does. I’m dry, they say. The next time I come to their town, they don’t show up.

It can be difficult to define yourself by something that happened so long ago and is gone forever. It’s like a fellow at the end of the bar telling no one in particular about the silver medal he won in high school track, the one he still wears around his neck.

The only thing an old man can tell a young man is that it goes fast, real fast, and if you’re not careful it’s too late. Of course, the young man will never understand this truth.

But looking back now, I can see that my life since SNL has been a full sprint, trying with all my might to outrun the wolves of irrelevancy snapping at my heels. It has all been in vain, of course. They caught and devoured me years ago. But not completely. Lorne would see to that.

My foot would still make a vague imprint; my self would still cast a faint shadow. And years later, I would write a book. And not only write it but be in it as well. I think a lot of people feel sorry for you if you were on SNL and emerged from the show anything less than a superstar. They assume you must be bitter. But it is impossible for me to be bitter.

I’ve been lucky.

If I had to sum up my whole life, I guess those are the words I would choose, all right.

When I was a boy, I was sure I’d never make it past Moose Creek, Ontario, Canada. But I’ve been all over this world. Except for Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, and South America. Oh, and Antarctica. But that’s really splitting hairs. I mean, how many people have ever been to Antarctica?

I never expected to be any more than a common laborer, and I would have considered myself lucky to have achieved that. But I was blessed with so much more.

I’m a stand-up comedian and have been for over a quarter of a century. I’ve performed thousands of hours, from a small club in Ottawa, Ontario, all the way to a small club in Edmonton, Alberta. Sometimes I get big laughs and think I’m the best stand-up in the whole world, and other times I bomb, and I think I’m not even in the top five. Before I was famous I had a whole bunch of jobs where all I needed was boots. People would look right past me, or if they did look at me, it was with a mean look. But when I got famous, people would look at me and smile and wonder where they knew me from. If they flat-out recognized me, they’d laugh and dance like they’d won a prize, and I’d just stand there and smile and feel warmth from their love. So the fame made the world, which is a real cold place, a little less cold.

And as for my gambling, it’s true I lost it all a few times. But that’s because I always took the long shot and it never came in. But I still have some time before I cross that river. And if you’re at the table and you’re rolling them bones, then there’s no money in playing it safe. You have to take all your chips and put them on double six and watch as every eye goes to you and then to those red dice doing their wild dance and freezing time before finding the cruel green felt.

I’ve been lucky.