Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Book Review Tuesday: Bossypants, by Tina Fey

I've been stuck in memoir-ville for a few weeks. I can't help it. Over the course of the last few years, I've learned that while I love fiction, I really love memoirs. Maybe it's because writing about my own life is something I find enjoyable. (Narcissistic, much?) Maybe it's because memoirs are (usually/typically/in a perfect world) the truth, meaning there's very little anger directed toward the author. If I don't like how a relationship turned out, there's no point ranting and raving and shouting to the sky that someone was allowed to publish such garbage. Why? Because such garbage actually happened (or happened in the author's own mind).

The downfall to reading memoirs is that the author-as-narrator isn't typically your most reliable, trustworthy voice. If they don't want to write about specific life events, they don't have to. They can gloss over what they don't want to remember, and present--as fact--the sequence of events from any moment in their life, and as their loyal audience, I really have no choice but to accept it as fact. The upside to reading memoirs is that I can state without a doubt that I wish an author or speaker (since so many are "as told to") spent more time telling me about [insert topic here]. It's a memoir, not fiction. In fiction, any events relayed to you are typically important to the action of the story. Rarely do authors interject some random drivel for you to read while they fill space in their novel. But in a memoir? Quite the opposite. It can take any direction, really. And I like to spend time asking about Events A, B, and C. I like knowing things.

After reading (and reviewing) Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? I felt like it was necessary to read Bossypants. I'd heard nothing but good things, and even if it received poor reviews, I like Tina Fey. She tickles me. I also like to call her by her full name: Tina Fey. Like it's one word. Tinafey.

I think that Tina Fey (tinafey) did a really nice job balancing out the "before" and "after". The chapters about her childhood, high school, college, and a struggling performer in Chicago in the early 1990s were entertaining. She writes about her dad with reverence, but also acknowledging that her father is one of the old guard, and as such is "impressive", or so says Lorne Michaels.

I liked her style of writing. It wasn't rushed or condescending, and Tinafey points out on more than one occasion that she was a woman in the He-Man Women Haters Club that is the writers room. She is unashamedly feminist and points out on more than one occasion the injustice done to female writers and performers. When she wrote about her Second City years, she made sure to mention that Amy Poehler, in my opinion, one of the funniest women alive today, if not ever, was a background player. She was short, cute, and blond, and often had brief appearances in sketches, consisting of, "Mr. Williams will see you now," and "Would you like some coffee?" and "Here's your coffee." I was furious. Who puts Amy Poehler in the corner? When they approached their director at Second City about a Tina and Amy sketch combo, he said, "No one wants to see a sketch with two women." My jaw? On the floor.

Tinafey combats this injustice by working hard. She doesn't give herself accolades, nor does she bend over backwards to make you see how wonderful she is. She clearly paid her dues.

The SNL stories are some of my favorite. Unlike Mindy Kaling, she doesn't change names or titles, she just tells stories. Her first meeting with Lorne Michaels, her unlikely casting as co-host of Weekend Update (and why she wore the glasses), and yes, the Palin Saga. The whole Palin story is really entertaining to me, actually. And it's told really well. Facts are laid out, and it's properly peppered with Tinafey's thoughts and stream-of-consciousness commentary, which is something I have always loved about her.

My favorite chapter is appropriately titled, A Love Letter to Amy Poehler. It's no secret that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are friends. They're like George Clooney and Brad Pitt, only stranger and funnier and with more boobs. Tinafey makes no secret of the fact that she was ecstatic that her friend had been cast on SNL. She knew Amy, she liked her, and they had great on-stage chemistry together. In what is easily my favorite part of the whole book, well...just read it for yourself:

“Amy Poehler was new to SNL and we were all crowded into the seventeenth-floor writers’ room, waiting for the Wednesday read-through to start. There were always a lot of noisy ‘comedy bits’ going on in that room. Amy was in the middle of some such nonsense with Seth Meyers across the table, and she did something vulgar as a joke. I can’t remember what it was exactly, except that it was dirty and loud and “unladylike.”
Jimmy Fallon, who was arguably the star of the show at the time, turned to her and in a faux-squeamish voice said, “Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it!”
Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. “I don’t fucking care if you like it.” Jimmy was visibly startled. Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit.”

Some gimme a pen and her address, because now I want to write AP a love letter. The worst insult I ever received was when a guy I knew in college told me he didn't think I was pretty, but that I was cute. It wasn't that I cared so much about my looks or what Random Guy #4 thought of me, it was that he took the time to point it out. I was friends with his girlfriend, and I was meant to fill a supporting role. The cute friend. RAGE.

For the first time, I looked at AP and Tinafey and identified with them. I knew that I could take that moment to them and they'd identify with me, commiserate with me, and turn that shit into comic gold.

After getting to the end of the book, I read a lot that was empowering, in addition to being entertaining. Tinafey gave a lot of really great advice, like this gem: “I suggest you model your strategy after the old Sesame Street film piece “Over! Under! Through!” (snip) If your boss is a jerk, try to find someone above, or around your boss who is not a jerk. If you’re lucky, your workplace will have a neutral proving ground – like the rifle range or the car sales total board or the SNL read-through. If so, focus on that. Again, don’t waste your energy trying to educate or change opinions. Go “Over! Under! Through! And opinions will change organically when you’re the boss. Or they won’t. Who cares? Do your thing and don’t care if they like it.”

If only I had read this before I left my last job.

The one thing I wanted more of? Tinafey wrote a chapter about babies, and I was so looking forward to reading more about her as a mom. Her working mom stories were hilarious and helped reinforce my decision to be a working woman, not just a working mom. The biggest disappointment (for me) came from her baby chapter. It wasn't a story about learning to cope with a baby or living with a baby, or even pregnancy, or thoughts on babies. The baby chapter was basically one long rant about breastfeeding and why moms who don't or can't shouldn't feel bad about it. I get it, Tinafey. I'm on your side. Formula is not the devil incarnate. I just felt that it was a little too soapboxy for the book. It felt so out of place compared to the rest of her story.

By the end of her tenure at SNL, the standard for gender equality had leveled out. Tinafey told a great story about a week in which Mr. Sylvester Stalone was hosting. (I call him Mr. in case he ever reads this and comes to find me and kill me in my garage.) They needed an Adrian for the monologue, and Cheri Oteri (best name ever) was desperate to play the part. Instead, it went to Chris Kattan in drag. I think Kattan in drag is some funny shit, but how is that any better than Cheri Oteri? Tinafey makes sure to mention that such strong, competent, and funny-as-hell women were cast while she worked for SNL, and by the time she left, no one would have thought to cast a man first to fill a female role. Applause, applause, now replace Seth Meyers as head writer.

I really liked this book. A lot. I think Tina Fey is funny to begin with, but I adored having her in my train bag each day. I was struggling so hard to keep from laughing out loud once that my train conductor actually stopped me to ask what I was reading. He said, "You're da furst lady I seen readin' a book dat was cryin' becaus she was laughin'. Normally youse lay-dees read dat Nicholas Sparks junk."

He is now my favorite train conductor.

I couldn't help but notice that Kaling's book was creepily, eerily similar. She even references an "Irish exit" in the same way Tinafey tells a story about an "Irish goodnight". Where Kaling's book felt rushed and almost entitled, Tina Fey's goes a little deeper, because rather than telling stories out of Hollywood and dropping names here and there, she is actually giving advice. Good, practically, and often hilarious advice about working in any industry and not taking crap because you have two boobs stuck on the front of your body.

I really enjoyed Bossypants. So much, in fact, that I'm looking forward to reading it again.

Grade: A solid A.

And for the record, Mr. Second City Director? Sketches with two women are fucking hilarious. Tina and Amy on Weekend Update. Delicious Dish. The Bush Twins.

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