Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Let's Start a Riot by Bruce McCulloch

I have low expectations for Hollywood books. I think most of us do. Even if it's by a person whose writing and voice you actually like, there's always the expectation that the final product will be plastic, extruded... Hollywood.

So I was pleasantly surprised by Bruce McCulloch's 2014 goofball memoir Let's Start a Riot, which has the unpromising subtitle "How a Young Drunk Punk Became a Hollywood Dad" and which starts out with several chapters in a row about McCulloch in his "starter mansion" with his "Pretty Wife" and his two then-young children. It looked like it might have been a "check out my quirky life in <Random LA Neighborhood that the rest of the country knows the name of but doesn't get any of the specific details about>" book, all about how he's still that boy from Calgary, even as he goes to gala balls and writes big scripts and suchlike, full of yoga pants jokes and talking-to-my-gardener jokes and even sadder things.

But most of Riot is a memoir; it's mostly about McCulloch's younger years. The Hollywood material opens the book, but that's nearly all of it in Riot - there's another quick story or two at the end. And, even more important, that unique McCulloch voice - the one who sang "These Are the Daves I Know," had an open letter to the guy who stole his bike, and wondered if his head were veal (which it is not!) how much his head would be worth - that's the guy who wrote the book. It's that same sensibility, that same weird Bruce McCulloch viewpoint, throughout the book, coloring all of the stories and history here. Even the Hollywood material, though it's pretty obviously "Hollywood material," is very McCulloch-y.

I'm not seeing a lot of introspection in those old stories - McCulloch isn't exactly proud of the guy he was, and mines his foibles for humor, but this isn't a book about how he got better and became an enlightened Hollywood Person. No, McCulloch did stuff, and some of it worked and was funny, and some of it was drunken and mistaken, and he screwed up a lot of things but succeeded in some of the more important things to him, like being funny in public for a living, and here he tells a lot of stories about all that stuff. And very little of it is told straightforwardly, since he's still Bruce McCulloch - for example, what clearly was a tense, unpleasant relationship with his working-class father is told as "The Beautiful Day You Beat Up Your Dad."

Or maybe I mean it's not pure introspection. McCulloch is always trying to turn it all - all of his material, everything from his life, everything that happened to him or he thought of - into humor, and that means that humor will all be that Bruce McCulloch voice.

I would not go to Riot for a factual account of the history of The Kids in the Hall, though I think what McCulloch writes is true as far as he remembers it, and told slanted only insomuch as it makes things funnier and mostly turns him into the butt of the joke. It's a comedian's memoir: you go to those for funny and quirky and voice, not for how-it-really-was. McCulloch delivers on all of that: Hollywood might have changed him (or maybe not), but it couldn't change that.

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