Growing Up Laughing: My Story and the Story of Funny
by Marlo Thomas

Hyperion, 2010. ISBN 978-1-401-32391-2.
Reviewed by Laura Strathman Hulka
Posted on 10/11/2010

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Life Lessons

Almost all of us have a set of traits that attract us to others, and that we value in others: honesty, intelligence, attractiveness, and, to many, the most important—a sense of humor. Marlo Thomas' sixth book is a paean to humor. Ms. Thomas is the daughter of comedian/actor/St. Jude Children's Hospital founder Danny Thomas. Her book is unusual in its approach and in its style, and extremely enjoyable.

First, it is a memoir, a love story, a thank-you letter to her family, and a personal glimpse into her childhood as one of Danny Thomas' three children. But interspersed with the marvelous, intimate stories (about her drum-playing grandmother, her Catholic family, her acting successes and failures) are interviews with current comics and deeply moving homages to the comics of the past. So, a few chapters about her early life, Thomas segues into an interview with Jerry Seinfeld. A discussion about the years her father spent "On the Road" is followed by a wonderful conversation with Robin Williams. Newer comics are referenced and interviewed as well: Tina Fey, Chris Rock ,and Steven Wright all have one-on-one time with Thomas.

She makes us laugh, cry, and trip happily down memory lane with the great comedic geniuses of the past—Milton, Sid, Jan, George, Phil, Red, and the Bobs (Hope and Newhart). She remembers at-home dinners with these stellar humorists and discusses Hollywood from the point of view of someone raised there. As she does the storytelling, she also shows us behind the scenes of her own coming of age: That Girl, Free to Be...You and Me, her feminist roots and friendship with Gloria Steinem (and the founding of the Ms. Foundation,) her 30-year marriage to Phil Donahue, and her constant willingness and drive to be on the cutting edge of helping children be all they can be.

Moreover, the jokes are fabulous, some given by the comics she interviews and some just sprinkled hither and yon between chapters and within the delightful, distinctive stories of a life well-lived. So even as you feel a bit tearful about her father's death, the joke about the clown's funeral, in the interview with Steven Wright, will have you laughing in amusement (or bemusement!) She talks a lot about her father, their close relationship, and her ongoing work with her father's dream-child—St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis, TN.

Thomas' book gives us the chance to feel touched, reminiscent, entertained, enlightened, charmed and very involved with the narrative itself. At 72 (her 73rd birthday is in November), she remains the vibrant, peppy girl we remember from "That Girl"—and yet her personal growth and feminism was and is a beacon to baby-boomer women who watched her life avidly for strength and encouragement.

"I was a lucky kid," Marlo writes, "to have a seat at the table...with those comic warriors who had the audacity to stand up in a room full of strangers with the conviction that they could bring them all together in laughter. Those stories of those times have been humming in my head all of my life, and I decided at last to write them down." I am so glad she did!

Read an excerpt from this book on Kindle for the Web

Marlo Thomas is the author of five bestselling books, including The Right Words at the Right Time and Free to Be...You and Me. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including four Emmys, a Golden Globe, a Grammy and a Peabody, and is an inductee into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame. She lives in New York with her husband, Phil Donahue. Visit her website.

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