Norm MacDonald’s “autobiographical” book Based on a True Story begins with a surprisingly intimate account of his childhood memories. While reading, you’re waiting for the writing that will make you see the repulsive, and at many times depressingly bleak, character transform into a well-rounded one. You continue to read with the assumption that although MacDonald is rough around the edges, it is for a good reason and he is, in the end, a valiant person. You don’t, he isn’t and that may be the most important thing about this book.
If a comedian is funny, we also want them to be a good person. Often, we want their personal life to be as quirky and endearing as their professional, on-stage presence. This book shatters those expectations and rightfully so. More than that, it offers a critique of the expectations of memoirs and autobiographical texts of celebrities in general. In “Based on a True Story” it’s hard to differentiate between what’s real and what’s not, and that might be exactly what MacDonald set out to do.
A part of being a celebrity is the lack of clarity between fact and fiction. It’s difficult to know if MacDonald was nodding to the duality of celebrity as in between a fictive and real person, or if he was just telling stories because that’s what he’s spent his life and career doing.
That being said, there is a very dark humour that permeates this book, fiction or not. Macdonald, although often grossly ignorant, is a competent story teller, and whether this book is filled with fiction or real life events might not matter in the end. All in all, the book is an entertaining read – which might prove exactly the point that Macdonald wants to make about entertainment and autobiographies.