13 June 2023

Review: Back Story by David Mitchell

Back Story by David Mitchell audiobook cover

I've only recently discovered the work of David Mitchell, and I don't mean the novelist who wrote Cloud Atlas. In fact, the author comments on just how often the two are confused, well not by each other obviously. I discovered British comedian David Mitchell's work a few months ago when deciding to read The Satsuma Complex by Bob Mortimer. I watched a few segments of Would I Lie To You? and David Mitchell made me laugh just as much - if not more - than Bob Mortimer. I had to check this guy out.

The audiobook sample for Back Story is a segment about the author's back pain and the fact that he's suffered from sciatica for years. He had my attention. After taking up walking, Mitchell's back pain improved and the additional exercise resulted in some unintentional weight loss. Back Story couldn't be a more apt title.

The writing and vocabulary made me chuckle and giggle, and the skeptical eyebrow in the introduction (along with a stellar delivery, as the author reads his own work) set the scene and prepared me for the laughs to come:
"You've probably guessed that all things new age tend to make me raise a skeptical eyebrow, and a skeptical fist, which I bang skeptically on the table while wryly starting a skeptical chant of fuck off, fuck off, fuck off, before starting skeptically to throw stuff and scream 'you can shove your trendy scientifically unsubstantiated bullshit up your uncynical anuses'. For me, sitting on a ball feels a bit wind chimes. It's got a touch of the homeopathic about it." Introduction
The skeptical eyebrow and skeptical fist still make me chuckle. This memoir is structured around a walk he is taking, and Mitchell regularly uses his surroundings to kick off a new thought or recount a memory in an entertaining way. There's much here about his time at university, sketch shows, pilots, panel shows, TV gigs and his acting career. 

When Mitchell is ranting on a topic, or discussing a particular encounter or behaviour, he had me in the palm of his hand. This anticipation of another chuckle is what sustained me through the content surrounding his work and the number of readings, auditions and meetings he attended in order to kick off, establish and then maintain his career.

I picked this up because I find David Mitchell funny, but I'm learning that doesn't mean I'll automatically love the respective comedian's memoir. In Back Story, there was way too much content about Robert Webb (Rob). I guess it's not too surprising given their career collaborations, and the fact they both served as best man at each other's respective weddings, but it was too much for this reader who didn't follow Mitchell and Webb or Peep Show.

David Mitchell is a likeable and funny guy, so learning he's self conscious and also admits to being vain was a complete surprise. Here's an example of what I mean:
"All I ever want is for my clothing, weight, haircut and smell to go unremarked on. I don't think I'm particularly handsome or particularly ugly. If I'm to be deemed acceptable or even likeable, it won't be because of my appearance. So my aim is that my appearance should in no way be noteworthy. But then again, not so un-noteworthy as to be in itself noteworthy. That's how I ended up with this haircut." Chapter 32
Back Story by David Mitchell was a laugh, but I think I'll wait awhile before reading And Away by Bob Mortimer in case it's more about the ins and outs of the comedian's career, rather than their thoughts and observations about life in the manner of authors like David Sedaris.

Published in 2012, Mitchell ends the memoir with his relationship and wedding to Victoria Coren in that same year. Back Story is about David's school, university and career progression, and choosing to end it when he meets his life partner and soul mate was an inspired decision. I understand this demarcation of life experience, and if the author ever pens another memoir, I suspect he'll start with the establishment of his family and all that followed.

Fans who have followed David Mitchell on TV and radio for years will no doubt thoroughly enjoy this. The author reminisces about shows he's worked on and people he's met and worked with, all of which were new to me. The chapter on Michael Palin was hilarious and an unforgettable highlight.

My Rating:

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