Review: 3 comedians’ memoirs deliver laughs (and heartache) without the 2-drink minimum – SF Chronicle Datebook

If you think comedy memoirs are the stuff of fluff, think again.
In November alone, three new releases from Natasha Leggero, Steve Martin and Rob Delaney are set to further establish this nascent genre as a field filled with far more than ink-and-paper punch-line collections.
Leggero’s “The World Deserves My Children,” for instance, takes raising a child as the world careens toward disaster as its clever (yet sobering) premise. It shares a release date of Nov. 15 with “Number One Is Walking,” in which comedy legend Steve Martin tells stories from his career in cinema by means of cartoons crafted in partnership with New Yorker artist Harry Bliss.
Finally, Rob Delaney’s “A Heart That Works” arrives Nov. 29 and is less funny than it is outright phenomenal. Serving as a written act of grief, Delaney delves into the tragic death of his 2½-year-old son in 2018 with a book that is likely to find itself on many best-of-the-year lists next month.
Collectively, this trio offers a sterling representation of the broad variety of memoir work being published by comedic minds today. So hold the seltzer water, grab a bookmark and dive in.
The World Deserves My Children
By Natasha Leggero
(Gallery Books; 240 pages; $28)
Seemingly courting disaster, comedians Natasha Leggero and Moshe Kasher are not only married to one another but are now responsible for keeping a tiny human alive as well. Indeed, in 2018, the co-hosts of the popular “Endless Honeymoon” podcast welcomed the birth of their first child, a girl.
A frequent guest of Chelsea Handler, Leggero is a popular stand-up comic in addition to being the co-creator, star, writer and producer of the Comedy Central historical satire series “Another Period.” In her new, riotously funny parenting memoir, “The World Deserves My Children,” Leggero reveals how she arrived at the titular conclusion.
Despite having to undergo painful hormone treatments as part of a lengthy fertility struggle, Leggero eventually gives birth. That, of course, sets off a whole new chorus of concerns, like co-parenting a child in an age of climate catastrophes with a husband who has attended 17 consecutive editions of Nevada’s Burning Man festival.
Leggero’s memoir not only delves into life as a parent but also explores her own childhood, early career misadventures — including taking an improv class with Paris Hilton — and observations on married life. The latter is best exemplified in the book’s final chapter (“Fathers on Mothers, or Other Recommended Porn Search Terms”), which takes the form of a transcript of a conversation between Leggero and her husband.
It’s a delightful coda to a consistently uproarious look at the rocky roads that often line early motherhood as well as the moments that (hopefully) make it all worthwhile.
Number One Is Walking: My Life in the Movies and Other Diversions
By Steve Martin and illustrated by Harry Bliss
(Celadon Books; 256 pages; $30)
To say Steve Martin’s new memoir is drawn out would be no bold proclamation. Whether he appreciates the pun? Harder to say.
Marking his second collaboration with New Yorker cartoonist Harry Bliss, Martin’s “Number One Is Walking” is an illustrated romp through the comedian’s seminal silver-screen career. Covering a span of four decades, readers join Martin on the set of films like his 1979 breakout hit “The Jerk” and learn more about his many influential friendships with fellow Hollywood luminaries like director Mike Nichols and actor John Candy.
Largely playful, Martin and Bliss revel in frequent asides from the main narrative, be it to break the fourth wall on the page with wry observations or to horseshoe in an anecdote about the time a young Martin once went to Golden Gate Park with his banjo and unknowingly jammed with Jerry Garcia. Depicted in multi-panel comic vignettes — plus the occasional full-page spread — Martin’s words marry perfectly with Bliss’ signature pen strokes to provide a coffee-table compendium of funny yet sincere reflections from a star who has truly seen it all.
Whether recalling the day he had to stop at a local motorcycle bar to pee while still wearing an exaggerated prosthetic nose as part of his role for 1987’s “Roxanne” or offering tribute to Robin Williams and the time they spent together performing “Waiting for Godot” on Broadway, Martin’s warm reminiscences, complemented by Bliss’ engaging artwork, succeed in creating a book that offers chuckles and insights in equal measure.
A Heart That Works
By Rob Delaney
(Spiegel & Grau; 196 pages; $25)
Be warned: “A Heart That Works” is a book about literal heartbreak that may figuratively break yours.
Written with empathy and remarkable humor, comedian Rob Delaney and his wife found themselves grappling with unfathomable grief in 2018 following the death of their 2½-year-old son, Henry. In “A Heart That Works,” Delaney takes on the painful task of detailing the entirety of Henry’s brief, profoundly difficult life.
A testament to a child he’s both lost and will never be without, Delaney offers no easy answers as he recalls the cruel saga of his youngest child’s diagnosis, treatment and death from a brain tumor. Written in beautiful prose that occasionally veers into justifiable rage, Delaney’s words are rich with sorrow while also managing the even more astonishing feat of often being legitimately funny, as in a passage devoted to his battles with a British hospital answering-service robot over the proper pronunciation of “giraffe.”
As the star and creator of popular British sitcom “Catastrophe,” Delaney utilizes his talent for humor as a coping mechanism as he revisits many of the worst moments of his life. Doled out in appropriate doses, Delaney’s gift of levity is a necessary balm to consume a text that is often, undeniably, quite heavy.
But in addition to dread-filled hospital visits, agonizing treatment regimens and a pervading sense of helplessness that begins to cloud Delaney’s mind, “A Heart That Works” is also filled with beautiful moments, such as Delaney choosing to perform a story on BBC’s “CBeebies Bedtime Story” in Makaton — a language program of symbols, sign language and speech that Henry relied on toward the end of his life — in tribute to his late son.
Ultimately, it’s a memoir written as an act of therapy that will now further honor its subject’s legacy by providing a new source of clear-eyed, empathetic comfort for those who need it most.
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