"If you want to make God laugh," writes Bernard Slade in his autobiography "Shared Laughter," "Tell him you have plans." As a young man growing up in St. Catherine's, Ontario, in the 1930s and'40s, Slade himself had quite a few plans. He struggled to make a living as an actor, a theater producer and a playwright, and found himself taking odd jobs to make ends meet -- like handing out leaflets on the streets of Toronto dressed as a knight in a full suit of armor. Slade's witty and frank book takes readers through a career ranging from regional theater actor to contract sitcom writer ("Bewitched," "The Partridge Family" among others), to toast-of-the-town Broadway playwright -- writing the most produced two-character play in history, "Same Time, Next Year" -- to screenwriter and back again to his first love, the theater.

“If you want to make God laugh,” writes Bernard Slade in his autobiography “Shared Laughter,” “Tell him you have plans.”

As a young man growing up in St. Catherine’s, Ontario, in the 1930s and’40s, Slade himself had quite a few plans. He struggled to make a living as an actor, a theater producer and a playwright, and found himself taking odd jobs to make ends meet — like handing out leaflets on the streets of Toronto dressed as a knight in a full suit of armor.

Slade’s witty and frank book takes readers through a career ranging from regional theater actor to contract sitcom writer (“Bewitched,” “The Partridge Family” among others), to toast-of-the-town Broadway playwright — writing the most produced two-character play in history, “Same Time, Next Year” — to screenwriter and back again to his first love, the theater.

The author also provides colorful showbiz anecdotes that include his working with the likes of Jack Lemmon, Ellen Burtsyn and Mia Farrow.

A memoir that ambles before it kicks into gear, Slade’s autobiography is peppered with sage advice to anyone who aspires to a life in showbiz, particularly as a comedy writer. Pondering why more comedies fail to win awards, Slade writes: “Because comedy, when done well, looks easy and seems light and frivolous. Well, what’s wrong with frivolous? I’ve always believed that laughter is the perfume of life — it makes life bearable. Please … send in the clowns.”

How does Slade know whether something will make people laugh? “I’m sometimes given a hint if I try out material at a dinner party,” he writes. “If people laugh in the dinning room, they’ll probably laugh in the theater.”

When discussing a scene in his play “Romantic Comedy,” Slade notes: “For anyone interested in the craft of comedy writing, perhaps it is worth pointing out that, although the scene gets big laughs, very few of the lines are funny if taken out of context. The laughs are realized because of character, relationships and situations.”

It’s this awareness of situational comedy that breathes humor into the Slade’s anecdotes.

The author recalls an anesthesiologist visiting him in a hospital room who asked him if he was a professional athlete. “No, why do you ask?” Slade says. The doctor’s response: “Because just before you went under, you said: ‘Be very careful … I have about three more plays in me.’ “

Early in Slade’s Hollywood career, just after taking a meeting with Columbia/Screen Gems’ television execs, the writer proudly left the office and promptly walked into a clothes closet. “Now, that’s no big deal,” he reflects. “I mean, anybody can do that. The mistake I made was that I stayed in there.”

Though there are early patches of “Shared Laughter” that meander, Slade’s heart and humility leap off the page and allow us to forgive the book’s flaws.

Shared Laughter

Key Porter; 224 pgs.; $29.95

Production

By Bernard Slade

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