What a true delight No Shame, the memoir from comedian Tom Allen, is to read! If you’re aware of Tom and what he does, you’ll know his style (an example here if you’re not so familiar) and his voice comes through loud and clear on every page.
Opening sentence: My dear reader, I hope this finds you well and that you’ve recovered from that thing you had.
To find the above clip, I Googled ‘Tom Allen performing live’ and have now been watching him for hours. Honestly, I’m in such a good mood – Tom’s ability to tell a highly entertaining story is the perfect pick-me-up.
I also noticed that a lot of his stand up draws from his life – experiences he documents in No Shame.
Bromley born and bred
I guess the thing about living in London is that the chances of someone famous coming from near where you live is high. That could also explain why the last two memoirs I’ve read – this very book and Manifesto by Bernardine Evaristo – are from fellow South-East Londoners I could call local to me. I do love the familiar settings and odd Bluewater reference.
In Bromley, people’s biggest fear was being ‘mugged off’ or being ‘taken for a mug’.
Bromley is essentially another character in No Shame. Tom’s cutting takes on his middle-class, suburban hometown are typically hilarious and he explain how the very fact he didn’t fit in there has helped shaped who he is. Tom talks us through his childhood, where he reveals he was always an old soul:
Typically for me, even my fantasies were more like the pages of Saga Magazine – at fifteen, I basically wanted to retire.
It was a National Youth Theatre course that brought him out of his shell and let his dramatic side loose. His segue into stand-up comedy was both unplanned and his calling.
As well as his amusing stories, it’s the way Tom blends serious issues into his story that makes this book so good.
From his school days dressing as a Victorian gentleman (to draw attention away from the fact he was gay, you understand) to having to hide his feelings when he develops a crush on a boy at school, Tom discusses what it was like to grow up gay in the era of Section 28. This was a law the government brought in that banned the “promoting the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.” Can you even imagine? So awful.
In any case, at the time, it was in a sense, illegal for me to be gay.
There is a poignant reason Tom called his memoir No Shame. He reveals that from being a confident child, he had that quashed out of him as he grew up. He made some really important points about expressing feelings (or the inability to) that really resonated with me.
I think I was choosing to play a part because I was too scared to work out who I actually was.
Owning who you are is hard when society is telling you be someone else, this is Tom’s war cry to cast aside those restrictions and feel no shame for who you really are. Such a great message.
This is a fabulous memoir, I loved learning more about Tom – could have read 500 pages more! Plus, he is never not in a suit. That level of sartorial dedication is always going to impress me.
- Get your copy of No Shame here;
- Published by Harper Studio 2021;
- 232 pages;
- My rating: