I live in New York. I am a comedian, writer and actor. My day job is blogging for VH1.com. I write about the silly things celebrities and pop stars do, so you know...God's work.
You may have seen my writing on many other reputable websites (McSweeney's, The Huffington Post, Hello Giggles, xojane.com, The Hairpin, Splitsider, The FW, etc.). I also write crazy blogs about Game of Thrones, Magneto and Jeff Goldblum.
Life's weird, right?
Let’s do this.
So, I’m aware that a bunch of you guys follow me (and thank you so much for following! I am a small, vain, insecure creature who loves attention!) because I wrote this weird essay about Tina Fey last month. Essentially, certain chapters of Bossypants were being leaked through The New Yorker, and because I am small and vain and like attention, I felt like I deserved to voice my opinion on certain quotes that I was reading completely out of context. Now that I’ve read these passages in the context of the complete work, I do think that I lot of my anxiety about Fey’s “not-so-feminist-sounding” feminism has been tempered. Between her fawning over Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Cheri Oteri, Kay Cannon, Amy Ozols and childhood friend, Maureen*, it becomes clear that Fey loves supporting strong ladies. She even seems to believe her greatest achievement as Head Writer at SNL was ushering in a more lady-friendly environment. However, I’m starting to get ahead of myself.
Let’s start with the simple stuff.
Is Bossypants any good?
Yes. It’s very good. It’s an amusing and fast read. Is it as good as the critics and fans are saying? I honestly wasn’t as impressed with Fey’s prose writing style as I thought I would be. Also, I don’t know why people are saying it’s “laugh out loud funny”. People are claiming that they broke into hysterics while reading it. Maybe I’ve just been jaded by a year of NYC comedy, but I found most of the humor to be reliant on sarcasm and that’s tricky in print. Also, she plays a lot of games with “fake names” for people which I didn’t think were that funny. Still, the humor part is subjective.
Here’s what I loved about it: all the tiny details about her time at Second City, SNL and 30 Rock. I loved hearing about how her Second City touring group rebelled and wrote their own material, how Cheri Oteri was turned down for a part in favor of Chris Kattan in drag, or who wrote what jokes for 30 Rock. I also can’t tell you how surreal it is to read about her time on the road with Ali Farahnakian while you’re waiting online for Shake Shack and then to head over to the PIT for your Level 3 Grad Show, only to see Ali walk by you in the theater bar. I almost wanted to pull the book out of my purse and cry, “You’re in this book I’m reading!” But I restrained myself because he might be my teacher in a few months and I want to come off as profesh.
Of course, I’m an improv/SNL/comedy writing nerd, so seeing the entire Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton cold open in print (with the last minute dress rehearsal edits handwritten in the margins) was amazing. I almost wish the book was just this: stories about how sketches were written and why they were cast a certain way. So, I wish there was more comedy nerd stuff. I also kind of feel like if it’s supposed to be a memoir—which there’s debate about whether or not it is—then there should have been more personal stuff.
Here’s the tricky thing about Tina Fey as a writer, comic and public personality: she refuses to be vulnerable. “Oh, but Meghan,” you protest, “she shares embarrassing photos from her childhood! She cracks jokes about her acne! She’s so self-deprecating! She talks about her grooming habits!” The thing about that is Fey’s self-deprecation about her looks has become something like armor for her. She’s tread that ground so many times, it’s not like she’s really revealing anything terribly painful. It’s like in a recent episode of Glee (I can’t believe I’m using Glee for this, but it hits the nail on the head), where Rachel sings this overwrought original song about being raised without a mother and Finn calls her out on using “easy pain” for her art. His point was that even though it sucks that Rachel didn’t have a mother, Rachel is comfortable exposing this pain. She’s not really risking her heart and soul by revealing the dark stuff she keeps buried. No matter how much we, the audience, want to know what inspires Fey’s art…what haunts her soul…we’re never going to find out.
In a weird way, by refusing to reveal awkward, painful or personal details, Fey reveals a lot about her personality. Fey’s humor has always been based on wit and intellectual strength. She thinks people who air their dirty laundry (or even have dirty laundry) are worthy of scorn. She uses peoples’ interest in how she got her scar as a litmus test for their morality. Her deepest wish is that she can instill a sense of shame in her daughter the way her father did for her. She’s not going to tell us why she loves comedy. She’s not splurge the cutesy details of how she and Jeff Richmond fell in love. That’s private. That’s not for us to see.
What’s weird is that she ends up revealing less about her personal life in the book than she does in talk show interviews. She plays this weird game trying to hide the names of her husband and daughter, when we already know numerous hilarious anecdotes about them from the press. Take the story she has told about how she gutted and re-furnished her entire apartment when she learned Oprah was coming over. Her daughter, Alice, immediately brought Oprah over to a bowl of wax pears and said, “These crazy bananas are for you.” I can’t stop thinking about that story when I think about Bossypants. Just as she changed her entire apartment for the arrival of a famous guest, Fey seems to have tidied up her life story so it’s suitable for public presentation. It’s a great presentation, but the huge gaps in the story let us know it’s not the full truth. But she put so much effort into making it all fit into a breezy, quippy narrative, that it’s rather charming. These crazy bananas, fellow readers, are for us.
Is there anything that really disappoints me? Well, I was personally rubbed the wrong way by how emphatically she states that most of her success can be owed to having a strong father figure. I know it’s a very personal reaction, though. My father passed away when I was little and I was raised by my mom alone, and so I get kind of incensed when smart people suggest the only way to raise a successful adult is to have a male influence. It certainly helps, but shit happens. People adapt. You can have a strong father figure and still turn out messed up. The important thing is merely to have a strong mentor: father, mother, gay dads, gay moms, older siblings, cousins, teachers, pastors, coaches, tutors, friends, whatever. Like I said, though, that’s a personal quibble.
The other thing that struck me was how proud Fey was that she—along with an oft-mentioned Amy Poehler—helped turn things around at SNL for women. She said that by the time she left SNL, women were frequently working together in ensemble sketches and rarely delegated to thankless girlfriend roles. Fey deserves to be proud of this, but the sticky thing there is that there haven’t been too many female ensemble sketches since she, and then Poehler, left. The only thing I would say there is that it’s another reminder (like the recent attacks on women’s rights) that even though amazing trailblazing women have fought for my generation to have an easier time of things, we can’t take these accomplishments for granted. It’s a constant fight. We’re still far away from a time when we can just assume that women will get equal billing, respect and rights just because other women were able to earn it.
So if you haven’t read Bossypants yet, you definitely should. It answers a lot about Tina Fey and her work, and inspires new questions. And after all, she put together these crazy bananas just for us.
*It is interesting that Rachel Dratch is rarely mentioned in the book, however. Especially since it’s been well-documented that they were in the same Second City touring groups and it was their show at the Del Close marathon that reportedly got Fey the attention as a performer she needed to get an on-air audition. I don’t want to stir shit, but it’s interesting…and possibly meaningless.