First, the standard disclaimer. I’ve enjoyed Simon Pegg’s work for years, from his radio appearances on BBC Radio 4’s The 99p Challenge to television in Big Train and Spaced, and into the world of films like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Sure, I didn’t like the Abrams Star Trek reboots, in which Pegg (for reasons only known to the tortured soul of the director) plays Scotty, but who in their right mind did? Anyway.
There is a cliché repeated by Pegg in Nerd Do Well which suggests that one should never meet one’s heroes, or even just people that one admires. To that I would add a rider: one probably should avoid reading their autobiographies too. At least, in many cases. Well, in this case.
I really wanted to like this book. Don’t misunderstand. It’s just that on the whole, I didn’t.
For a start, “celebrity” biography is not an area in which I would ever read. It was really only my fond memories of Spaced, and my enjoyment of Shaun of the Dead, that led me to think: “It’s only the Kindle edition. No one will ever see it on my otherwise upright and serious shelves.” But even without the possibility of a public shaming at the hands of some hypothetical bookish observer, there are lots of problems with Nerd Do Well. The most egregious is the damned “book within a book”… there’s a conceit at play here, namely that there are two books running in parallel in Nerd Do Well. One section is the conventional biography, and the other is what I can only described as the sort of absurdist fantasy which might have been churned out by a precocious fourteen year-old after a steady diet of comic books, soft-core pornography and Ribena Spark. In this part, Pegg portrays himself as a sort of man-of-action cum super-hero, with a robot butler, a tasty nemesis called Murielle (AKA “the Scarlet Panther” for reasons best known to herself and otherwise unclear at present), and an uber-villain simply called “Lord Black”, which of course made me think of the Anglo-Canadian spendthrift and former media baron, but who had nothing at all to do with that. Apparently.
The conventional biography tells of the normal sorts of things: schooling, copping off with pseduonymous females (and I’m sorry, but if I were the girl designated as “Meredith Catsanus”, I’d be livid), the uncertainty of a child of divorce, desire for attention, and the eventual lucky breaks that led to first the stand-up circuit, then television, then media “celebrity.” Pretty much in that order, and at that level of detail. When not jumping back and forth between the absurd story of Pegg vs. Scarlet Panther vs. Lord Black and a modicum of biographical detail, it seems as though nothing is really being said about the people involved. I would have been more interested in amusing tales, never mind scandalous details, of working with the people with whom Pegg has worked in his career. Even when the biographical parts are interesting, they appear to have entirely failed to have been edited, with the result that things happen out of sequence or without sufficient preamble, for no narrative purpose other than to confuse and annoy the reader.
I think about this book and its writer from time to time, and in the months and years that have elapsed since I read it, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have changed. I don’t find “nerd culture” cute: indeed, it’s a stupid, ridiculous concept embraced by people who have no concept of their own cartoonishness. I’ve grown out of my extended adolescence, the sort which we are all expected to have now, evidently (to judge by the proliferation of superhero stupidity which is marketed at us, collectively, like a plague of pen-and-ink locusts). I’m not impressed by celebrity, nor by its conceits. And Nerd Do Well was a celebration of all of these, glossed with a light frothing of autobiography.
In short, Pegg recounts stories that have less of Barry Cryer about them than one would have liked – not really gossipy, warm, fondly-recalled, or any of that. This book was probably ten – possibly twenty – years premature. Honestly, I hope that in such a span, Pegg tries again, because I genuinely do find him to be a funny, original, and creative entertainer (if you take out all of the film criticism nonsense and just focus on the story at hand). I suspect that there’s a good book to be written about some of these years, and I’m disappointed to find that this wasn’t it.
Originally reviewed 4 September 2011.
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