by Tina Fey
Reagan Arthur, 288 pp., $26.99
Tina Fey is funny. Really funny. If you don’t think so—well, I hate to say it, but . . . you’re stupid. Don’t be mad. I know whereof I speak: I used to be stupid, too.
I spent years convinced that Fey wasn’t funny, that she presided, as head writer, over another one of the many not-so-great periods in Saturday Night Live’s history, and that her turn on Weekend Update was pretty unmemorable. I was reluctant to see Mean Girls because of her involvement with it. I avoided 30 Rock for years, thinking—no—knowing that it wasn’t funny. It couldn’t be funny. Tina Fey created it and starred in it.
As I say, I was stupid. When I finally broke down and watched Mean Girls and 30 Rock, I had to admit: They were funny. As the writer of Mean Girls she somehow managed to make Lindsay Lohan seem like a sympathetic human being. And 30 Rock, since its debut, has been the most consistently funny and clever and weird show on television, so densely packed with jokes—great jokes—that repeated viewings are not only enjoyable but practically necessary to catch everything worth catching (which is nearly everything): Fey’s awkward, romantically inept character Liz Lemon, and her on-again/off-again boyfriend Dennis, the Beeper King of New York; NBC executive Jack Donaghy’s dumping of Condoleezza Rice by text message (“You + Me = :-(”); his mother’s church in Waltham, Massachusetts: Our Lady of Reluctant Integration; everything that Tracy Jordan says; the insane Dr. Leo Spaceman (pronounced spa-che-men) . . .
I could go on. It is a great show, with only a handful of clunky episodes among the more than 100 that have aired. So it should be no surprise that Bossypants, Fey’s memoir of sorts, is (yes) funny. It is well written and blessedly free of the cringe-inducing introspection and oversharing that populate so many show business autobiographies.
Like Fey’s show, Bossypants packs a ton of jokes into a relatively small amount of space. Not even the cover goes to waste. It is emblazoned with phony “advance praise” (“ ‘Absolutely delicious!’—A guy who eats books”) and proclaims proudly, “Once in a generation a woman comes along who changes everything. Tina Fey is not that woman, but she met that woman once and acted weird around her.” And it’s not just around great women that she acts weird: Fey begins with heartfelt congratulations to the reader “on your purchase of this American-made genuine book. Each component of this book was selected to provide you with maximum book performance, whatever your reading needs may be.”
Not surprisingly, as a relatively new mother, she writes a lot about kids and parenting. In her main chapter on babies (“There’s a Drunk Midget in My House”) she asserts, “Like most people who have had one baby, I am an expert on everything and will tell you, unsolicited, how to raise your kid!” And she writes a hilariously vapid and pretentious poem, “The Mother’s Prayer for Its Daughter,” that offers (among its many supplications) the hope that when she one day turns on me and calls me a / Bitch in front of Hollister, / Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a / cab in front of her friends, / For I will not have that Sh*t. I will not have it.
Fey also writes admiringly about her father, who really does sound like a pretty awesome guy. With simultaneous poignancy and hilarity,
How can I give [my daughter] what Don Fey gave me? The gift of anxiety. The fear of getting in trouble. The knowledge that while you are loved, you are not above the law. The Worldwide Parental Anxiety System is failing if this many of us have made sex tapes.
Her frank discussion of her own insecurities is, for the most part, hilarious, as when she sums up her romantic exploits in college by asking, “[W]hat nineteen-year-old Virginia boy doesn’t want a wide-hipped, sarcastic Greek girl with short hair that’s permed on top?” And though it often seems that she is channeling Liz Lemon just to get laughs, just when you think she’s drifted into shtick it becomes apparent that she really is that insecure, particularly about her career and public perception.
She harps a bit too much on the importance of women in comedy. She feels the need to defend herself against the public assertions made by the unlikely duo of Jerry Lewis and Christopher Hitchens that women aren’t funny. She spends too many pages writing snarky replies to people who have anonymously bashed her on various blogs and websites. I suppose these rebuttals are just more attempts to be funny, but they’re one of the few places in Bossypants that aren’t, and they come off as bitter and petty, if just minor blemishes on a highly enjoyable book.
Does Bossypants offer great insight into the creative process behind writing great comedy? No. Does it present a riveting portrait of the ins and outs of network television? Not really. Is it deep? Happily, it is not. It’s just funny, which is actually a pretty big accomplishment.
Zachary Munson is a writer in Washington.