Review: Nerd Do Well, by Simon Pegg

nerddowell>>Published: October 2010

>>Finally got around to it: January 2014

It was at Bristol that I discovered the joys of critical analysis, which eventually inspired me to pick apart my beloved Star Wars as part of my final-year exams. Lectures and seminars on populist cinema were hugely interesting, since they enabled me to consider what I had previously assumed to be a disposable art form as a rich source of academic study. I was able to watch my favourite films again then address them as historical ‘texts’, reflecting a host of psychoanalytical complexities. Alien became a treatise on genital terror and fear of the mother, Terminator became a tale of Oedipal obsession and mutations in received notions of masculinity, and Top Gun became about… well, we all know what Top Gun is about. The process was fascinating and enlightening. At the beginning of our first film studies lecture, Professor George Brandt informed us that after that day, we would never be able to view a film in the same way again. By developing and engaging our critical faculties we would effectively be given the ability to see through the artifice in three dimensions, able to detect meaning both intentional and unintentional, understand the intellectual mechanics at work in the narrative as well as identify temporal expressions of social neuroses and preoccupations, and thereby become boring cunts.

***

It’s almost impossible to be a pop culture nerd these days without holding at least a little envy towards the life of Simon Pegg. Here is a man who grew up on Star Wars, Star Trek, and the zombie flicks of George A. Romero, and not only is he now playing in each of these sandboxes, but he is also impacting their futures. (Granted, the bulk of his impact on the Star Wars universe is impassioned criticism; however, it’s likely only a matter of time, with JJ Abrams at the helm of the upcoming Episode VII, before Pegg’s footprint will exist there as well.) At the same time, it’s difficult to hold anything against the man’s incredible good fortune, because as his biography Nerd Do Well points out, his success is very much warranted.

The book itself is split between a mostly-linear biography with several comedy/sci-fi chapters interspersed throughout. The pulp fiction chapters tell the story of the heroic, sexual, action-hero dynamo version of Pegg and whether he’ll manage to save the world yet again—or at the very least, finish writing the first draft of his book before his looming deadline. Meanwhile the meat of the book—the true-to-life story of a slightly strange kid with strong comedy, sci-fi and attention-seeking tendencies—is an earnest, self-effacing narrative that reveals not only the origins of the man in part behind Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, and 2013s The World’s End, but also a great deal more nuance than expected.

Pegg covers the full spectrum here, from his earliest childhood flirtations with acting, acting out, and theatre (not to mention his first flirtations with flirtation, fondling, and other words that start with F) to his evolution as a stand-up comedian, actor, writer, and a man with perhaps a not-so-shocking breadth of knowledge regarding film theory and history. Indeed, many of the asides taken into pulling apart Star Wars and other cultural touchstones of his life provide some of the book’s more fascinating content. Along the way he takes the time to offer insight into his family’s dynamic and the push towards the arts he received from his parents—his mother, especially—and the connections and inspirations that led him first to develop Spaced, and then to his career in film, which to date has resulted in some of the more well known and respected science fiction, horror, and comedic films in recent memory.

What can’t be discounted, however, and what Pegg spends an entire chapter on late in the book, is the impact of chance—of coincidence—and being in the right place at the right time. It’s through chance he met Nick Frost and first connected with Edgar Wright, both of whom have fostered the style and substance of Pegg’s own work and with whom he’s in many ways inextricably linked. It’s even through chance that he and his wife were brought together whilst vacationing separately in Greece, but having crossed paths previously. However, what Pegg imparts, and what all those who envy the seemingly charmed path he’s on need to keep in mind, is that chance alone cannot be counted upon; for chance to work, one must put themselves out there, producing, creating, and forcing their work out into the world. Throughout this book, Pegg makes it abundantly clear that the coincidences and chance encounters that have helped make him the man he is today would not have happened had he not already been forcing himself out into the world as a creator to whom others would be drawn.

There’s a sweetness and a sincerity to Pegg’s writing; while not annoyingly self-deprecating, he manages at all times to be humble. Though he’s had a degree of success most would find unimaginably grand, he always seems aware as to just how lucky he is to be doing what he’s doing, to have met and had the opportunity to work with some of the most amazing and talented creative forces in the film industry. The writing itself is a reflection of this sincerity; Pegg’s narrative voice is intelligent, dry, and at times quite biting, and is immediately recognizable for anyone who’s followed his career to date.

Nerd Do Well is not as scandalous as many other celebrity biographies, nor is it as fraught with past traumas or roiling insecurities. That’s not to say there aren’t difficulties along the way—bumps in the road, so to speak—but one gets the sense while reading this biography that Pegg isn’t easily bowled over by many things in life. Recommended for fans of his work, certainly, but also for anyone with even a passing love of the types of films through which Pegg has built an admirable, passionate career.

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