Bossypants by Tina Fey will let you laugh until you cry
Ever since Vanity Fair put her on its January 2010 cover in what looked like a Wonder Woman costume, Tina Fey has seemed in danger of falling for the very canard she has spent a career satirizing: that a lady can “have it all” if she’s willing to drop 20 pounds, show her breasts and frequently point out to everybody that, although she writes and stars in an Emmy-winning Television show, she's still essentially a loser who eats a lot of cakes. (Just like, you know, Larry David does.) An excerpt from her brand new book in a recent New Yorker didn’t help, with Fey assuming the position of agonized profession mommy - why do so many people always keep asking her if she is going to have an additional child when having one is so tough? Fey wonders hysterically, never as soon as thinking about that these individuals are Just Making Polite Conversation.
However any concern that Fey, like a lot of before her, has been ruined by fame is rapidly dispelled by “Bossypants,” a book which reminds you why Fey has been successful exactly where a great number of people have failed - because she is precise, professional and entertaining.
At first, “Bossypants” seems to be just much more of the exact same - there’s Fey on the book cover looking fabulous but not owning it (her airbrushed face is framed by two big and hairy male arms) and also the back is stuffed with fake and self-deprecating quotes concerning her look and talent. Pay them no mind; inside lies a collection of autobiographical essays that should (but obviously won’t) prove once and for all that pretty is nowhere close to as important as funny, and funny does not work without that uncommon balance of truth and heart.
I didn’t know what was up with the editors at the New Yorker - why choose to cobble together a piece about Fey’s mother anxiety rather than raising the beautifully rendered, breathlessly funny chapter on her father, or even her life-affirming treatise on photo shoots out (“Don’t ever really feel inadequate looking at magazines. Just remember every person you see on a cover of magazine has a bra and underwear hanging out a gaping hole in the back”), which shows up complete with a very persuasive defense of Photoshopping? But then they ran another piece, one about the lessons she come to understand from Lorne Michaels. Begging an additional question: How many individuals in this planet have experienced two chapters excerpted by the New Yorker?
A sidebar on the art of improvisation is as close to intelligent self-help guidance as you’re going to get, and her description of an early job at a Chicago Y borders on new journalism.
Tina Fey's “Bossypants” isn't really a book about the making of a comedian; it's about the making of a woman.
If nothing else, “Bossypants” should make any profile of Fey unnecessary, since it provides, in abundance, every thing readers want from a story about a performer and none of the “clever” observations regarding food intake/absence of makeup/appearance of child art upon which celebrity profiles are so dependent. In chapter following chapter, inside a voice regularly recognizable as her own, Fey basically tells stories of her life: How a nerdy but self-confident half-Greek girl entered theatrical life (a fantastic community theater, lots of gay and lesbian friends), what Second City was like “back in the day” (cultish, hard, unbelievably enjoyable), how “Saturday Night Live” performs (a chemical compound of Harvard grads and Improv people), what it is always like to be a woman in comedy (harder than you believe but not as tough as coal mining) or even to run your personal show or to satirize a vice presidential candidate whenever she’s standing up right backstage.
Fey includes a fantastic sense of pace as well as timing - longer, weightier chapters coping with her profession and her profession are well-balanced with small pieces on becoming fat and becoming thin and some reactions to evil email - and a love of language that echoes early Nora Ephron and, before that, the marvelous Jean Kerr. In her own way, Fey has been doing this almost all her life. She is really a physical personal essayist in that her writing and performing all stem from what she thinks about the experiences she has had. It seams that hold “Bossypants” together are her experiences particularly as a lady; even though she is far from heavy-handed, Fey is matter-of-fact about the double standard to which ladies are still held. That some found her impersonation of Palin “ungracious” is, to her mind, the right example: Palin, she argues, is not fragile and she, Fey, isn't mean.
Nor does she come across as a diva, even with the professionally self-deprecating variety (see: Joan Rivers). She writes with genuine love and appreciation of all her costars, especially Alec Baldwin and Amy Poehler, and devotes an entire chapter to “30 Rock’s” writers, complete with the inclusion of greatest episodes and scenes.
All setups and punch lines, the incisive if episodic “Bossypants” reads like a string of magazine articles
That she manages to totally avoid a memoir’s biggest pitfall - oblivious narcissism - is proof enough that a sense of humor is crucial to most storytelling. Even the rather horrifying genesis of the scar on the left side of her face - as a kindergartener, she ended up being slashed by a complete stranger within the alley behind her home - becomes not a fetishized symbol of “otherness” but a reverse tell. You can judge a lot from a person by how she deals with a noticeable scar.
But no one is going to choose up “Bossypants” to dissect Fey’s precise use of tempo and language or to analyze her true commitment to the writers’ room. Individuals will buy it in hopes that it is funny, and that it is, my friends, that it's. Amazingly, absurdly, deliriously funny. Every thing you'd hope for from this book - it’s impossible to put down, you will laugh until you cry, you'll wish it were longer, you can’t wait to hand it to each and every friend you've - is true. Oh, the agony and also the ecstasy of encountering the real deal. Simply because even with the stupid cover girl shots, the wearisome I’m-just-the-coat-rack-to-Alec-Baldwin’s-Astaire attitude, even with predictable airing of midlife mommy problems, Tina Fey remains, lastly, inarguably and mercifully All That.
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