If anyone seems capable of eluding the pitfalls that tend to trap comedians who write books—namely, the urge/obligation to write what amounts to bits in a different medium—it’s Rob Delaney. Twitter may have pulled him from out of obscurity thanks to his funny, frequently profane tweets, but Delaney comes across as thoughtful, sensitive, and relatively serious in real life. In interviews, he’s opened up about his lifelong struggles with depression and addiction, how he nearly killed himself driving drunk, and the darkness that people wouldn’t associate with a ruggedly handsome guy who tweets stuff like “Ask Me About My Hairy Asshole™!”
Much of Mother. Wife. Sister… explores that darkness with a matter-of-fact frankness and a humor that directs its barbs inward. Delaney doesn’t subtly wear his alcoholic exploits like a badge of honor; he never expresses any interest in portraying himself as anything more than a troubled young man with problems he was avoiding. He still describes them in the voice of Rob Delaney, i.e., colorfully and usually with a few obscenities, such as this line about an ill-advised drunken boat trip during a summer in college: “A sober observer would have recommended against it, but we were six drunks on America’s birthday, so fuck you.”
Unsurprisingly, the more personal, darker chapters of Mother. Wife. Sister… are the most engaging, such as “Ne Et Sanglant”—“Naked And Bloody,” all chapter titles are in French—which details the drunken car accident that nearly took Delaney’s life and his road to recovery. It’s followed by “Mes Amis Morts” (“My Dead Friends”), a tribute to the people he met in recovery who have since died. In those chapters, Delaney doesn’t seem to feel too obligated to make jokes, though his writing certainly is funny, and they’re better for that.
Other chapters aren’t as successful. Several, such as one about eating at Zankou Chicken, read like filler, comedic bits, or unfinished thoughts that could probably build to something with time. At a quick 190 pages, Mother. Wife. Sister… already breezes by, and those chapters will be forgotten as soon as they’re finished. With his book, Delaney is attempting to straddle the line between the intensely personal, emotional stories that are clearly close to his heart and goofier musings that ostensibly prevent Mother. Wife. Sister… from being too much of a downer. But those more serious—yet still funny—chapters are Delaney at his best. By trying to have it both ways, Delaney still falls into some of the traps that ensnared fellow comedians’ books.