Writing the book on self-mockery

By James Rampton

Comedian Miranda Hart's memoir gives her teenage self a good talking to.

Miranda Hart is glad her comedy makes others feel better about themselves. Photo / Supplied
Miranda Hart is glad her comedy makes others feel better about themselves. Photo / Supplied

Miranda Hart sighs with mock horror as she recalls a particularly traumatic incident from her childhood.

"A pigeon once landed on my head, and that's scarred me for life," she explains. "But now we've come full circle and the story makes good dinner party conversation."

Indeed, Hart has made a bit of an art of revisiting mortifying moments.

Her hit BBC sitcom, Miranda, in which she plays an exaggerated version of herself, a klutzy joke shop owner who is unlucky in love and life, has won a string of awards.

Although the show follows a storyline, its comedy is rooted in the same turf as Hart's stand-up - taking the mickey out of herself and drawing on her wealthy supply of humiliating moments.

She makes the most of her 1.85m frame which, rather than being imposing, only serves to make her more endearing to viewers, particularly on the many occasions she falls over on screen.

Reflecting on the popularity of the show, she says: "It's very hard to be objective about it, but I think it works because everyone feels an idiot at times."

Off-screen too, she says she has a tendency to be open and direct, which can have amusing consequences.

"I don't like small talk. My friends will say to me before Mary arrives, 'Don't mention Mary's divorce'.

"Then the first thing I say when Mary comes through the door is, 'Tell me all about your divorce,' Come on, she wants to talk about it and I'm desperate to hear about it. So let's crack on.

"That openness comes across, and maybe people warm to that."

It clearly pays off, and fans often approach Hart in the street to tell her they relate to her sitcom persona.

"A lot of parents come up to me and say, 'Thank you. Since watching your sitcom my daughter feels better about herself. She says, "At least I'm not as bad as Miranda - I can relax about my life!".'

"That's a real compliment," Hart proudly adds.

It is a compliment that Hart's younger self would have been wise to have taken on board, if the star's new book is anything to go by.

Is It Just Me?, which runs through some of the more squirm-inducing incidents of her life, is predicated on the dialogue between the adult Hart and her Neighbours-obsessed teenage self, and delivers advice borne out of bitter personal experience on how to navigate life's more testing times.

There are moments of typical self-deprecation, such as when the star compares her looks to "a sack of offal that's been drop-kicked down a lift shaft into a pond".

Explaining the idea behind the project, Hart says: "It's the concept of talking to my younger self. Since my sitcom has done well, I've often thought, 'Imagine what my 13-year-old self would think about what has happened to me'."

The reason behind the title is, she says, "just to double-check".

"It's like when you are with your girlfriends and you say to them, 'This could only have happened to me'.

"But it's also inviting the sense that we have common ground. Like the sitcom character Miranda, I'm saying, 'We're all a bit like that, so don't worry'. It's good for people to feel that they have something in common."

Despite the huge success of Miranda, Hart has made no secret of the fact that she is not a fan of the writing process. She thinks inventing stories is "very dreary" and has said previously: "I'm just there in my pyjamas in the afternoon, crying over my laptop."

But it seems Is It Just Me? was an altogether more enjoyable experience, despite the challenge of dredging up long-forgotten childhood memories. "I have a terrible memory," she concedes. "I had to ring lots of friends and family and say, 'What happened?'

"But I loved the experience of coming to new realisations about myself as I was remembering the past. For instance, as I was writing the chapter on holidays, I realised that I was a natural adventurer and had forgotten that. The book did make me learn much more about myself, and that was really positive. Ultimately, it was like doing therapy, only cheaper. And much more fun."

Hart, who turns 40 in December, was educated at the prestigious girls' school Downe House in Berkshire. Despite reading politics at university, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders were her heroes and she knew she wanted a career in comedy.

She won roles in shows such as Smack The Pony, Absolutely Fabulous and Not Going Out, but it was with Miranda that she achieved recognition in Britain.

She was nominated for a best supporting actress TV Bafta for her role in the drama Call The Midwife.

There is no doubt that her career is going swimmingly, and Hart hopes her book will offer some comfort that "life gets better as we get older".

"We all feel awkward, insecure and shy, but we also all feel more confident as life moves on," she says.

"It sounds a bit naff to say it, but we should all try to follow our dreams, and the sooner we admit that, the better."

TV profile
Who: British comedian Miranda Hart
What: Her autobiography Is It Just Me?
Also: Hart is a guest on The Graham Norton show tonight, TV3, 8.30


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