Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Memoir shows all sides of a comedian’s life


The audience roars.

That's music to a performer: the best you can ask from a group of people expecting to be entertained is approval for your efforts. Laughter, for a comedy. Gasps for a drama. Tears for a tragedy and tapping toes for a musical, that's what you want. But remember, as in "Hello, Molly," the new memoir by Molly Shannon, not all of life's a stage.

For most of her life, Molly Shannon's mother stood off to one side, a main character with a big role but few lines. She was killed in a car accident when Shannon was just four, as if she made a cameo appearance and then was off the script.

But not entirely. With the help of family and friends, Shannon's father, Jim, raised Shannon and her sister, Mary, to remember their mother and to seize life in every way possible, encouraging his girls to be bold and "wild." Once, when Shannon was 13 and her best friend was 11 years old, Shannon's father planted the idea in her head to hop a plane. The girls ended up stowing away in plain sight on a flight from Cleveland (near their hometown) to New York City. He paid for their trip back home.

And yet being Jim Shannon's daughter wasn't all fun and games. He was an alcoholic, as was his father and his father-in-law; when he was sober, Shannon recalls parties, spontaneous trips, loving encouragement and permission to skip school. When he was drunk, she says that she and her sister were always watchful for his mercurial moods and his propensity for a different kind of "wild" behavior.

She couldn't wait to leave home.

Through college, a fledgling career, and a popular spot on Saturday Night Live, her father was always there, always a touchpoint for her past but also an irritation; enormously proud of her, but with a short wall between them.

It wasn't until she was well into her adulthood that Shannon realized he harbored a secret, and then everything made sense.

You don't expect a terrible, gasp-worthy accident to be the foundation for a funny story, but there it is, the opening number in "Hello, Molly!"

Quickly, though, author Molly Shannon pulls readers in – somewhat awkwardly, at first, but in the same excited way that your fourth-grade BFF did when there was something important or interesting that you simply had to see. That, in fact, is the feel you'll get in the first part of this book: like you've been taken by the hand and pulled toward something that was going to make this the best day ever.

As you read on, that's not much hyperbole. If you like Shannon's work, you're going to adore this memoir, which appears a lot like her skits: hectic, heartfelt, hold-your-sides hilarious, honest, and always arms-wide charming. Bring your sense of humor here – but bring tissues, too.

So, take a look, fellas. Here's what you want in a book, fellas. "Hello, Molly!" is gonna make you roar.

"Hello, Molly! A Memoir" by Molly Shannon

c. 2022, Ecco, $27.99, 304 pages