With help from a comedy writing bro, Neil Patrick Harris has turned the ordinary cash grab of a celebrity autobiography into a legen – wait for it – dary work of infotainment.
“Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography” pours the actor’s reminiscences into the mold of the Choose Your Own Adventure books for children, with mostly scrupulous fidelity to the format, including dead ends where you, the reader choosing in the guise of NPH, meet your glorious demise.
While only 41, Harris has plenty of material for a book: starring runs on the TV series “Doogie Howser, M.D.” and “How I Met Your Mother”; film roles in this year’s “Gone Girl,” the “Harold & Kumar” series and, of course, “The Smurfs”; online fame in Joss Whedon’s “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”; Broadway appearances, including a Tony Award for the title role in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”; and a busy calendar of televised awards shows hosting, including a future spotlight as host of the 2015 Academy Awards.
“Choose Your Own Autobiography” has something to say about all of those things. Beyond the famous proper nouns, it also tells the sweet story of a young boy who discovered magic and acting and pursued both, and the tale of a young man whose embrace of his gay identity took some time. David Javerbaum, former head writer for “The Daily Show,” worked with Harris on the book, and must be held at least half-responsible for its frequent, brilliant wit that nonetheless sounds completely in character for NPH. Former co-stars and friends contribute short pieces as well, including Penn Jillette, Sarah Silverman, Whoopi Goldberg, even Perez Hilton.
Scores get settled here, too, though often gently. Harris makes fun of a verbal dust-up with the more muscular actor Scott Caan outside a nightclub. He throws up his hands at the weeks he spent performing opposite the mercurial Anne Heche in “Proof.” He’s less forgiving of actor Dustin Diamond for past history, including things Diamond wrote about NPH in his own memoir.
In “Choose Your Own Autobiography,” Harris and Javerbaum keep pulling out one trick after another. After Harris writes about meeting David Burtka, the man who would become his partner and fellow parent of their two children, the authors have Burtka annotate and comment on what Harris wrote.
They improbably become friends with Sir Elton John and his partner, David Furnish, and their young children, hanging out at “a villa one can only assume Elton timeshares with God.” Elton’s lifestyle sounds like the jackpot thread a choose-your-own- adventure reader can only dream of finding: “Elton decided he wanted to get dinner at La Petite Maison, one of the best restaurants in all of France, and therefore the world. So his drivers and security people prepared two 1955 convertible Bentleys to chauffeur you and David B. in one car, Elton and David F. in another. And you cruised downhill through the streets of Nice as the perfect sun set over the perfect sea and people stared and waved, and all you could think was, I’m in a James Bond movie. I’m in a James Bond movie.”
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