The Tragic Clowns: An Analysis of the Short Lives of John Belushi, Lenny Bruce, and Chris Farley

The Tragic Clowns: An Analysis of the Short Lives of John Belushi, Lenny Bruce, and Chris Farley

I wanted to like this book, oh how I wanted to like this book. In fact, I wanted to love it. When I first read the description while perusing something else on amazon, I wanted it so badly, right then, at that moment that I created a kindle account and downloaded the kindle app to my iphone for the sole purpose of reading this book immediately.It's an ambitious undertaking, to compare and contrast men with such large personalities and who lived (in the case of Bruce) in different time periods and worlds. As an alternative to the standard method of biography writing, it is certainly unique and theoretically compelling. Additionally, the book contained information about all three of the comics profiled that I had no seen or read anywhere else, even though I have read extensively about each of them.

The author clearly did his homework in chasing down sources, locating detailed information about events in the comics' lives both those of adulthood and those of childhood. He also describes these events clearly and vividly. However, when it comes to drawing conclusions about the events and how they shaped the comics' lives and decision making, the author lapses into seventh grade guidance counselor mode. For example, in the preface he says “...perhaps these three lives can offer some insight into the kind of personalities that are unable to simply experiment with drugs without becoming horribly and severely addicted” Um, okay, if it was that simple. But it's not. Even the author's own research reveals that there were all poly drug users, and that their patterns of finding the most self destructive way to go about any activity: drinking, performing, finding and having sex, eating using drugs, etc was what ultimately led to each of their demises, rather than simple “horrible drug addiction”

The author's descriptions of the three men's childhoods also smacks of flat moralizing; and in case of the description of Bruce's mother, bordering on misogynistic. The whole effort was noble but ultimately rather disappointing.