I first heard about Tina Fey when Alaskan governor, Sarah Palin, ran for the vice presidency of the United States. The Saturday Night Live routines had hit YouTube and were being rebroadcast on commercial TV around the world. She had an uncanny resemblance. Or maybe it was simply having brown hair and glasses, as Fey tells it. Once the election was over, I forgot all about Tina Fey. Maybe it was her self-described plain looks, but it was more than likely because we don’t have cable TV. Late last year after the nth run through of a West Wing series, we decided to do what the other cool kids in our circle were doing and chow down on a series marathon of 30 Rock. I developed an affinity for Liz Lemon. We were of similar vintage with a shared weakness for junk food and a lack of confidence, but comfortable working in our respective male-dominated environments.
I read this book on the Kindle and I wondered how it would handle the photos that are usually part of a memoir. Happily, the Kindle does present the photos but they aren’t very clear. And, while you can zoom the text, you can’t zoom in on photos in hopes of a better look. There are also a few pages copied from an actual Saturday Night Live script with handwritten notes and edits that I could barely read. For this reason, I would recommend splurging on a paperback version, if you don’t mind it taking up space on your bookshelf. It’s a funny read, as well as being a quick and easy one. I read it in four late night sessions. You could easily re-read this book in a day, if you don’t have kids or a job.
Tina Fey has an enjoyable style of writing. It’s conversational, jokey, and just like
Liz Lemon you expect her to sound. There are loads of comedic footnotes and hilarious asides. (If you do read it on the Kindle, don’t forget to click the asterisk footnotes as you go. It took me a while to realise what they were and I had to go back and cross-reference at the end.) Her self-deprecating humour and deadpan delivery are part of her charm and what makes her so relatable.
As the oopsie second child of older parents Fey chronicles the path to her 15 minutes of fame as Sarah Palin and the cultish following that 30 Rock began to draw. Starting with childhood she launches, almost straight away, into the story behind the scar on her cheek. Her intention is to get it out of the way as people seem to focus on it. I have never noticed it. After getting to know a little bit about her family and a lot about how awkward it was to go through puberty as a young girl in the early 80s, we find out about Fey’s theatre beginnings in a hometown community program called “Summer Showtime”. It was here that her interest in theatre was ignited along with the requisite friendships with “half-closeted gay teens”. Fey later completes a drama degree, has a boyfriend, works at the Y, takes improv classes and then gets a job with an improv theatre company in Chicago.
Bossypants is worth the ten bucks you might pay for it, not just for the comedy but the how-to. Fey explains the tenets of improvisation—agree, add something of your own, make statements and finally, there are no mistakes, only opportunities. But a lesson in comedy from Tina Fey is also a lesson in life. It’s not just comedy tips Fey gives you in this book. There are beauty tips, how to juggle family Christmases, how to juggle work and parenting, ways to find me-time, and the differences between Film Acting and Real Acting.
No Tina Fey memoir would be complete without stories from her nine years as a writer at Saturday Night Live and her interactions with production genius, Lorne Michaels; and then the transition to the creation and the, sort of success, of 30 Rock. We meet the main characters from both shows and their memorable jokes; we get the full background to Fey’s Sarah Palin and her brushes with Oprah and Monica Lewinsky; and we get the breakdown of Saturday Night Live’s six-week election comedy campaign.
Tina Fey is forty now. She has struggled with all that normal stuff Gen-X women have, and are still struggling with. From sluggish reproduction abilities to poor cooking skills and an ongoing, underlying mild anxiety. Her feminist leanings are threaded throughout the book in stories of her work and personal life—from mothering to marriage. Her experiences in stage and TV comedy are distilled in her vision and this one sentence from Bossypants: “My dream for the future is that sketch comedy shows become a gender-blind meritocracy of whoever is really the funniest.”