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Laughing on the Outside: The Life of John Candy

by Martin Knelman

In his biography Laughing on the Outside: The Life of John Candy, Martin Knelman, an award-winning Canadian magazine journalist, has the unenviable task of bringing down to Earth the memory of John Candy, a comedian so beloved that the Los Angeles Police Department closed down the largest freeway in America for his funeral procession. (Only one other memorial had received the same treatment, that of president John F. Kennedy.)

One major reason to examine Candy’s life is to provide insight into his personality, which was a mixture of tenderness and spite, and explain how it made him a comedian on par with greats like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Knelman fails to achieve this goal.

Chronologically, Laughing on the Outside is sound. The major events and influences of Candy’s life are laid out for the reader, from his Toronto roots to his Hollywood heyday and his death from heart failure in 1994. Knelman portrays Candy as a gregarious good-time guy who was dogged by self-doubt and denial, but his analysis of this condition is weak. He is unable to interpret the effect Candy’s demons, his obesity and excess, had on his work. Events and themes are introduced but left dangling; Knelman makes reference to Candy’s reported cocaine use, for example, but does not adequately follow up.

Laughing on the Outside’s greatest weakness, however, is its sources. Knelman interviewed over 50 friends and associates but was unable to get to Candy’s inner circle. None of Candy’s SCTV cohorts, from Dave Thomas to Catherine O’Hara, was interviewed, with the exception of Second City actress Rosemary Radcliffe. Their absence leaves a large hole. Whether anyone could get Candy’s intimates to talk is debatable. Unlike most comedy troupes, the SCTV gang actually had a great deal of affection for one another. Their silence stems from a wish to protect Candy from scrutiny.

Laughing on the Outside will please fans who want an empathetic look at their hero. Knelman gets the dates and figures right and it’s obvious he admires Candy. He does a good job of telling the comedian’s story. When it comes to explaining it and putting it into an artistic context, however, Knelman falls short.