It’s a funny thing, but over the last year I’ve read the autobiographies of three comedians -Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French and Jo Brand – and they’re not as funny as all that. At least, not as funny as all these three women are on the screen. Maybe comedians get to a stage when they’re fed up with being funny and want an opportunity to take themselves – and for others to take them – seriously.
Of the three, Look Back in Hunger by Jo Brand is the funniest. As she recounts her upbringing and describes graphically some of the more sordid and rebellious moments of her teenage and student days, the strong voice of her stand-up routines comes through. She’s always self-deprecating and never sentimental, but at times there is a sense that we are not going to be allowed to see the real Jo. Even these self-narrated anecdotes about her childhood and early years are to be seen through the veil of her onstage persona.
Dawn French‘s Dear Fatty, by contrast, has the authentic voice of someone who’s not afraid to reveal her attitudes and personality. It’s written as a series of letters to friends and family (especially to her late father), which makes it quite hard to follow at first, as the chronology is a little confusing and it’s not always clear whom she’s writing to. For instance, it took me a long time to work out that “Fatty” is Jennifer Saunders. It also makes the narration of incidents rather one-sided because, in addressing the imagined receiver of the letter, she sometimes leaves out things we’d like to know more about. Nevertheless, the frankness and sincerity yield some interesting and enjoyable insights into Dawn French’s warm personality.
Of the three autobiographies, Bonkers by Jennifer Saunders is the most straightforward and the easiest to follow. The voice of Jennifer Saunders is loud and clear and she even gives the impression at times that she thinks she doesn’t have much to write about. She comes across as above all very normal: the depth of love and appreciation for her husband, children and friends is not at all over-stated but it shines through convincingly. She never tries to be anything she isn’t; her shameless account of the way she procrastinated over writing a filmscript for Goldie Hawn is amusing, honest and something everyone can relate to. Her approach to writing about how she had to deal with breast cancer is discreet and unfussy – and all the more emotionally effective because of that.
All three books are well worth a read, especially if you’re of the same generation as these writers and if you’re interested in some of the well-known figures they write about. If you’re expecting lots of laughs, though, you’ll be disappointed.