I’ll admit it. I only know Lee Mack from YouTube. At first, he was a guest on some panel shows I was watching before I went into a deeper dive of panel shows and enjoyed him on Would I Lie To You?
That show plus all the guest appearances is one of the reasons I picked up David Mitchell’s Back Story: A Memoir, and it was also enough of a reason to pick up the other team leader’s autobiography; Mack the Life by Lee Mack.
This means, I had not, and still haven’t seen Not Going Out, or any of his standup routines really. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t interested in where he came from and how he got to a place where I can find YouTube links to his panel appearances across the pond here in America.
And to be clear, his book is an autobiography, so it is about him, but it’s also about all of us, and comedy, and entertainment, and writing, and process, but I swear it’s about you and me, too!
Lee Mack’s autobiography is for the indecisive. I think we can all be like that from time to time. It takes Lee years and roughly 2/3rd of his memoir to get into comedy, actually doing it, but it’s not like he wasn’t interested, well he was but he wasn’t. He thought and continues to mention throughout the book that he wrongly thought comedy was for special people. I think it’s important to read stories like Lee’s because not everyone has the divine providence to know what they want to do for a living all along or to assume it’s attainable, or even to know it’s a long shot and do it anyway.
Also, Lee’s naivety of not knowing what comedy was, but explaining not knowing it with the hindsight of experience is brilliant by itself. But with that hindsight came experience and knowledge and the process, specifically, the writing process is relevant to any aspiring writer. The fact that he didn’t know what he was doing, was at times good, because he didn’t know what he was up against, and bad because he actually knew what he was up against, but again, his story is important.
We can’t all be readily able and willing to decide what it is we want to do and then go for it. Lee takes that to heart in explaining where he comes from, and how we arrived at where he is now, a comedian famous enough for clips of his shows to be uploaded onto an international video platform where I, a person on the other side of the Atlantic from his home country, can see them, enjoy them, look for more, and eventually, want to know even more about him from himself, leading to the reading of Mack the Life, his autobiography, which I have just explained is great.
And, he is a comedian, and he doesn’t leave the funny at home. He puts it into his book, in the form of footnotes, parenthetical inferences, and a running throughline of visits to a psychiatrist’s office which precede every chapter. As Lee writes, “the visits to the psychiatrist in this book are genuine. Some scenes have been edited for the sake of brevity, but other than that are taken directly from recordings of the actual conversations.” Lee also includes his own thought process and internal monologues during these exchanges, and he utilizes these sections to two very important effects: he brings the funny, and sets up or recaps something that has happened or has yet to be.
It’s an absolutely brilliant approach, as a secondary commentary and secondary running throughline throughout the book, despite the fact that Lee, for the most part, doesn’t get ahead of himself and really does tell his life’s story in a linear fashion.
Again, I have very limited knowledge of the career and exploits of Lee Mack and I still thoroughly enjoyed the book. Plus, he nails one of the most mythical falsities in writing to the wall and burns it to the ground (I shouldn’t be mixing metaphors right now.)
The idea that you need to go somewhere to write… I’ve never really been on board with that and now Lee has further given voice to that: “There’s always the temptation when writing to go somewhere else to do it, the idea being that if you’re somewhere different, especially if you’re abroad or somewhere beautiful in the countryside, you’ll somehow be more inspired and write better stuff. This is a lie that the brain tells you, to allow it to procrastinate. The reason why ‘somewhere else’ feels better to write is that it needs to be arranged, and arranging it is easier than writing. It’s a way of putting off the inevitable; of just having to get on with it.“
So, go get the book, or maybe just watch a few episodes of Would I Lie To You and see if you enjoy Lee Mack first? But if you are indecisive, don’t know where you’re heading, or have no idea how to really get there, this book is for you. It may not seem like it because you don’t want to be a comedian, but it is. Lee’s perseverance, and his thought-processes which he doesn’t skimp on details of, are important to not only learn from but may give you the feeling that you’re not alone. Which can be as helpful as any advice you may pick up along the way.
So, get going already!
Read the Secret File of technical information and quotes from Lee Mack’s Mack the Life.