By Andreas Kessaris for Curtains Up!
“You know what my father asked me after I won my first Tony Award? He said. ‘Now do you think you’ll get a break?’”
For me 1975 to 1985 was a great era for comedy; a time when a talented group of young actors, writers and comedians came out of the Second City comedy troupes in Chicago and Toronto and went on to Saturday Night Live and SCTV. Growing up I watched them on the tube, went to their movies, and relished their appearances on Carson or Letterman. While all the other kids talked about their favorite athletes or pop stars, my heroes were these funny people that no one else at Barclay Elementary or Outremont High seemed to know or care about. (I guess that explains my popularity at school.)
Andrea Martin, “Canada’s favorite illegitimate child,” was one of the original members of the legendary SCTV program that aired on the CBC, NBC, and later Cinemax, with co-stars that included the irrepressible Martin Short and the legendary John Candy. But while many remember her for the colourful characters she portrayed like untalented talk-show host Libby Wolfson, remarkably uptight sex therapist Dr. Cheryl Kinsey, or my personal favorite, the gutsy and gregarious Edith Prickley, many do not know that she is a multiple Emmy and Tony Award-winning performer with a long and successful career on the Broadway stage, and a respected film and TV character actress. Martin discusses that, as well as her personal life, her battles with mental illness and bulimia, trying to balance her professional life and being a single mom, and the trials of aging in show business in her new book, Andrea Martin’s Lady Parts.
Lady Parts is not a traditional, linear biography, but rather a series of essays, musings and anecdotes divided into five sections that cover most aspects of Martin’s life. She avoids the sins of many other autobiographers who feel that every detail is important, and she doesn’t try to overreach; as a result she comes off as genuine and likable. The book itself is not a laugh riot, nor with its many serious passages is it intended to be so. I was pleasantly surprised there were no attempts to make a joke at the end of every sentence, like many other celebrities known for comedy unfortunately try to do with annoying consequences. To her credit the sober sections work (like when she writes about her nervous breakdown and relationship with her parents), as do the factious (like when she writes a passage as the aforementioned Edith Prickley). And when she does use humour it is energetic, perky, and little silly (she also employs a number of inside jokes, so anyone reading Lady Parts who is unfamiliar with Martin’s style or her work will probably find themselves at times scratching their heads).
If I have one real complaint it’s that the section on SCTV is so sparse, but it’s not really fair for me to hold that against Lady Parts. After all, it didn’t promise or pretend to be that. I just wish it had more. (Years ago I read an excellent book called Live From New York by Tom Shales & James Andrew Miller that was a definitive history of SNL and I am still waiting for someone to do the same for SCTV…they certainly deserve it.)
Ultimately, while the effort did not yield any great writing, I at least enjoyed Andrea Martin’s Lady Parts enough to recommend it, but mainly to fans of Ms. Martin or SCTV.