‘Back Story,’ David Mitchell
First of all, I must point out, (although not as often as he must have to), that this David Mitchell is not the David Mitchell who is the author of some of my favourite books of recent years, from ‘Cloud Atlas‘ to ‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet,’ (reviewed here last week). He is instead the deadpan British comedian who has decided to emulate his literary namesake by writing an autobiography. About himself. Naturally. Not about the other David Mitchell. That would be a biography.
They are, separately, two people I enjoy immensely, one for his constant tinkering with literary conventions and highly readable writing style, the other for his grumpy comic persona in everything from the cult British comedy series ‘Peep Show’ to his appearances on TV game-shows and news panels. Would I want to see David Mitchell the author do a stand-up set? That would depend on how funny he is. Is David Mitchell the comedian a good writer? Hmmmmm…
Unless you know his work, or are particularly fond of one man’s views on the trivia of West London, (the autobiography is (very) loosely hung on a frame of the author wandering around the area he lives trying to work off severe back problems), this book probably won’t mean much to you. For me, it was vaguely entertaining, mainly for the insight it gave into the idea of comedy persona being different from comedians’ true personalities, and for the insights it offered into the making of the aforementioned ‘Peep Show’ which, for years, was one of the funniest (and most under-rated) shows on TV.
David Mitchell describes himself at one point in his autobiography as ‘a conservative who thinks the world needs to change…’ a wonderfully Mitchellian description which is the driving force behind so much of his now-famous rant-based comedy. He likes things the way they are. But he also hates a lot of things the way they are.
“I liked chocolate, just nowhere near as much as toast…”
he writes at one point, reminding me of one of my favourite ever comedy scenes featuring Mitchell and his co-japester Robert Webb in the second ever episode of ‘Peep Show.’
Mitchell on comedy:
“I concluded that everyone loved and admired comedy, however stern or important they might seem.
I was wrong about that. Lots of people don’t particularly like comedy. Some really have no sense of humour at all – they genuinely don’t find things funny. Consequently they often laugh a lot in the hope that they won’t be found out – that, by the law of averages, they’ll be laughing when a joke happens…”
Mitchell‘s irreverence led to one of those moments when I nearly choked with laughter, before realising that this probably makes me a really, really bad person when reading the following:
“The other major change our family underwent while I was at New College School was Grandpa dying. I was ten. In some ways, this is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. It’s definitely the worst thing that ever happened to him…”
Finally, Mitchell on foodies’ attempts to make the less foodie try new things, a scenario which I experienced more or less daily for the first 16 years of my life:
“The culinarily adventurous often deploy the phrase ‘You don’t know what you’re missing’ to try and persuade me – but I just think: ‘Well, that’s all right then’ Imagine if I’d never tried alcohol and didn’t know what I was missing there – well, that would be brilliant!…I’m very glad I don’t know what I’m missing where cocaine’s concerned…”