Liz Lemon fans rejoice — the book is here! Actress, comedian and writer Tina Fey makes her way into bookstores with her first book titled “Bossypants.”
Fey’s impressive resume spans her time as head writer and later performer on SNL, writer of and supporting actress in “Mean Girls,” her stint as Sarah Palin impersonator, and producer, writer and leading actress in “30 Rock.” Despite a hefty list of memorable characters, Fey has said she perceives herself as more of a writer than a performer and evidently plays to her strengths in “Bossypants,” which was released on April 5.
“Bossypants” can be said to be a memoir — but only sporadically so. Fey chronologically recounts comedic episodes and major milestones in her life as she sees fit, skipping over various chunks of time and wholly omitting personal information about her husband and child. Yet, the bits she does share are vividly detailed and personal, with Fey’s self-deprecating humor and tongue-in-cheek social commentary throughout.
“I researched what kind of content makes for best-selling books,” writes Fey. “It turns out the answer is ‘one-night stands,’ drug addictions and recipes. Here we are out of luck. But I can offer you lurid tales of anxiety and cowardice.” As one of the few household-name female comedians, it may seem odd that Fey continually rags on herself, but readers will be thrilled that a book deal does not mean that fame and success have gone to Fey’s head. Indeed, Fey’s hyper-awareness of her own flaws makes for the best source of jokes in the book, and contrary to popular opinion, Fey’s most skilled caricature is of herself, with all the trappings of a noble and frumpy liberal-minded intellectual woman.
Fey confronts stereotypes of drudgery, frumpishness, fanny-packs, hard-asses and hair-removal with biting humor, most often directed at herself. Part of Fey’s charm both on the page and on the screen is her ability to make stereotypes relatable and hilarious, as evidenced by her scripts for “Mean Girls” and “30 Rock.”
Many of her best jokes come from poking fun at herself, as can be seen in her choice to feature prominently on the back cover select Internet comments under the title “Praise for Tina Fey.” One blurb reads “‘Tina Fey is an ugly pear-shaped, overrated troll.’ — The Internet.” Fey draws great strength from her inexhaustible ability to make fun of herself. Yet she does so with such unassuming confidence and quirky poise that audiences remember they are in the presence of a powerful and skilled writer of comedy.
Fey’s plethora of sundry anecdotes include her dead-end job at the YMCA, experience in a rag-tag improv troupe that goes rogue, her first night as a writer on SNL and a terrible ordeal on a honeymoon cruise. Among her accomplishments, Fey touts teaching Monica Lewinsky everything she knows about eye cream. She also guides readers about how to deal with crazy people and coworkers who pee in jars and who leave said jars strewn about the office. Some critics complain that the work’s structure is messy and eruptive. I would respond by saying that so is the comedian, and that the lack of structure makes the work utterly readable and is natural for the content.
Perhaps the most engaging portion of the work is the chapter devoted to her father, Don Fey, a conservative Goldwater Republican whose sheer force of personality and bad-assery makes readers desperately want to meet him. Fey describes her father with mythic respect, fear and humor — a man who was approached by shady characters at New York International Airport who took a look at him and said, “That is one bold, boss, bladed motherfucker.” “Mad Men” fans should note — he’s not unlike Don Draper.
Fey details her time as a drama major at the University of Virginia mainly by her unsuccessful forays in romance and attraction to white boys. “What nineteen-year-old Virginia boy doesn’t want a wide-hipped sarcastic Greek girl with short hair that’s permed on top? What’s that you say? None of them want that? You are correct,” writes Fey. “So I spent four years attempting to charm the uninterested.”
Post-college Fey moved to Chicago and was rejected from jobs waiting tables and as a box-office manager. She recalls how she bombed a couple of interviews, inventing a non-existent restaurant at which she claimed to have experience and attempting an ill-calculated joke with her interviewer. Fortunately, the interviewer did not laugh, Fey was turned down and ultimately she found herself working a desk job at the YMCA. The YMCA was so terribly miserable and boring that Fey found respite in night-improv classes. She was eventually selected to be part of an improv troupe and rose in the ranks until she is finally interviewed by SNL. By this time, student readers are glowing with the prospects of professional success for Fey and are feeling the optimistic warm-and-fuzzies of hearing that someone with a bad day job, eclectic interests and an arts degree made it work. There is hope!
On more serious notes, Fey does weave commentary on the comedy industry, commending the talent of Alec Baldwin, the resilience of Will Ferrell and the pilot episode of “Cheers.” She also explains why diversity and balance are key among a group of humor-writers. She claims a mix of Harvard boys and Second City/Groundlings people make “beautiful comedy marriages.” “Harvard is classical military theory,” she explains, “Improv is Vietnam.”
On the front cover, Fey gazes at readers blankly with what she describes as her signature “dead shark eyes.” Fey’s head is imposed on the body of a middle-aged suited man, whose hairy man arms prop up her chin. “I hope that’s not really the cover,” reads a comment by Don Fey on the back cover, “That’s really going to hurt sales.” I suspect otherwise.
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars