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Life of a Funny Man Not Always a Chuckle
Anything for a Laugh is a memoir reflecting on the life of a great Canadian humourist, writer and playwright.

Eric Nicol discusses his parents' origins and what brought them to Canada,, his childhood in Vancouver and Nelson, BC, wartime service in the Royal Canadian Air Force, followed by careers in the entertainment industry.

All this biography is couched in marvellous Nicol wit, as befits a three-time winner of the Stephen Leacock medal for humour.

He name drops often, as one who is acquainted with many well-known Canadians.

At the same time, we see that life as a celebrity isn't all glory and roses. We see how it takes hard work to achieve fame and maintain it. In the course of this, his family suffers. Relationships with family members become difficult to maintain. A writing career does not easily co-exist with family ties.

Although he now has a good relationship with his children, and is on good terms with his first wife, it is obvious that in this part of his past, there are regrets. The numerous funny lines and anecdotes cannot totally mask the underlying regret.

Nicol admits that he was a person who often worked much too long, to his family's detriment. Another regret he expresses is that he believes he did not adequately express his thanks and gratitude to his parents before they died.

A book chronicling triumphs and mistakes, Anything for a Laugh is a frank, open and upfront dissertation on a human life.

Nichol contends that society takes celebrity status too seriously. Movie stars and great writers are just people too - sometimes with bigger problems, at least in terms of press coverage.

I enjoyed the book; it had me laughing, while also giving me an opportunity to reflect on the benefits and problems of the famous.

-Mark Spilchuk, The Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Not So Funny Anymore
Humour in the '90s just isn't very funny, says Eric Nicol, one of Canada's most beloved writers.

Nicol, whose column appeared in the Vancouver Province for more than 40 years, has just published his memoirs, and hopes they will give his many fans a jolt of laughter they may be missing.

"There is a whole new context of humour now which seems to be a bit on the blue side," says the 78-year-old three-time winner of the Stephen Leacock award for humour.

"Adults are like kids who are laughing at naughty words instead of turns of phrase or a form of elegance.

"These days you have to be a Don Cherry wearing a funny collar and spouting arrogance to get a laugh, which I think is not all that great," Nicol says during an interview from his Vancouver home.

His own sense of jest comes more from suffering, he says.
"I am awkward socially and so I am not comfortable in a great variety of circumstances. And being uncomfortable is a basis for humour."

Nicol is often self-deprecating in his memoirs, Anything for a Laugh, ($28.95). Some of the skits and stories he wrote at school as an "attention-getting device of a very shy kid."

He was never lonely, he says.

"I've always been my own best company and I've always lived in a world of my own head."

Nicol was born in 1919 in Kingston, Ont., the only child of "a handsome young stud" and a woman who "rolled her stockings, wore high heels to make breakfast and smoked like an Italian volcano to which she was not so distantly related."

After serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War, he returned to the University of British Columbia for his MA in French studies. This led him to doctoral studies at the Sorbonne in Paris. But his
reputation for writing funny scripts took him to the BBC in London where he wrote a comedy series for Bernard Braden and Barbara Kelly.

Then, in 1951, he returned to Canada to become a columnist for the Vancouver Province.

Although he's a loner, he's a very "competitive" sportsman and excelled playing tennis, badminton and ping pong. He's the father of three children by his first wife.

"And I really relate to animals better than human beings," he says, "because they are not as complicated or as devious." Nicol is critical of today's newspapers because the stories are more like "sound bites carried into print."

"I get the feeling the attention span (of readers and writers) just isn't there."

Jim Taylor, 61, sports colurrmist for Sun Media and a former colleague of Nicol's on the Province, says Nicol should never have been retired from the newspaper business.

"He can still write better than anybody. He should be in somebody's paper. It's ridiculous. But he's 78, so he can't write," says Taylor of his friend.

He sure can write. With over 30 novels and six published stage plays to his redit, that's a given.

"His next book with the same publisher is about cottage life and takes Place on the Gulf Islands, where he and his second wife, writer Mary Razzell, have a hideaway.

"'I do have a substance in my drawer that keeps me going," he says. "It's called a pencil. As a writer of laughter, you don't have to be crazy but it helps."

-Judy Creighton, Canadian Press

Funny Stuff, Good Read
How silly can one grown man get? Pretty silly! Don't read this book in bed while your spouse is trying to sleep. He or she will never get to dreamland, because the bed will be shaking from your giggles.

Twice the winner of the Leacock award for humour, Nicol has decided to lay his life bare. He is unrelenting in describing his inadequacies, and unrelenting in his humour.

Anything for a laugh is certainly true. There is hardly a line which is not a gag. There is much of B.C. history in this book as well, as in this description of Nelson in the 1930s: "One of the broader residential streets, including the intersections, was closed off to other traffic during the early hours of every winter's evening...Some of the eight-person bobsleds attained fifty miles per hour, and since there was no one left at home to baby-sit, my parents squeezed me into the crew at age six. No wonder I am now somewhat contemptuous of Winter Olympics competition. They wear helmets, the sissies."

Sometimes he just seems unable to help himself, as in "For me World War II came at a bad time - while I was still alive."

The combination of honesty, historical interest, and sheer lunatic humour is captivating. In the last quarter of the book, the humour grows much darker, as Nicol copes with aging, rejection, marriage breakup, and the horrors of seeing a play of his performed, or butchered, in New York. By that point, the book becomes quite moving.

-The Milestones Review