REVIEW: Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris
Truth be told, I’ve had a little thing for you for a long time now. I never missed an episode of Doogie Howser, M.D. when I was a young teen. While pictures of Rob Lowe and Duran Duran hung on the walls in my bedroom, Doogie’s adventures captured my imagination. And even after Doogie ended, I remember vividly being in Times Square in New York and seeing the advertisement of just your face, in full makeup as the Emcee for Cabaret, and thinking, “Neil Patrick Harris, I love him!” I admired the grace with which you handled Perez Hilton’s outing of you and even more the fact that you were so well loved that mostly nobody even cared about your humble and well worded announcement. I always tune in when you’re hosting an awards show, as I think you and Hugh Jackman are among the best song and dance men working in showbiz today. So of course, when your autobiography was published, I picked it up immediately.
What I found was exactly what I expected. A self-confident but never arrogant guy who tells his story in an engaging way that cries out for appetizers and good wine — like a great dinner party story. But here’s the catch – you present your autobiography as a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story. I loved the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books when I was a kid. What’s not to love? As a voracious reader, the CYOA books offered a variety of choices and what felt like a longer book because of the variety of endings you could choose. Plus, the reader is invited into the story. Which of course, makes it a perfect vehicle for you, the perfect host.
The opening of the book focuses on your childhood growing up in New Mexico. It tells of your incredibly supportive parents and the older brother you looked up to. It then offers the reader a variety of choices: To live a happy childhood, Go Here. To live a miserable childhood Go Here. Click on the hyperlink and the miserable childhood tells of some clearly made up horror that is tongue in cheek and frankly hilarious. It’s often combined with hysterical illustrations that make it clear that this is made up and silly. But your story itself is a little Hollywood insider (the stories about acting with Anne Heche in Proof are both laugh and cringe inducing, and I’m desperate to make friends with Elton John and David Furnish so I can visit their house in Nice), and a little of awkward kid makes good. Your love story with your partner, David Burtka (who I have to agree with you is a stone cold hottie) is wonderful to read, and just what I would want for one of my good friends. Which of course, you’re not, but since we have a long history together, I’m justifying how happy I am that you have the love of a good man and have built a wonderful family with him. The stories you tell make it clear how much you both love and respect each other.
You tell interesting stories of your growing interest in magic, of attempting to rebound from being Doogie Howser, M.D., and best of all, of developing and being the fabulous Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother. You recount parts of your discovery of your sexual orientation while a young man in New York, and how liberating and comforting you found being part of the cast of Rent during this pivotal time in your life. The entire book is like having a really wonderful raconteur tell you a story.
My one stipulation is that while I loved the idea of Choose Your Own Adventure, it became what felt like an unnecessary conceit – a distraction. Sometimes, I’d make the wrong “choice” and end up getting what felt like a glossing over of a part of your life that I was really interested in. In the end, I ended up reading the book cover to cover, rather than skipping around. You must have expected that, as there a few tiny vignettes for those readers who you knew would skip the Choose Your Own Adventure format.
I loved our time together, Neil. I’d still love to get that glass of wine and have you tell me stories, if we’re ever in the same town. Final grade: B+.