Monday, September 06, 2010

“Laughing On The Outside” by Martin Knelman (Book Review)

Laughing On the Outside:  The Life Of John Candy by Martin Knelman

I just finished reading this book, which was published a couple of years after the death of comedian John Candy – an unauthorized biography by Canadian cultural journalist Martin Knelman. 

At the time he broke loose of these mortal coils, John Candy was an endless partier – someone who not only ate too much (330 lbs. at the time of his death but was, reportedly over 400 lbs. at one point, with a waist measuring in excess of 60 inches), but also. a man who drank far too much, worked more than he needed (as might be easily observed by his poor choice of scripts) and stayed up way too late, attempting to cajole newly – found friends and business partners. 

Laughing On The Outside” chronicles the tumultuous rise and fall of one of the great comic actors of TV and movies, the late (and sorely missed) John Candy.  Candy, who came up through the Toronto branch of the Second City comedy group and later gained fame through the syndicated television show “SCTV”, went on to become a major American movie star, despite many ill – conceived flops throughout his career.  Perhaps because of his likeable quality and apparent vulnerability, Candy was always able to transcend even the poorest of scripts to appeal to the common folks who could relate to the average guy he portrayed in most movies.

While generally well - written, the book collapses mostly from the fact that it is, at its source, admittedly an unauthorized biography.  By that, I mean simply the fact that many of Candy’s closest allies – his family, friends and collaborators – were most reluctant to participate in contributing to this work.  Why?  Well, for one thing, this book was published only two years after the comedian’s death – perhaps too little time had elapsed for loved ones to be able to remain objective about his life.  As a result, the few who did contribute – distant friends and business partners, mostly – gave (at best) second or third – hand tales about the book’s subject that may not necessarily have been the most insightful, albeit, arguably, the most objective.  Therefore, the book suffers from this absence of intimacy into the life of Candy – without the observations of his closest friends and especially his family, the book lacks the value a biography of this type could possibly have – the real explanations behind the tragic, untimely demise of this warm and wonderful comic actor who kept so very many of us enthralled in such movies as “Trains, Planes And Automobiles” and “Uncle Buck”. 

Perhaps another shortcoming if this biography is the fact that it was written such a brief time after Candy’s death.  John Candy died in the early spring of 1994 while shooting the movie “Wagons East” – the book was originally published in late 1996.  Would it have been a better book if written longer after his death?  Who knows?  It definitely would have been a different book – that’s for certain.  There is the saying that “time heals all wounds”; if this had been taken into consideration, maybe more people who knew Candy most intimately would have felt comfortable contributing to a piece on his life.  As it is, however, this work stands as something that was assembled in a superficial, hastily – written way.    Maybe someday, something more substantial will be published about the life of this magnificent comic that gave so many of us an incredible amount of entertainment – until then, however, fans will be left to speculate about both his fatherless upbringing and his premature death at the age of 43.