Sunday, February 5, 2012

Tina Fey - Bossypants [book review]

Released in April 2011 and last month in paperback (part of an ongoing series of reviews covering older releases from the past year that "fell through the cracks")
Tina Fey's Bossypants was a runaway success upon its release last April, entrenching itself on the New York Times Best Seller list for months, which is where it returns after being released in paperback last month. Bossypants is partially an amusing memoir, surrounded by other humorous observations on show business and life, presented in a loose style that can find it, say, deviating off into a rundown of funny lists, and other such non sequiturs. At one point, she responds to some real messages from her Internet haters, including the one that called her an "ugly, pear-shaped, bitchy, over-rated troll" (she also actually uses that one as a blurb on the book's back cover). Men, don't dismiss this as a "chick book", because while she does occasionally discuss things like workplace sexism, female body image as shaped by Beyoncé and JLo, female empowerment, and balancing motherhood with a career, it's not overloaded with female-centric topics. Anyway, the bottom line is that funny is funny, and this is a veritable laugh fest from beginning to end. Fans of her brilliant TV show 30 Rock will find a comfortable familiarity in Fey's quirky, but still accessible comedic writing style; non-fans will still find plenty of humour in her sharp wit and perpetually entertaining musings.
Here's some of the funnier excerpts:
* On her first period: "I was ten. I had noticed something was weird earlier in the day, but I knew from commercials that one's menstrual period was a blue liquid that you poured like laundry detergent onto maxi pads to test their absorbency. This wasn't I ignored it for a few hours."
* On the scar on her cheek: "I've always been able to tell a lot about people by whether they ask me about my scar. Most people never ask, but if it comes up naturally somehow and I offer up the story, they are quite interested. Some people are just dumb: 'Did a cat scratch you?' God bless. Those sweet dumdums I never mind. Sometimes it is a fun sociology litmus test, like when my friend Ricky asked me, 'Did they ever catch the black guy that did that to you?' Hmmm. It was not a black guy, Ricky, and I never said it was."
* On being Photoshopped on magazine covers: "I feel about Photoshop the way some people feel about abortion. It is appalling and a tragic reflection on the moral decay of our society...unless I need it, in which case everybody be cool."
* On overworking herself: "By the way, when Oprah Winfrey is suggesting you may have overextended yourself, you need to examine your fucking life."
Fey covers her start in showbiz studying improv and sketch comedy with Chicago's Second City company, her ascent to becoming the first female head writer on Saturday Night Live (along with being an occasional sketch player and co-anchor of Weekend Update), and the struggles and hard work involved with creating, producing, writing, and starring in 30 Rock. Fey's SNL observations are, no surprise, the most interesting in the book. She deconstructs the whirlwind experience of playing Sarah Palin, a role which became a pop culture touchstone that many feel actually had an impact on the 2008 presidential election. On SNL's legendarily hectic week-of-show schedule she writes, "The show doesn't go on because it's ready, it goes on because it's 11:30". I was very curious to see how Fey would tackle the subject of SNL's notoriously institutionalized sexism, as she still has a business relationship with SNL creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels (who exec produces 30 Rock), and still has many friends that work on the show. Her criticism is revelatory and actually not as diplomatically held back as I expected, such as when she cites a specific example that occurred during her first week on the show. Chris Kattan (a male) was chosen over female fellow cast member Cheri Oteri to play a female character in a sketch, of which Fey writes, "I remember thinking that was kind of illustrates how things were the first week I was there. By the time I left nine years later, that never would have happened. The women in the cast took over the show and I had the pleasure of being there to witness it".
Bossypants is a casual and easily digestible read, although Fey can get serious every now and then, such as her touching words about having a strong father figure, who she charmingly refers to by using his full name. She inevitably steers the periodically more thoughtful tone back in a comedic direction, though, writing, "You certainly aren't interested in the 'unresolved father issues' that rendered Bill Clinton unable to keep his fly closed. Don Fey is not going to put up with that. Don Fey is a grown-ass man! Black people find him stylish!". Clocking in at 277 pages, or five-and-a-half hours for the audiobook version (read by the author), Bossypants may be relatively slight as far as its word count, but it does have possibly the most laughs per page of any book I've ever read.
Rating: ★★


  1. Oh my God I LOVED this book! Tina is such a massively talented person.

    Your choice of reviews never ceases to amaze me-from Megadeath to Tina Fey!!

  2. It's all about variety, Gail. :-)


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