More than a biography, this is an account of the whole gamut of emotions and experiences that populate and define a life.
Readers better not expect a laugh fest starring the high-decibel, orange-haired father of George Costanza on Seinfeld. Stiller did play that role, years after the fade-out of the comedy act called Stiller and Meara, which brought fame to him and his wife Anne. But this book is not about the Seinfeld escapade. Likewise, anyone wanting to read about the dad of busy young actor Ben Stiller will find only a sentence or two about Ben's childhood and career. For the most part, Stiller's memoir inhabits another era entirely, where the author's idols were people like Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante, and where trips to vaudeville shows with his father gave him his love of theater. We cover a lot of territory: the immigrant experience of Stiller's mother and grandparents, life in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side during the first half of the 20th century, the Depression, growing up in a dysfunctional family (before that term was invented), and army life for an eager teenage recruit toward the end of WWII. We are also introduced to a more innocent time in show business, when the guy sweeping outside the theater could be the producer, and when you might get a part if you promised to also paint scenery. There's a lot of name-dropping here, but a little past the halfway mark, Stiller seems to settle down to a less anecdotal, more sincere presentation. In that final third of the book, Stiller describes his return to serious acting and strives to understand his marriage. In both areas, he struggles to find the real emotions he fears he has buried too deep.
Staying married and eliciting laughter: both are more of a challenge than the title might suggest. But if this requires more attention from the reader than expected, it also yields a more satisfying read.