MackThe Life by Lee Mack
Random House Australia RRP $24.99
I’ve made a book-promise to myself for 2015 to read more biographies. It’s a genre I’ve always enjoyed – and I’ve reviewed quite a few here on the blog. I find the idea of sifting through your life selecting what to share and what to hide an intriguing process. I also like the way that autobiographies play around with ‘truth’ – reinforcing my own doggedly postmodern belief that facts are rare and perspective is everything. What’s more, there’s something to be learned from anyone else’s life story.
British comedian Lee Mack’s autobiography is the first cab off the rank on my new year reading list!
Mack The Life is the most traditional autobiography I’ve read for awhile; chronological and as honest as an author can be about what made the cut and what didn’t. Mack takes us through his childhood in Lancashire as the son of unpredictable pub landlords who moved around regularly and eventually separated. Creative and hyperactive, the young Mack left school with no particular direction and tried his hand at a range of would-be careers before slowly progressing from hosting shows at Pontin’s holiday resorts to becoming one of the UK’s most recognisable comedians.
Mack is best known here in Australia for the sitcom Not Going Out and his superb comic timing on quiz show Would I Lie To You. The book is every bit as funny as Mack’s stage and TV persona. Witty, edgy and full of puns, it shows exactly why Mack eventually made is as a professional comedy writer, despite shaky beginnings. The limitation of this book (and perhaps it’s to Mack’s credit?) is that he chooses to hold back on important personal stories, sharing little about his mother, wife and children, for example (he does talk about them, but never discloses anything too deep). He uses the phrase ‘not everything is for sale’ quite a few times throughout this book, by which he means that despite his growing celebrity status, not every aspect of his private life is available to public scrutiny. Unfortunately this left me feeling distanced from the subject – like I was reading a text book on how to make it in showbiz rather than getting to know Mack in any depth. I found myself wondering about the point of writing an autobiography if you know there are big chunks of the story you don’t feel comfortable sharing. Although the book does make a good biography of the comedy industry, with plenty of behind the scenes anecdotes about the comedy club scene and the early careers of many of today’s familiar faces.
On the plus side, the Mack we meet in this book is refreshingly ordinary. As he himself admits, separated parents and the poor education/career prospects that come with being the class clown are almost standard prerequisites for a life in comedy. He’s not claiming to be any kind of special case by penning his life story. But his way of sharing it with readers does have a delightful conversational quality – he’s one of those ‘chatting over coffee’ kind of storytellers. I also enjoyed his tips about being a more disciplined writer – such as, treat it like a job, meet your deadlines and clock off at 5. An eminently sensible approach to a long term media career!
Overall, I didn’t learn as much as I’d maybe have liked to, but I also couldn’t put it down! And perhaps I even like the author a little bit more for not over-sharing the stuff that’s truly important.