Sleight of hand

Neil Pa­trick Har­ris au­to­bi­og­ra­phy brings tricks and treats

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Jenny Henkel­man

IF you’re a celebrity at­tempt­ing a mid-life mem­oir, you’d bet­ter be will­ing to dish at least a lit­tle dirt. Ide­ally, you’ll also be a de­cent writer with a well-de­vel­oped pub­lic per­sona and voice. Charis­matic star of stage and screen Neil Pa­trick Har­ris fits both of th­ese bills, and he’s con­jured an en­ter­tain­ing celebrity au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. This mem­oir has a sig­nif­i­cant gim­mick: Har­ris’s life story is told in the style of the Choose Your Own Ad­ven­ture books so many of us de­voured in our el­e­men­tary school li­braries. As a stylis­tic choice, it makes a good amount of sense — not just be­cause Har­ris was a fan of this kind of book as a nerdy kid grow­ing up in New Mex­ico, but be­cause his 30-year show­biz ca­reer has in many ways hinged on gim­micks. Take his ini­tial small-screen star turn as the 16-year-old prodigy Doo­gie Howser, MD. Then there’s his por­trayal of a highly fic­tion­al­ized (read: lech­er­ous and drug­fu­elled) ver­sion of him­self in the stoner com­edy film Harold and Kumar Go to White Cas­tle, which re-launched him into the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion and on to a nine-year run as the catch­phrase-spout­ing lothario Barney Stin­son on TV’s How I Met Your Mother. The “Ad­ven­ture” for­mat of the book al­lows you, the reader, to put your­self in NPH’s place and flip be­tween true sto­ries from Har­ris’s charmed life and car­toon­ish al­ter­nate end­ings. For ex­am­ple, you can choose to pur­sue a ca­reer as a ma­gi­cian in­stead of act­ing. If you do, though, the re­sults will be dis­as­trous. (Bet­ter to do as Har­ris did in real life and keep magic as a hobby.) If you’re guess­ing that this con­struc­tion is prob­a­bly less fun to the av­er­age reader than it is to NPH him­self, you’re right. The gim­mick doesn’t el­e­vate the book, but it doesn’t sink it, ei­ther. Har­ris pep­pers us with enough in­sider gossip to earn his keep, even if you prob­a­bly could’ve guessed on your own that play­ing op­po­site Anne Heche on Broad­way in 2002 was a con­found­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Har­ris has so­licited con­tri­bu­tions from his show­biz friends, in­clud­ing Whoopi Gold­berg, Kelly Ripa and even Perez Hil­ton, the gossip blog­ger who force­fully outed him in 2006. Speak­ing of sex­u­al­ity, Har­ris is quite can­did about his jour­ney from fum­bling, os­ten­si­bly straight teenager in the early ’90s Hol­ly­wood bar scene to to­day (he and hus­band David Burtka are par­ents of twin preschool­ers). Har­ris rev­els in ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to put tongue in cheek, such as when he says that Burt Reynolds joke-kiss­ing him on-set in 1989 made him gay. Har­ris cov­ers the ter­rain of his mu­si­cal the­atre ca­reer, which has in­cluded roles in Rent, Cabaret and most re­cently, the ti­tle role in the Broad­way re­vival of Hed­wig and the Angry Inch. He also re­lates the good, the bad and the ugly of his var­i­ous Emmy and Tony award host­ing gigs, and throws in a few recipes and magic tricks for good mea­sure. Ev­ery­one knows mis­di­rec­tion is al­ways key to the suc­cess of a magic trick. By putting his en­gag­ing mem­oir through the wood­chip­per of the Choose Your Own Ad­ven­ture con­ceit, it feels as though Har­ris is draw­ing our at­ten­tion to his right hand so we won’t look at his left. And that’s OK — he gives us enough to chew on while keep­ing at least some of his cards close to his vest. What Choose Your Own Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy does re­veal, though, is that in ad­di­tion to his ex­cel­lent act­ing, singing and danc­ing, Har­ris is a skilled con­struc­tor of a mod­ern celebrity per­sona. Now, that’s a neat trick. Jenny Henkel­man is a Win­nipeg writer

and broad­caster.

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