We gave it a B
Joel McHale’s memoir Thanks for the Money: How to Use My Life Story to Become the Best Joel McHale You Can Be is not your typical celebrity memoir because it’s a satire of a celebrity memoir.
Books of this ilk have peaked in recent years since the release of Tina Fey’s excellent best selling memoir Bossypants in 2011. Stars like Amy Schumer, Bruce Springsteen, Laura Jane Grace, and more have shed new light on the genre, but some memoirs by the rich and famous can become predictable in their format, with musings on stars’ beginnings, highs, lows, and never-before-told stories.
Who better then to write a takedown of this genre than McHale, who rose to fame with his searing commentary on the exploits of reality stars on E!’s talk show The Soup? And he doesn’t hold back.
McHale portrays a caricature of himself, a guy who doesn’t remember his kids’ names while celebrities constantly tell him to get away from them. He begins the book with a meta-literary forward about his decision to write the next few hundred pages. It’s simple: he needs more money, and what can a celebrity do if they need more money? Write a memoir! He observes that celebrity books take the form of a memoir/self-help book. And so, his autobiography is dutifully split into those two sections. Part one is all about his life and career, with chapter titles like “The Beast Awakens: Childhood Stories That Give the Impression That I Am Relatable and Decent,” and “Some Stuff About My Parents: A Passive-Aggressive Glimpse at the People I Will Eventually Turn Into.” In the second part, he tells readers what he’s learned and coaches them on how to become a rich, successful celebrity like him. Topics include how to get a celebrity body and what air travel is like when you’re famous. In the final pages, he instructs readers on how to write their own celebrity memoir. The satire’s crowning moment is when McHale writes that all celebrity memoirs and their cover designs fit into one of eight categories, and proves the notion with spot-on parody covers.
Thanks for the Money does include the showbiz stories and career-based reflections that one might find in a traditional memoir, but they are heavily padded by the self-deprecating tone and unending jokes. He tells his side of what went down during his notorious fight with Chevy Chase on the set of Community. And he doesn’t hold back his frustration about NBC’s ham-handed treatment of the show, which was beloved by fans and critics but never soared in the ratings. McHale makes his requisite celebrity memoir confessions—he has dyslexia and has gotten two hair transplants—but the revelations are marred by his flippant tone.
Although the jokes that derive from the concept grow stale after a while, Thanks for the Money is a clever, much-needed antidote to the age of celebrity book deals. If the tide can’t be stopped, at least it can be mocked.