Book review: Look Who It Is!

by Alan Carr

Publishers will no doubt be hoping Alan Carr’s autobiography follows the same success as last year’s blockbuster comedy memoirs: Russell Brand’s My Booky Wook.

But aside from their stand-up careers, their stories couldn’t be more different. Where Brand told of debauched nights of sexual and narcotic misadventures, Carr tells of degreasing car parts on a Northampton industrial estate.

Until his swift rise to fame, Carr led a life that can only be described as mundane. He grew up in a stable, lower-middle-class family in several unremarkable towns, being the son of the local football manager being the only point of note. He ‘studied’ drama at university, which mostly involved idling away his time with typical student apathy, went travelling for a bit, and engaged in a series of brain-numbingly tedious jobs, from packing boxes to cleaning office toilets.

There was no dramatic battle with any demons. Even his sexuality, the one possible source of alienation for any teenager, seemed to broadly accepted. He simply found it as hard to get laid as any other speccy, out-of-shape, buck-toothed youth with psoriasis. Sex, Carr says, ‘is a bit like Cash In The Attic’ – I can take it or leave it.’ Though, on the evidence in Look Who It Is!, for much of his early years the choice wasn’t always his.

So, there are no fantastic tales to tell here. Just the story of how a succession of spirit-sapping jobs made a career in showbusiness look so appealing. On this basis, it could almost be the rushed-out memoirs of an X-Factor runner-up, seeing their one chance to escape the humdrum.

Carr never fitted in with the ribald banter of the factory floor, but nevertheless felt himself slowly becoming assimilated into the trivial workplace culture, where unauthorised staple-gun use can trigger a war of attrition. It’s surely been to his advantage as a comic that he can emphasise with people living such lives – even if he was determined not to follow that path himself.

His way out was to grasp the nettle of open-mic stand-up, even though the one time he tried it as part of his drama course it made him almost physically sick. Carr mined his everyday experiences at a Barclaycard call centre for comedy, and found audiences and bookers quickly developed quite an appetite for it. He triumphed in a couple of new act competitions, became established on the comedy scene in the north-west of England, and a couple of Edinburghs later, became the unlikely face of bawdy, late-night Channel 4.

During that that quick rise, hasn’t lost the ability to talk about the mundane with a bouncy honesty, which is what sets this book aside from any ghostwritten reality show potboiler. You can fair rattle through the 300 entertaining pages, and even though the situations might be boring, the writing rarely is – with the obvious exception of the passages about his post-student travels around the Third World, which are as uninvolving as any gap-year bore’s holiday yarns.

The autobiography is not a laugh a minute, though it does contain a good smattering of amusing chat-show-type anecdotes. Instead, it is essentially a brisk, chatty account of his life up to the point where he was offered the position on the Friday Night Project job, and is as often abut his social circle and flatmates as it is about his disdain for his dead-end jobs.

Ultimately, Look At Me! Is as lightweight and as inconsequential as Carr’s detractors would anticipate, and his fans would expect. But it’s well-written and broadly diverting… though whether you’d pay the recommended £19 for it is another question.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

  • Look Who It Is! by Alan Carr is published by HaperCollins at £18.99. Click here to buy it half-price from Amazon.

Published: 20 Oct 2008

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