Say what you like about Michael McIntyre – and his many detractors already have – but he has got a very keen sense of what works; of what will play well with the audience.
As it is with his Middle Britain-friendly stand-up, it is with his memoirs, an entertaining series of anecdotes from his life moulded into a surprisingly warm narrative, full of wittily-remembered incidents. You can’t quite escape the nagging suspicion that some stories might have been embellished or exaggerated to come out like well-polished stand-up routines, even when he’s not obviously garnishing the truth with jokes, but who cares about a few harmless liberties if it makes for a good read?
On the surface of it, his life might appear charmed. He came from a very wealthy family, educated at a leading private school called Arnold House and with his father a scriptwriter for Kenny Everett, he appeared to have had an easy way in to the comedy career he wanted. And his rise in the world has been fast and seemingly unstoppable, seemingly coming from nowhere to the very top echelon of British stand-up in a couple of short years.
But there is more to his life than this, of course, and despite its generally light tone, the book does contain insight into the course of events that made McIntyre who he is today. He has spoken before about how his father, Ray Cameron, died when he was 17, but said less about how his parents’ marriage split up before that, with his mum – beautiful and much younger than her husband – cheating on a builder who was doing up the house when Cameron was working in the States. The builder, Steve, became his stepdad.
Mum, in fact, seems like a party animal, a ‘fag hag’ who used to love long lunches and nights on the town with Kenny Everett. But even her large personality was overshadowed by McIntyre’s grandmother Lucy, a glamorous and eccentric Hungarian married to a rich English stockbroker (there’s a Who Do You Think You Are? episode in this, for sure).
In a possibly apocryphal story early in this book, McIntyre’s mother goes to a Tarot card reader in Kensington who tells her: ‘You will have a son. He will be world-famous. Everybody will know his name, he will do wonderful things. He is special.’
That didn’t seem very likely at the time, and the book is full of embarrassing incidents from McIntyre’s youth, which make him seem much more vulnerable than his often smug stage persona ever would suggest. He was especially useless with girls – perhaps no surprise given his fashion and hair choices that even include a mullet. ‘Nowadays I have plenty of teenage girls screaming my name at gigs, waiting outside and trembing when they meet me.’ He notes. ‘Where were they when I needed them?’ He eventually lost his virginity, awkwardly, to an unattractive Calais girl while on a French holiday.
Financially, things went pear-shaped for his family, too, and he had to quit Arnold House for a rather more earthy state school. They also had to move out of his family home, t which is now worth £4.2millon, and owned by the Osbournes.
So on to university in Edinburgh – with his hilarious description of buying drugs from Leith tenement that could be straight out of a comedy script. Talking of which, he wrote a screenplay while a student that seemed to be well-received but never got close to being made. But it cemented in his mind the idea that he wanted to be a comedian.
As well as the anecdotes, the book contains the sort of observational humour for which he’s become known, as well as a few moments of shared childhood nostalgia to resonate with his readers. And his teenage misunderstanding over the meaning of the word ‘wanking’ is brilliantly funny, if possibly contrived.
His decision to become a stand-up inevitably led to renewed poverty, as he trudged around the circuit and lost small fortunes at the Edinburgh Fringe. He doesn’t have many kind words for the Jongleurs chain which kept him in employment, but also kept him in his place as an opening act, further down the pecking order than the comics he thought had become bitter, disillusioned and lazy after years doing the same gigs.
But he has a lot more positive things to say about his agent, Addison Cresswell, the powerful mover and shaker who is responsible for catapulting his career into the stratosphere. McIntyre’s success actually turns out to be rather inspiring – who would have thought it? – and he even manages to get the girl, against all odds.
These latter, triumphant years have, however, been omitted from the text. ‘It turns out that writing about success is very dull, so I deleted it for your sakes,’ he rightly concludes. ‘It is like a long-winded, arrogant CV.’
Much as Life And Laughter is a great read, let’s hope he doesn’t change his mind to cash in on a Part 2, full of dispatches from Mount Fame, where he’s found his place.
- Life And Laughing by Michael McIntyre was published on Thursday by Michael Joseph, priced £20. Click here to buy from Amazon for £8.60.