It can be hard to separate Daisy May Cooper from her cartoonish yet hilariously familiar This Country creation Kerry Mucklowe, so I expected pure silliness from her memoir Don’t Laugh, It’ll Only Encourage Her. And silliness there is, but it is squashed between grinding unfairness and poverty. In the book, Cooper says “When things were really bad, Mum would always say to me: ‘Don’t worry, it will be a good read for your memoir one day.'” It seems things were often ‘really bad’ for Cooper and her family.
Cooper and her brother and This Country co-star Charlie grew up in rural Gloucestershire in the kind of poverty that ought to be inexcusable in our society. Christmas wasn’t guaranteed and in adulthood, the Coopers shared a room in their parent’s house which the four were evicted from when they couldn’t pay the rent. Cooper’s methods of survival and occasional naivete are often jarring, but that’s how it is for far too many people in the UK. Or anywhere.
Comedyphiles often pore over comedians’ autobiographies, looking for that way in, searching for a route to follow them to comic success that doesn’t begin with: ‘get into Cambridge, join Footlights.’ Cooper’s book serves as a sort of cautionary tale for people considering getting into acting or comedy, she is very generous with her knowledge of where she went wrong and where she went right. Most people might think getting into RADA means you’re halfway to guaranteed acting careers, but Cooper repeatedly points out how RADA actually let her down, concentrating too much on the breaking down and putting back together and not enough on how to survive professionally and make your own luck.
In fact, it wasn’t until an actor on the set of Doc Martin suggested Cooper try writing her own material that This Country was conceived. Even then blunders were made and the Coopers were taken advantage of. The path to that seminal moment was strewn with disastrous pole dancing auditions, showcase scams, drawn on cleavage, and piss-filled packets of Quavers.
Memoirs are often described as ‘honest’ but it’s rare that someone would write as honestly as Cooper even when the story isn’t flattering. In Don’t Laugh, It’ll Only Encourage Her the stories are usually unflattering, but as Cooper points out in her book: “I have lived the most humiliating, ridiculous, screw-up of a life but Mum was right, you’ve just got to remember, sometimes the worst experiences make the most entertaining stories.”
Daisy May Cooper: Don’t Laugh, It’ll Only Encourage Her is published by Penguin, Michael Joseph and available to buy now.