Tony Hendra’s daughter explains why she went public with the story of his incestuous sexual abuse.
Tony was one of the guiding lights of the National Lampoon during its glory days in the 1970s. In his bestselling memoir, Father Joe (2004), he wrote in very vague terms of his “misplaced sexual guilt.” Reading rave reviews that commended Tony for his supposed honesty, his daughter Jessica was shocked. At no point in the book, she saw, did he acknowledge the times that he forced her to commit incest. She decided to finally talk about her secret, in a public way that prompted an investigation by the New York Times. Her excellent memoir starts at this shocking moment, then winds back to tell the story of her life with Tony in a clipped, naturalistic voice. A British comedian who had once performed with John Cleese, Tony moved to L.A. to work in television, but never got a big break. Jessica was six years old in 1971 when the family relocated to New Jersey to further her father’s career. Not long after that, the first abuse happened, quickly followed by publication in the Lampoon of Tony’s disturbing and purportedly funny piece that gives Jessica’s memoir its title. (As depicted here, much of Tony’s “humorous” writing seems more like an attempt to rub people’s faces in his own emotional problems.) In gripping, straightforward prose, Jessica depicts her childhood among frenetically drug-fueled and rage-prone comics like John Belushi and Saturday Night Live writer Michael O’Donoghue. She lays out in an unadorned fashion her drift into self-hatred and anorexia, as well as Tony’s increasing megalomania, sexual obsessions and drug consumption. It’s hard not to see him as a monster—a label that Jessica assiduously avoids in her uncommonly fair and evenhanded memoir.
A polished and touching piece of work.