Big Kiss: One Actor's Desperate Attempt to Claw His Way to the Top

Henry Alford, Author Villard Books $19.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-679-43873-1
In his magazine pieces and essay collection, Municipal Bondage, comedian Alford has displayed a plucky capacity to seek experience for the sake of laughter. Here, he fashions a delightful full-length narrative out of a series of linked episodes about his efforts to become an actor. At the outset, the unknown performer wanders Manhattan, attempting to ""proceed directly to fame,"" imploring delis, dry cleaners and restaurants to post his 8x10 headshot; he succeeds only after resorting to bribery. Alford's premise seems authentic: seeking to revive his zest for life at age 34, he decides that peak moments in his past involved performance. So he goes through a summer session at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, a stint at an improv camp in Michigan (with his mom tagging along, no less) and, back in New York, endures the emotional taffy-pull of working with a cruel acting teacher and an adoring singing teacher. Incurring only minor nicks and scrapes, he navigates the worlds of the entry-level thespian, film extra, perfume salesman and phone sex operator. Rendering his vignettes with a clever mix of description and drollery, Alford displays a gift not so much for shtick as for scene: ""I have sort of a monsignor quality,"" he informs a VH1 producer looking for someone to interview disparate groups about their tastes in music. Indeed, when Alford finally succeeds as a host (or ""social worker of comedy"") on that channel's Rock of Ages, readers will rejoice that he's found his well-deserved place ""in the glamour trenches"" at last. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/28/2000
Release date: 03/01/2000
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