Like most fans of Simon Pegg, I first discovered him and his work with the seminal sitcom "Spaced" he co-wrote and co-starred in with Jessica Hynes (nee Stevenson), and ever since I've been delighted to see him and the phenomenally inventive director Edgar Wright create some of the funniest and best-made films around ("Shaun Of The Dead" and "Hot Fuzz"). With this autobiography, I was eager to read the behind-the-scenes journey of how Pegg ascended from fan to creator and how these beloved shows and films got made.
Let me first say that there's much about this book that I really enjoyed. The majority of it focuses on Pegg's childhood and school career and there are some fond, well-told reminiscences of his early influences in theatre and comedy, teachers who inspired and spurred him on, and even his first faltering steps into sex and romance (including a sweetly-told anecdote of his love for a French exchange student), along with a colourful general background of growing up in Gloucester.
We also get a few mini-essays, in which Pegg goes off on a tangent to share his often insightful thoughts on, say, the cultural significance of the original "Star Wars" trilogy or the symbolic meaning behind zombies in classic horror films.
However, there's also much about this book that disappointed / frustrated me, and will probably disappoint a lot of other Pegg fans.
Firstly, the narrative is wilfully scattershot, jumping back and forth a lot, which makes it hard to keep track of when we are in Pegg's life and what happened in which year. It can also make it feel as if certain stretches of the narrative go on forever, as we keep jumping back to an event we've already read about, whilst other events are referred to obliquely out of context but never actually placed in time.
Secondly, the autobiography is interspersed with chapters of a (fake) novel that Pegg is writing. This novel is written as a parody of self-aggrandizing fan fic, in which Pegg depicts himself as a jet-setting secret agent with a robot butler; the 'poor' writing is quite funny and nicely observed, and the chapters are brief and infrequent, so this element probably wouldn't bother me if it weren't that:
Thirdly, and most frustrating, there's hardly anything about the making of "Spaced", his films or his working and personal relationships with Jessica Hynes, Edgar Wright et al. This is undoubtedly what many Pegg fans will be salivating for when buying this book and there's a crushing disappointment that comes in realising that, with only 50 pages of book left to go, this whole period of Pegg's life is just going to be skimmed over.
Ultimately, this is the autobiography that Simon Pegg wanted to write; not necessarily the one that some of his fans would want to read. What is featured in this book is interesting, well-told and often poignant; however, it's unavoidably overshadowed by what ISN'T featured, whilst the book could also have benefitted from some tighter or more straightforward structuring. Now that the hardback price has come down, well worth a try with those caveats in mind.
on 13 September 2011
Perhaps I expected too much but I found this to be a bit of a disappointment. It's well-written, but the narrative is a little scattershot; bouncing around history, invariably repeating bits and pieces and never really concentrating on the stuff I suspect many of his fans want in focus. While autobiographies are, by their very nature, self-indulgent (a fact that Pegg admits early on), often I get the feeling that he wants to dwell too much on his childhood and not enough on the things that gave him a wider audience. I can understand that he'd rather reminisce about being a youngling than talking about the stuff he discusses all the time but, to be frank, his childhood isn't particularly out of the ordinary and is neither sombre nor hilarious. Plus, I got a little irritated by the frequent concept of "If I'd only known in 20 years time that I would get to meet the director of this film..." if only because it starts to get a little conceited.
Spaced, Star Trek, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are skimmed over. What we get instead are sporadic chapters devoted to a "novel" that Pegg is, supposedly, writing. An interesting idea but, after a couple of entries, the jokes wears pretty thin and I invariably starting skipping them.
Don't get me wrong; there's some really nice stuff in here (a chapter on a frenchgirl he had a crush being the standout) but if you want Simon Pegg discussing "the things you saw him in", this isn't it.
Over the last ten years Simon Pegg has risen from being a minor stand-up comic to one of the UK's most recognisable funny men, via the classic TV series Spaced and the movies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. He's also become a sort-of ambassador and spokesman for geek culture due to his well-known love of all things SF&F (only don't mention the Star Wars prequels in his presence).
This autobiography is an interesting read but ultimately fails to entirely satisfy. Pegg himself seems to frequently cast aspersions on the project, pointing out that most celebrity bios are rubbish and a bit pointless. Whilst Pegg has certainly had an interesting enough career to cover in a book (moving from unknown stand-up to having Spielberg, Romero, Tarantino and Peter Jackson on his mobile phone contacts list), much of this 'interesting stuff' gets short shrift. Instead, the book focuses on Pegg's childhood, teenage years and upbringing in Gloucestershire.
Pegg writes engagingly, but eschews any type of chronological structure in favour of a thematic one, although this doesn't work well. As such the book bounces around the timeline of his life fairly randomly as he recounts various childhood incidents. Some of these are very funny, but the problem Pegg has is that he had a perfectly ordinary, middle-class upbringing in the 1970s and 1980s. Despite his strong geek credentials, he wasn't really a stereotypical geek at school either. Indeed, he was exuberant, out-going and arty, and even spent a brief period bullying younger and smaller children at school (until, not entirely unsympathetically, one of his victims grew up to be much bigger than him and eventually exacted revenge). His recounting of friendships and early romantic entanglements is rather endearing, but the book only really gets interesting when we get insights into events that were clearly influential on his later acting and writing.
For example, arguably the three finest chapters in the book deal with Star Wars. The first two recount his early exposure to the trilogy and his essay on the trilogy's impact on popular culture and cinema of the period. The third analyses the prequel trilogy and where exactly George Lucas went wrong (which might feel redundant if it wasn't then illuminated by a conversation between Pegg and Lucas at the end which features Lucas's eye-popping admission that he shouldn't have been making the same movie over and over again for thirty years). These sections are great, contrasting Pegg as the young kid exposed to this huge, zeitgeist-defining shift in pop culture and as the older adult confronting a cynical marketing and toy-selling exercise. A further chapter where Pegg recollects his friendship with Nick Frost and their frequent patronage of a local pub is also brilliant, as we start seeing the genesis of Shaun of the Dead in the duo's refusal to try other hostelries. There's also some solid anecdotage here, such as the time they invited Gillian Anderson to join them for an X-Files-themed pub quizz night and knew more about the show than she did, or when they convinced Chris Martin of Coldplay to let the pub have the band's second album for the jukebox weeks before its official release.
Similar gems are sprinkled through the book, such as the time Pegg and (frequent collaborator and director) Edgar Wright won an argument with a mickey-taking Quentin Tarantino, or when Pegg donned a Batman Joker mask to traverse Comic-Con to get stuff signed without being stopped by Shaun of the Dead fans, but the good stuff is few and far between. Pegg, somewhat bafflingly, says that he can't get into the nuts and bolts of his professional career without risking offending anyone. As a result, we get only a small amount of writing about Shaun of the Dead, a little on Spaced and his new movie, Paul, and virtually nothing on Hot Fuzz. Given that the latter film was much-inspired by Pegg and Wright's Gloucestershire upbringing and could have been thematically linked to the earlier formative recollections, this feels like a missed opportunity.
Every few chapters Pegg drops in a chapter from a non-existent novel in which Simon Pegg, international agent provocateur, the best-dressed man in Europe and lover extraordinaire, battles the machinations of an evil enemy with the assistance of his robot butler and bodyguard Canterbury (absolutely not based on Threepio from Star Wars, apparently) whilst being frustrated by his inability to quote from The Shawshank Redemption correctly. These sections are amusing, but thankfully brief, given their reliance on the same few jokes.
Nerd Do Well (***) is readable and somewhat entertaining, but also disappointing: the author doesn't really talk about the things that made him famous and his life story is pretty straightforward with no major drama to recount. As such it's a fun but disposable read crying out for a much more in-depth sequel. The book is available now in the UK and in June 2011 in the USA.
on 7 January 2011
having always been quite a fan of spaced, shaun and the like, i was quite excited to pick up simon pegg's biography, but its very insubstantial. i thought the first warning sign was when he mentioned he a, was very private and didnt like talking about himself, and b, he didnt have a burning desire to write a autobiography, it was more that the publisher offered.
a great deal (maybe 80-90%) of the book is based on his childhood, and uni years, and only a very slender amount towards the end actually covers the tv shows and movies that most people would be reading this book for. it just seems very sparse, yet padded.
i didnt hate it, it was funny, but i wasnt racing to pick it up either.
on 16 February 2011
Whilst a big fan of Simon's work in TV and films and his bromance with Nick Frost, I found this book to be ultimately disappointing.
Firstly, a word of warning- if you are not that in to star wars or like me, see it as a well made film for its time but nevertheless, a tad over-rated, then much of this book will annoy you. He harps on and on about star wars and goes into thesis type review of the meanings behind the film etc. I am a self-confessed film buff but this just went on a bit.
Also, intercutting the chapters with a spoof Bond-style story of Pegg's own creation seemed both distracting and a tad self-indulgent.
I was hoping to learn more about behind the scenes and the making of spaced, sean, hot fuzz etc but very little of the book is about that.
Be careful what you are after here if looking to purchase- if you want a book telling you about Simon's childhood and uni years and if you love star wars, you'll like the book. If, like me, you wanted to know more about his professional life and background to the shows and have average opinions about star wars, probably not for you.
There are at least two kinds of autobiographies: the ghost-written, orange-tanned "Heat" celebrities who are famous for being famous and then there is the Sir Ranulph Fiennes type , who have a lifetime of honourable achievement to look back and reflect upon. While not at the level of the former, Simon Pegg's Nerd Do Well certainly isn't in the latter camp either.
It takes a special kind of conceitedness to have written an autobiography by the time you are forty (albeit not achieving Kenneth Branagh-levels of self-satisfaction). Perhaps Simon Pegg is marking the end of a significant chapter of his life and the beginning of a new one. Regardless, Nerd Do Well is a lightweight but entertaining, nostalgic journey of fairly average abilities of self-discovery, couched in an ironic, self-effacing manner.
The first two thirds of this book are mostly entertaining, concerning as they do a young lad's formative experiences growing up in a small English country town and the whole rites-de-passage thing (or right of passage, as the French would say). The final third is essentially the same celebrity anecdote repeated with variations: "And then I met [famous name] - if only my younger self could see me now, he would probably soil himself!" So we get to hear about Pegg visiting the mall where Dawn of the Dead was filmed, meeting actors from Star Wars and that kind of thing.
Intercutting all this is a funny piece of deliberately bad science fiction in which Pegg the rugged action hero (along with his faithful gold robotic butler, Canterbury, who is nothing at all like CP30), foils the overly elaborate plot of some fiendish criminal mastermind.
It seems that some readers are unhappy that there is not much information about the making of Spaced et al but I would suggest that the dvds have more than enough material covering this facet of Pegg's life.
That said, if you enjoy Simon Pegg's authorial voice, you'll find a lot that tickles you in his modest autobiography. Witty and diverting, Nerd Do Well is a quick and easy read, in the same vein as Peter Kay's The Sound of Laughter.
on 12 July 2011
I enjoyed this book, but I wanted to like it so much more. Not just because it's by and about Simon Pegg, whose work in TV and film I've broadly enjoyed (Scotty aside) for many years. I desperately wanted it to be outstanding because my other half really struggles to find books that she thinks I'll enjoy, and as this was one of those hen's teeth rarities I wanted the experience to be more than worth her hard-earned cash.
On the surface, what with the title and three generous inserts of Shaun of the Dead behind-the-scenes photos and snaps of the author with nerd media giants like Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarrantino, I fully expected a ride through the post-Spaced glory years. Instead, what you'll find is a detailed and slightly overwrought portrait of Simon Pegg's life from primary school to twenty-something jobbing comic actor.
The book is written in a way that bobs back and forth between past and near-present, so he does get to mention briefly the crowd-pleasing high points of Spaced and Shaun of the Dead. There are brief mentions of shows like asylum and Big Train, which show how surprisingly extensively he'd worked on the high-numbered cable and terrestrial TV channels and as part of Steve Coogan's live tour troupe before Spaced made him an overnight success. There's also a scatter of mentions for the less well-loved but box-office friendly Paul, released in theatres uncannily and coincidentally close to the original hardback publication of Nerd Do Well.
If you come looking for nerd validation you will be disappointed. It turns out the nerd persona Simon Pegg has traded on for the past decade and a half is a bit of a cheat. He writes at great length about how he grew up with Star Wars and became a big fan. There's an honourable mention for Tom Baker as Doctor Who. He's also seen the same horror movies as every 1980s single male who had a local video rental shop. He name-checks the usual suspects like The Evil Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and inevitably George Romero, but quite tellingly he repeatedly thumbs his nose at the true horror nerd's choice Last House on the Left.
The mildly annoying truth is that Simon Pegg is much more alpha male than he cares to admit. Where most card-carrying nerds struggle with interpersonal skills and freeze in terror in the face of women, he has clearly always been a charming attention-seeker and very successful with the laydees. In fact, the young Pegg's nerd cover is quite literally blown in his bedroom before he was of legal drinking age, and he goes on to enjoy what I'd described as a meteoric and categorically un-nerdish rise in experience and expertise in the squelchy arts.
What you'll discover above all else is that Simon Pegg is a great big luvvie. He's not the worst kind of stage school kid but he has always been in the business of show. His mum was big in local theatre and his dad's band was on Opportunity Knocks. His formative years are a roughly equal mix of sexual awakening and Amateur dramatics, and from the point he was able to make the academic choice drama became the focus of his life. The main and worst example of his hard-core luvviness comes quite late, as he describes how he and costar flatmate Nick Frost turned their spit-and-sawdust local pub into a haven for the rising stars of the pre-millennium, name-dropping backstage best mates Chris Martin from Coldplay (CLANG!) and X-Files star Gillian Anderson (CLANG!) like a premier league old-school theatrical.
I certainly expected the book to be a lot more laugh-out-loud funny. Either the man himself or his often-mentioned editor "Ben from Random House" must have eventually worked out that a distinct lack of laughs and hard-core nerdery was going to threaten the appeal to the book's core audience. It's the only thing I can think of to explain the clunky addition of the self-mocking, fake-fan-fiction adventure story threaded between every other chapter.
There's a chilling connection that's made somewhere after the half way point, when Simon Pegg raises the ghost of the Young Ones as a defining comedy touchstone. A little later we learn he did his university-qualifying A-levels at the arts college alma mater of Young Ones co-creator Ben Elton. Much like Spaced, the Young Ones was the comic finger on the pulse of its time - admittedly the pulse you'd take with a fully extended middle finger rammed into a soft, dark, private place - and Ben Elton co-produced the properly classic Blackadders, much as Simon Pegg co-produced his own instant classic in Shaun of the Dead. Ben Elton is now, of course, fabulously wealthy and broadly reviled as the worst kind of mainstream sellout.
Little bit of social politics ....
The book mainly deals with Simon Pegg's growing pains and digresses often into over-long sixth form essays on the artistic merits or otherwise of the Star wars six-ology. The one thing I was pleasantly surprised by here, having worked for some time with a blinkered Lucasfilm camp-follower, is the hard-won realisation that George Lucas probably wasn't entirely honest about his allegedly super-detailed plan for the series, and has basically been making it all up as he goes along.
on 20 November 2010
If you are already sufficiently intersted in Pegg to be contemplating buying this book then do it. Despite Pegg's protestations that he didn't want to write a typical celeb biog there isn't much here that deviates from that format. He admits as much himself. Nevertheless, it is entertaining, frequently laugh out loud funny and covers all the things fans would want it to. For once it is safe to judge a book buy its cover. Like Pegg? In the mood to read a biog? Then look no further!
on 12 July 2011
I was really excited to get this book, as I have been a fan of Simon Pegg's for years and was sure that his autobiography would bring me as much laughter as his other work. While a lot of it is very amusing (especially the captions to the photos I thought), a massive chunk of the book is dedicated to his childhood, while all the bits that fans really want to know about (most of his adult life, the making of Spaced, relationships with the people involved in all his films etc) are skipped over. The book is interspersed with a fictional story which is marginally entertaining, but reuses the same jokes repeatedly - it would probably have been better to leave that bit as just one chapter, I did find myself speed-reading through them after a while.
It's an entertaining book, but not gripping.
To be fair, there is a review by M Board that is so accurate as to make my thoughts a little superfluous.
While interesting and well written it absolutely nails what makes Simon Pegg tick and the influences and co-incidences that have had an impact on his life. There is an amazing karma which places Pegg in finds himself as an adult meeting his idols and participating in their work.
But I think most readers will want more than this, they want to understand Mr Pegg's background but they also want to hear about the friends he worked with (Nick Frost in particular) and his on screen adventures. Spaced is barely touched on and Start Trek likewise. Shaun of the Dead gets more coverage because of a running zombie theme but it is bizarre the way Pegg holds back certain information while sharing so much on his childhood.
The book also has a mini comedy novel spread between the chapters, a humorous take on Pegg himself as a secret agent type with a robot sidekick - okay but a waste of pages that could have been spent on stuff the fans might have preferred to read about.
I have no doubt he wrote this himself, his humour and wonder does come through and he shares some mini essays on things like Star Wars that demonstrate he understands his craft, he is obviously a smart guy and you can imagine what great company he must be, but as an autobiography I have to say it has some significant failings.