I never read celebrity bios. I mean, almost never. If you click on “Categories” on the right sidebar and selection “Nonfiction — memoir” you’ll find 96 reviews of books by people writing about their own lives. I think Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking and Michael J. Fox’s Always Looking Up are probably the only two selections there from people who are famous mainly for being in show business. (I did also read Ken Jennings’ Brainiac and Barack Obama’s Dreams from my Father but I’m not sure either of those count as “celebrity bios.”) For the most part I prefer books by — well, by writers.
But Rob Brydon’s Small Man in a Book is another celebrity bio for which I was willing to make an exception and I’m glad I did because I thoroughly enjoyed it. Now, I realize the definition of “celebrity” can be a bit stretchy and there are many millions of people in my part of the world who would not recognize either Rob Brydon’s name or his face. Obviously he’s a much bigger star in Britain but not having a good sense of the British entertainment scene I don’t know how big a star he is. I first encountered him as a very funny panelist on QI; he’s also the host of our new favourite British quiz show Would I Lie to You and is perhaps best known as Uncle Bryn from the sitcom Gavin and Stacey. Before he got known for any of those things he spent many years working his way up the show-biz ladder as a stand-up comedian, voice-over artist and many other non-glamorous gigs, all of which he describes in hilarious detail in this book.
I know most show-business people have their memoirs ghostwritten but Rob Brydon either wrote this himself, or had it written by a ghostwriter who’d spent a lot of time listening to him (perfectly plausible I guess) since his distinctive voice comes through very clearly here. As I read, I imagined him saying it all out loud to me, so it was like having an audiobook in my head, which was very nice. I was reading it as an e-book, as I usually do, and there were frequent references to enhanced features you could get by “clicking here” if you were reading the e-book, like video and audio clips of performances he was describing. I can only assume these references were bits of dry British humour since there were no enhanced features that I could detect but anyone watching me read would probably have been entertained by seeing me stab my Playbook repeatedly with my index finger while laughing out loud. Alternatively, it’s possible the enhanced features exist but you can only get them on the iPad, which would go further towards explaining the RIM tailspin. But I digress.
While there may not be any embedded video clips there is a lot to enjoy and laugh at here. There was also, perhaps surprisingly in an actor’s bio, a lot that I could relate to. I knew before I picked up the book that I found Rob Brydon very, very funny, but I didn’t know that we were exactly the same age and shared a passionate love, bordering on obsession, with the music of Bruce Springsteen when we were younger. (Brydon eventually got famous enough to meet Springsteen; I eventually got financially solvent enough that I’m finally going to see him in concert). Also, I was interested to notice how many aspects of trying to “make it” as an actor/comedian are similar to the experiences you have while trying to “make it” as a writer — the gigs that draw the embarrassingly tiny audience but you have to put the best face on it anyway, the things you think are brilliant that nobody notices, and most interesting of all (and I’ve never seen anyone else describe this quite as well as Brydon does) the concept that at a certain point you reach a level of mild success, enough to pay the bills but far less than the dizzying heights you once dreamed of achieving, and have to decide whether you’re OK with staying at that level, or whether you want to keep pushing further.
Obviously if Brydon had been content with being a successful voice-over artist and hadn’t kept striving for greater success, I wouldn’t have ever heard of him or read his bio, so I’m glad he kept going! Even if you don’t know who Rob Brydon is you might find this interesting, but if you are a fan of his work this is a must-read.