I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Published by Random House Publishing Group on September 20th 2016
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Entertainment & Performing Arts, General, Humor, Personal Memoirs
Wild, dangerous, and flat-out unbelievable, here is the incredible memoir of the actor, gambler, raconteur, SNL veteran, and one of the best stand-up comedians of all time. As this book’s title suggests, Norm Macdonald tells the story of his life—more or less—from his origins on a farm in the-back-of-beyond Canada and an epically disastrous appearance on Star Search to his account of auditioning for Lorne Michaels and his memorable run as the anchor of Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live—until he was fired because a corporate executive didn’t think he was funny. But Based on a True Story is much more than a memoir; it’s the hilarious, inspired epic of Norm’s life.
In dispatches from a road trip to Las Vegas (part of a plan hatched to regain the fortune he’d lost to sports betting and other vices) with his sidekick and enabler, Adam Eget, Norm recounts the milestone moments, the regrets, the love affairs, the times fortune smiled on his life, and the times it refused to smile. As the clock ticks down, Norm’s debt reaches record heights, and he must find a way to evade the hefty price that’s been placed on his head by one of the most dangerous loan sharks in the country. As a comedy legend should, Norm peppers these pages with classic jokes and fondly mythologized Hollywood stories. This wildly adventurous, totally original, and absurdly funny saga turns the conventional “comic’s memoir” on its head and gives the reader an exclusive pass into the mad, glorious mind of Norm Macdonald.
Whenever I get into a romance reading slump, I turn to non-fiction to keep me going until I’m ready to dive back into reviewing. But as James Frey taught us (and Oprah) not that long ago, a memoir can be just as much fiction as fact, and should never be confused with autobiography. It was with that mindset that I happily dove into Norm Macdonald’s new memoir, one with the intentionally deceptive title of “Based On A True Story.” It begins with a disclaimer that every potential reader should keep in mind for what it does and does not reveal:
The stories in this memoir begin with the author’s recollection of events, which is – by his own admission – spotty. Beyond that, several names and identifying details have been changed.
Ninety-nine percent of “Based On A True Story” is exactly what you might expect from Norm Macdonald, which is to say it’s hilarious obscene bunkum. One should never try to analyze any memoir for what really happened and what is at best the writer’s embellishment, but I think it’s safe to assume that Lorne Michaels did not hire Norm for his ability to procure morphine and that Norm did not borrow a million dollars in cash from a fat man with artificial hair in the Nevada desert. I’ll also point out that the running joke of the purported protestations of Norm’s supposed ghostwriter is not only nonsense, but detracts from the joy of unfiltered Norm nonsense.
There are some small but significant portions of this book that came as searingly close to real truth as one is ever likely to read in any memoir. For me those made the whole book a more valuable and memorable read than what I got from all the rest. They include both the introduction (“Found Alive in a Hotel Room in Edmonton”) and “The Final Chapter” (which it both is and isn’t). But the key chapters – the ones that kept me up nights – were the ones ostensibly about Norm’s childhood.
The first of these chapters starts simply enough, with Norm as narrator realizing that he needs to keep his friend awake as they speed towards Las Vegas for an as yet unrevealed mission. The initial feeling is one of obligatory exposition, since anyone would expect a memoir to mention the writer’s point of origin and how it shaped him. I was lulled into a sense of security by the beautiful way Norm describes himself as a small child on his family farm in the wilds of Canada and his stories of the old drifter who slept in a toolshed and worked for free because it was enough for him.
Then just when I was expecting the inevitable hilarity to ensue, Norm the narrator sprung the trap he’d set in plain sight and I gasped. Stephen King would be proud of how this bucolic tale suddenly became terrifying. Only this wasn’t fiction. Or was it? The opacity of the memoir format foils any attempt at fact checking, and for once, I am glad.
I see the cat, who’s licking himself and swatting horseflies with his tail as he lies beneath an improbably large maple tree that is blighted and dying. I look up the tree and see there is something up high too, hiding in one of the crooks of its reaching branches. Something that is watching.
And the back of my head hits the headrest as I see that the thing in the tree is me.
So even if memoirs aren’t your thing or Norm Macdonald isn’t your thing or reading a cross between Hunter S. Thompson and Mark Twain isn’t your thing, please consider “Based On A True Story” solely on chapters three through six. They’re worth your time and money.