Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Michael McIntyre: Life and Laughing

It is apt that Meat Loaf gets two mentions in Michael McIntyre's "patchy memories", Life and Laughing, as it is because of the former that I was introduced to the latter.

In 2006, I was watching the Royal Variety Performance on television solely to see The Loaf, and wondering how long I would have to wait for his entrance.

I was not particularly thrilled to hear that not only was the next act not Meat Loaf, but was a stand-up comedian, a phrase that normally fills me with dread. Almost all of Britain's contemporary comedians I found to be miserable, offensive, and decidedly not funny.

Yet not a minute later I was smiling, laughing out loud, and quoting Homer Simpson: "it's funny because it's true!"

Since then I have followed McIntyre's career on television and stage. I even deigned to go to his show at Newcastle. Being a Sunderland lass the only two people I would go to Newcastle to see were (you guessed it) Meat Loaf and my orthodontist.

Naturally I was interested to know how McIntyre went from being an unknown, to being the only comedian to make me laugh, to performing sell-out gigs in the country's biggest arenas, and getting 2,500 people in the Sunderland Empire to cheer at the word "Sunderland", even though half of them were from Newcastle.

Frankly, his journey to the top is depressing. After all his dedicated years spent as the effectively "least experienced" understudy at Jongleurs, it is remarkable that he has not turned into a depressed, bitter alcoholic with no future in comedy ahead of him.

As a Chinese-looking baby born to definitely white middle-class parents, he and his younger sister Lucy lived a bizzare existence around celebrities and television studios. His father wrote for The Kenny Everett Show, and his young, glamorous mother was frequently photographed with Kenny, then Britain's biggest TV star.

His rich, eccentric, Hungarian grandmother would give him £50 for playing a game of Scrabble with her, giving him a better salary than his schoolmates.

However his parents grew apart, and eventually split. His father met an American woman, and they moved to Los Angeles; while his mother got together with a Patrick Swayze look-a-like who rag-rolled her walls.

They sold the family home to Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, along with little Jack and baby Kelly, and the McIntyres moved to Golders Green. Michael and Lucy then had something of a double-life, spending holidays in LA with their father, doing and eating all things American, and attending school in England.

Then, out of nowhere, his father phoned to say that he could no longer afford to pay their school fees. To be suddenly thrust from public to state school was quite a culture shock.

It was while at Edinburgh university that McIntyre decided he wanted to be a film writer, however his first script called Office Angels never made it to the screen, despite its potential.

He knew he wanted to make people laugh for a living, and seeing live stand-up only confirmed it. Finally he made it onto the lowly Jongleurs circuit, occasionally getting the odd gig elsewhere.

However three weeks in Edinburgh for the Perrier awards ended disappointingly when he could not even sell a ticket. After parting company with his first agent, he managed to get in with Off the Kerb, who count Jonathan Ross, Lee Evans and Jack Dee among their clients.

The legendary agent Addison Cresswell got him a stint on the Royal Variety Performance, and we know the rest…apart from family life, of course.

His unorthodox courting methods of his wife-to-be, Kitty, their wedding, and the birth of their first son Lucas are all recounted with much affection and joy.

As a newly-married couple moving into their first home, there were the usual hurdles for Michael and Kitty, such as a shopping experience on eBay that can only be likened to the Stonehenge scene in This is Spinal Tap, and just as hilarious.

There is also an anecdote involving a cremation urn that I thought only happened in an episode of Frasier and seemed too ludicrous for real life.

Although McIntyre professes that he does not read, Life and Laughing is well written, eloquent, and of course, very funny. Yet there are poignant moments, such as the sudden death of his father, and his grandmother cutting him off after he introduced her to Kitty.

The photographs provide an extra insight, along with laugh-out-loud captions. I especially liked the one taken at Disneyland.

With hindsight, it is hard to imagine McIntyre as a struggling comedian. Even with his family connections, he still had to do it the hard way to get to the top. I know I’m not the only one who is glad he is there.

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