The shock-haired comic and the shock of recognition


Michael McIntyre Life and Laughing: My Story
Michael Joseph / Penguin 2010

With the notable exception so far of North America, there seem to be few parts of the English-speaking world that haven’t heard of Michael McIntyre: Britain, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, even Dubai, Norway and Singapore seemed to have lapped him up. He has broken records for sell-out tours and venues in the UK, and the DVDs of his arena shows do well. He seemed, as is the nature of things, to have suddenly emerged as a fully-fledged and confident comic into public consciousness in the first decade of this century, but of course success is rarely an instant rags-to-riches story. In McIntyre’s case not at all — if anything, it was a riches-to-rags-to-riches tale, as this autobiography outlines.

McIntyre is first and foremost an observational comic. Not for him the one-liners, the puns or the catchphrases. And his humour is of the engaging self-deprecating kind, not the comedy of cruelty or satire where the butt of criticism is elsewhere and never aimed by the stand-up at themselves. Not only is self-deprecation disarming; it also, paradoxically, holds a mirror up to everyone. If, as some behaviourists suggests, the smile is an ingratiating reflex to stress and the laugh an explosive reaction to threat, McIntyre’s situational anecdotes are familiar scenarios presented in an unfamiliar way, designed to elicit the shock of recognition. Yes, I behave that way, who’d have guessed anybody else did? Oh no, I’ve said and done things like that too, how embarrassing! That’s pretty much how I thought but how ridiculous I must be now that you’ve put it that way? In other words, McIntyre’s self-deprecation is a way for others to participate in a communal act of self-deprecation. And that can’t be bad.

A good example, which males like me (and no doubt many females too) realise is an accurate self-portrait, is McIntyre’s ‘man-drawer’. If you don’t squirm as you recognise a bit of you or a loved one in this sequence then you won’t find him funny in the least.

His ‘first’ autobiography (he was only in his mid-30s when this book was written) reads as if he’s recounting it personally to each reader, the same jokes against himself, the yeast of exaggeration provoking laugh-out-loud moments. Though apparently born with, if not a silver spoon, then at least an EPNS utensil in his mouth, his upper middle-class privileged upbringing was blighted by divorce and separation. Unable to settle down to a humdrum but steady job he decided to capitalise on his ability to make people laugh. This represents the ‘rags’ period of his life, as success and its concomitant fame-and-fortune eluded him. His eventual breakthrough came with an appearance on the Royal Variety Performance in 2006 at the age of thirty, and the rest is public history.

I’m not a fan of gossip magazines and celebrity news, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the roll-call of the successful and famous that he brushed up against, often inadvertently, in his early life and his later climb up the greasy pole. But this is not kiss-and-tell celeb tattle — that’s not McIntyre’s style or nature. Instead, what comes across is an individual who’s as likeable and, as importantly, human as his public persona suggests. And — to add to the charm — there are also plentiful pictures, wittily captioned with the author’s by now familiar trademark self-deprecatory remarks and co-starring his recognisable shock of hair.

6 thoughts on “The shock-haired comic and the shock of recognition

  1. I love McIntyre. You sum him up so well, Chris. And I’ve not read any of his biography: he’s waiting in a queue now, behind Scarlett O’Hara and The American Boy. Being a lovely chap, I’m sure he will not object.


    1. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this, Kate, an easy read and engagingly told. Wonder why he hasn’t broken into the N American market. Speaking of which, I hope your transatlantic sojourn is going / has gone well — sounds it, from your posts!


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