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Monday, April 18, 2011


Tina Fey’s Bossypants is a formless group of uncollected thoughts with little to no narrative momentum. I loved every page of it.

Let’s establish the many things that this book is not. It is not a memoir, not really. It could only charitably be called a “tell-some”. (For instance, Fey brings up her scar and its cause specifically to explain why she will not talk about it any further.) It is not a guide to success, not in general nor for working women, even though at times Fey does sarcastically refer to it as such (“Don’t eat diet meals at meetings,” she says. “If you’re so mad you could cry, go ahead and cry. It terrifies people,” she says.)

I haven’t seen it referred to in this way in other places, but Bossypants is best considered as a collection of essays. Perhaps her publishers, hoping to recoup what has been reported as a $5 million advance, desperately wanted to steer clear of a word that most people associate with academic reporting on topics like the wheat market in Indonesia.

Each chapter of the book deals is a self-contained examination, either of an aspect of Tina Fey’s life or of an issue relevant thereof. Besides biographical examinations of her early friendships with theatrical homosexuals and the general badassery of her father, there are also reflections of the positive aspects of Photoshop, the best way to celebrate Christmas, and why male comedy writers are gross. (It has to do with their habit of peeing in jars.)

The most buzzworthy segments of Bossypants are the parts where Fey deals with feminism and politics. Fey talks at length about the sometimes incredibly unsubtle sexism she has seen in her time in show business, from the Second City director who thought audiences wouldn’t like a sketch featuring two women to the fact that older women comedians seem to become crazy right around the time the men who hire them no longer want to sleep with them. I was a little disappointed that Fey pulls her punches a little by not naming names, but I suppose that there are entirely justifiable reasons for that policy.

As for politics, people hoping for a take-down of Sarah Palin will probably be disappointed, but I was intrigued by the behind the scenes story of how Fey and SNL Producer Lorne Michaels were taken aback by the overpowering popular demand that Fey caricaturize the VP nominee. The tale of the first day of the impression is also of interest.

Throughout Bossypants, Fey comes across as witty, likable, normal and honest. She clearly has very thoughtful opinions on things like balancing motherhood and professional success, but she’s honest enough to admit that she sometimes breaks down crying in her office. These essays have a breezy, light quality that belies the amount of sheer intelligence that went into composing them.

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