Rob Brydon’s memoir Small Man in a Book opens with the birth of David Jones, who would one day adopt his middle name and his mother’s maiden name to become comedic actor Rob Brydon, famous for his Small Man Trapped in a Box routine.
Speaking of David Jones, Rob Brydon once heard David Bowie on the radio praising him, but ironically, Bowie couldn’t remember Brydon’s name. If he had only kept his given name! As a child, Brydon listened to Bowie on the radio. Once in the car, he sang along to “Life on Mars” (a personal favorite), singing “It’s a godawful small affair…” at which point his mother sushed him with, “It may well be, but we won’t have that kind of language here.”
There’s quite a lot of childhood in this book. And while there are goofy moments like replacing R2D2 with Doctor Who‘s K9 in a school stage production of Star Wars or the daily commute sat next to Bonnie Tyler’s dad on the bus, the story really picks up when Brydon enters showbiz. As you might imagine, Brydon being so skilled at accents and impressions, he started in voice work. Agent Bernie Gorn (also Chris Barrie’s agent) at Noel Gay took Brydon on as a client, where he got gigs doing the Discworld computer games, which he abhorred, partly because it was tedious and partly because he didn’t get to meet co-star Eric Idle.
But there are plenty of stars Brydon did get to meet. He met Harold Pinter in the Ivy restaurant. Recognizing Brydon, Pinter graciously looped him into their conversation about laughter. Brydon said something clever about how laugh tracks change through the eras, cementing himself into Pinter’s good graces, and then immediately unwinding his nerves again by making a risky joke about how he once auditioned for a role using a Pinter piece, but failed to get the part, for which he blamed the writing. He also met Barry Humphries (Dame Edna) at a party. Michael Caine was there, chatting away with someone about the local council not clearing away the rubbish. Although it’s possible this anecdote was included in this book so that Brydon could do his famous Michael Caine impression in the audiobook, I have to agree with him, if someone collected Caine’s complaints about the local trash pickup, I too would buy the album version. Later, Brydon’s impressed that at a recording of the Christmas special of the Keith Barret Show, John Simm, whom he calls “the king of credibility,” is jigging along to Brydon’s singing behind the camera.
Eventually, Rob Brydon meets up with Julia Davis, who gives his highlights reel to Steve Coogan. Later, Coogan spots Brydon in the pub and approaches him to tell him that he believes Brydon really has something. Brydon races home to wake his wife to tell her the news. Readers will feel butterflies in their stomach, knowing the comedy partnership this moment would spawn.
Brydon and Julia Davis started writing together for Coogan’s Baby Cow production company, including BAFTA-winning Human Remains. Fans of Human Remains and Marion and Geoff (in fact all things Keith Barret) will find plenty to love as Brydon’s career begins to take off.
The best part of the book has to be The Cruise of the Gods. In the 2002 TV movie, Brydon stars opposite Steve Coogan in a movie about the cast of a sci-fi TV show reuniting on a cruise ship with their fans. It’s the first time Brydon met David Walliams, who was just around the corner from filming the pilot for Little Britain, of which Brydon was destined to take a part. Whenever the camera was off, Walliams and Brydon took on an “old queens” act, calling each other “my Rob” and “my David,” to matter how playful or seasick either of them were feeling. All Walliams had to do was walk into a room and touch something, and he’d have everyone in stitches. A younger, plumper, unknown Russell Brand played an extra, and each day, he’d tell Brydon the adventures he allegedly had during the night shoreside. Brydon likened the experience to watching Peter Pan fly around Hook’s Jolly Roger. He knew he’d be more than just an extra someday. And last but not least, a young James Corden played Brydon’s son in the film. He was younger than the others, but he followed them around like he was part of the gang. Although Brydon denies it, Corden claims that sometimes they tried to give him the slip. One time, Corden confessed to Brydon that he wanted to start writing but didn’t know how. Brydon said, “Just get on with it.” He can’t help but take a bit of credit for the fact that Corden is a successful TV writer now, having penned shows like Gavin and Stacey and now The Wrong Mans. The epilogue features the two of them in Australia, Corden desperately trying to convince the hesitant Rob Brydon to take a part in his new show Gavin and Stacey. Brydon was worried about being typecast, but he would un-regrettably go on to do 20 episodes.
Although we do get the occasional flash forwards to more successful times, most of the book takes place pre-fame and on the lower rungs of the ladder, concluding with winning his first BAFTA and realizing that he had made it in showbiz. Therefore, we don’t get even a passing mention of some of my favorite Rob Brydon projects, like The Trip, Would I Lie to You?, or MirrorMask. But the stories are enjoyable and dense with anecdotes that couldn’t be told by anyone better. Quiet now, I need to go rent Cruise of the Gods.