Moving memoir from Molly

I’m re-reading Hello Molly, the memoir of Molly Shannon.

It’s likely a bestseller mainly because of the fame of its author, a star on Saturday Night Live from 1995-2001.

But I didn’t expect to be so moved, reading the book cover to cover, unable to put it down. It’s not just well-written but a gripping story with overtones of redemption.

I didn’t expect to be picking it up to re-read, hooked again by its opening pages.

I saw Molly on TV last night during the Emmys.

Molly Shannon and Vanessa Bayer

The caption machine left out the B word (you can lip-read it if you’re good) that she used to describe herself. It’s admittedly a mild word compared to the many f-bombs flying last night, telling us what she’s like to work with. She said it with pride although I’m sure it was meant for laughs. She’s one of those actors whose presence is so intense as to sometimes scare you. I can’t always tell when she’s joking. The boundaries get blurry with someone who has so much conviction.

The back cover of the book features Molly’s best known recurring character on Saturday Night Live, Mary Katherine Gallagher, speaking of intensity.

I come back to something I observed with Brian Cox’s memoir (who was also on the Emmys last night). The most entertaining books aren’t necessarily written by the most entertaining performers, something I said because I didn’t love Cox’s work but did enjoy his book.

Similarly while I didn’t love Molly’s work (back then at least) I truly love this book. Wow it’s like I’m making a confession but yes the book surprised me totally.

And the person I discovered inside the pages? Admirable to say the least.

Her story is so honest at times I wonder whether the police will go knock on her door. Of course the crimes she confesses to are from her youth when she was on the brink of ending up in juvenile detention. The chapter titled “Swimming to Juvie“ is not even the darkest part of the book by any means: but it’s troubling until we recall (as with any biographical film): oh yes, we know all about her happy ending, she couldn’t (shudder) end up in detention or jail (shudder) or (gasp) dead because we see her become a regular on SNL.

But I truly shuddered & shivered when I came to the end of that chapter. Whew. Did she clean it up for us? It’s such a relief.

“Swimming” was her euphemism for shoplifting, the chapter showing her close brush with the law, the genuine consequences for a wild period in her youth.

But it makes sense when you read the powerful opening chapter. I feel a powerful connection because I’m hearing from someone who lost her mother and sister on page two of her life story. Molly the ever resilient daughter is not at all judgmental about her father who was likely a bit impaired when he crashed. Their closeness seems co-dependent, an observation I don’t offer as criticism but rather in hoping to understand. I’m perhaps a mirror image, as someone who lost his own dad early, as I marvel at the brave fearless creature Molly’s dad raised.

Out of the wreck Shannon emerges as a special talent. Our categories and genres break down, sometimes failing in the presence of someone truly original, a sensation I felt a few days ago watching Tom Rooney in Uncle Vanya. So too with Molly Shannon, as for instance when she throws herself around onstage.

We’re told that SNL had to hire someone to help protect Molly from herself, because she threw herself so completely and so literally into her work, far beyond mere method acting. Via YouTube (aka giving these routines another look), I find she was perhaps ahead of her time.

There are life lessons in this book.

For a parent I think you’ll see how & when to be strict and how to be more permissive. I’m reminded of my recent brush with bad parenting in Sarah Polley’s book, when –if I may be permitted to offer my own take—parents must decide whether it’s more important to protect your child or to suck up to someone you admire. While Molly tippy-toed on the edge of disaster, encouraged and even goaded by her dad, she became one of the most fearless performers through his influence.

Molly tells us how she approached meeting Lorne Michaels, great advice for any audition or interview.

I noticed that Molly & fellow SNL alum Vanessa Bayer (seen in the B-word picture above) have done a show together, I Love That for You. I’ll have to check it out.

It seems that SNL was reinventing itself at the time Molly arrived on the show, as several cast members left and new ones arrived. Ditto this year it seems. Seven cast members are leaving (Kate McKinnon, Pete Davidson, Aidy Bryant, Kyle Mooney, Alex Moffat, Melissa Villaseñor & Aristotle Athari). I’m a huge fan of the show, wondering if they will finally cancel it.

Lorne looked very old last night, winning his Emmy. It’s been gasp 47 seasons. I wonder how much longer he can last, whether he’ll make it to 50 seasons.

In the meantime I’ll keep re-reading Molly’s book. You might enjoy it too.

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