Based on a True Story: A Memoir (a review)
Norm Macdonald is a twinkly-eyed comedian’s comedian, a man with a perpetual smirk. He’s an irreverent comedic genius, spinning his tall tales on talk shows (ever hear tell of an Andy Richter story) along with long, winding old jokes in the structure of a Russian novel (Moth joke). He got fired from SNL, starred in Dirty Work and Screwed. He hails from a rural town in Canada and calls himself an old chunk of coal. He’s more of a fan of Tolstoy than Dostoevsky, but enjoys Chekhov, Gogol, Turgenev, and Pushkin. He once thrived from the highs of sports betting, but still suffered from its lows (throwing a sixty-grand chip into the water at A.C.). He claims that he’s apolitical but still likes to provoke people (on both sides) into wondering whether he’s serious or not. Fans of Norm are true fans. They consume just about everything that he does, from his interviews on Stern and Letterman and Conan, to his role as the KFC Coronal. When he is not tweeting about sports predictions or celebrities changing his life, he hosts his own podcast. Jim Carrey, Margaret Cho, Adam Sandler, Caitlyn Jenner, Bobby Lee, Russell Brand, among others, have all featured on his podcast, showing his credentials to the bigwigs. Pretty soon, he’ll have his own show on Netflix. “Based on a True Story” isn’t a memoir, but it does contain truth. In the slick guise of a memoir, Macdonald recounts the tall tales of his life. Playing off of his image as a mysterious, eccentric man, a simple man, a recluse, he talks about living with old folks in a small town, a traumatic encounter with Old Jack, time in prison, drug addiction, Adam Eget, his rise to fame, a failed assassination of Dave Attell, and more. Norm’s references extend beyond his book to his stand-up and interviews. They have become more legend than real. They are familiar and warm, but shift, changing whenever they're told. Those who listen to his set-ups know the punchlines, but they’re in on his inside jokes, watching with delight, waiting for the reaction, for his repeated emphasis and smile. Norm’s learned how to make his life a folk tale. He mixes enough truth in his lies to be a captivating storyteller. He makes the oldest jokes his own truth. He’s made himself into a Paul Bunyan of comedy, except he’s maker of his own tall tales. In these types of stories, which are repeated over and again, the details change, but the essence is the same. Every blues musician has heard of Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil at the Crossroads. It doesn’t matter if it’s true, not after a while. The story will persist and the legend will become more than the man.