While some memoirs are incredibly complex and intrinsically difficult to categorize, most of the ones I’ve read tend to fit in one of two general groups: the experience-driven and the persona-driven. Avi Steinberg’s Running the Books exemplifies the experience-driven category. Steinberg was an unknown when his memoir was published, and that relative obscurity meant that most readers were not drawn to the book because of his persona or celebrity. It was the topic of the autobiography that caught the public’s attention--the fact that this young man had worked in a prison library and found a way to describe the disorienting experience with both clarity and depth.
Simon Pegg’s Nerd Do Well, on the other hand, is a prime example of the persona-driven category. Most readers will probably be drawn to it because they know who Pegg is or are familiar with his very clever work in Spaced, Hot Fuzz, Paul, and Shaun of the Dead. If you aren’t already familiar with Pegg, you might not find his autobiography very captivating. If you are a fan of these witty comedies, however, Nerd Do Well will delight you.
Nerd Do Well is not a dramatic autobiography. It isn’t filled with tawdry exploits or sensationalized anecdotes. Simon Pegg grew up in Gloucestershire, England, loved being funny, dutifully kissed Carrie Fisher’s photograph every night, and got involved with theatre. Then he kept working as a stand-up comic and writer until he found great collaborators and met powerful people who recognized his talent. It’s a fairly straightforward progression, and Pegg seems fully aware of the fact that his story isn’t a high-octane thrill ride. Rather than trying to spice things up through distortion or exaggeration, Pegg good naturedly defers to an alternate version of himself to provide the scintillating situations. Basically, throughout Nerd Do Well, Pegg invents a dialogue between his actual life and a fantasy scenario in which he is a more debonair 007. He even has a robot sidekick named Canterbury. These quirky fictionalized vignettes are amusing, and I appreciate Pegg’s honesty about his own life story.
Although Nerd Do Well isn’t rigidly structured, the fragments and anecdotes all seem to revolve around a central theme: the idea that Pegg is thrilled (and genuinely surprised) by the way in which his early love of “geek” culture (Dr. Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, and other awesome things) has led him to opportunities to meet his idols and become a creative force in the geek world he once admired from afar. It’s a “Wish Come True” scenario, but Pegg’s earnest humility about his success makes you feel like he completely deserves the good tidings fate has nudged in his direction.
Overall, Nerd Do Well is a fun read, and a great way to learn more about an accomplished British comic.