The brilliant Tina Fey, famous for her writing of the cult classic, Mean Girls, writing and starring in the Emmy award-winning comedy, 30 Rock, and her years on Saturday Night Live! as head writer, host of Weekend Update, and professional Sarah Palin impersonator, has written her first book. For someone whose fame stemmed from her extraordinary talents as a comedy writer, it is no surprise that this book was an instant bestseller for its laughs and its deep reflections on the rise of a woman in comedy.
When you open this book, you are met with seven full pages of roaring praise for this memoir. There isn’t much more I can say in this review that hasn’t been captured a hundred times by all of its fans, but I wanted to just reflect on a few of my thoughts while reading. From the first page of the book, Tina Fey captivates readers with a heart-felt and hilariously self-effacing account of growing up as a delightfully weird kid and struggling to find her way in the big world of comedy. The great appeal of this book is how it straddles the line of being funny and still recounting the very real and sometimes upsetting travails of a hard-working, talented person’s rise to fame. Fey is honest and humble, treating readers to see behind the veil of the world of comedy and the amount of work that goes in behind the scenes.
Fans of Saturday Night Live! and 30 Rock are invited to relive these shows through Fey’s eyes, reading about the creative process behind famous political sketches and the team of writers that delivered hit jokes on both shows. Fey’s relationships with other SNL heavyweights Lorne Michaels, Amy Poehler, Jimmy Fallon, and Seth Myers are also fleshed out in a way that all fans of the show will love. There is an insight into the creative process and writing timelines that gives readers a whole new appreciation for these shows and the genius of writers like Fey who make them possible.
More than just a comedic memoir, Fey also recounts how difficult it can be for a woman to break into comedy, even one as brilliant as herself. Fey humbly recounts how she witnessed the transition of SNL from an “old boy’s club,” where the female comedians were often relegated to roles as props, girlfriends, or wives, into a show dominated by some of the best female comics of the century: Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and Kate McKinnon (not to mention Fey, herself). The systemic biases in these shows, and all of the previous steps on Fey’s journey, including Second City improv culture frowning upon a stage of only women, citing that at least one man was needed to keep the comedy going. These and other stories, only added some extra punch to Fey’s charismatic storytelling, making its message all the more important for everyone, not just women, to read and appreciate.
The sole flaw I found in this book is that, at times, Fey seems to expect that the entirety of her readership is female. This may just be that the style of some jokes felt like an “am I right, ladies?!?” sort of feel, but her “advice” segments in the memoir were largely focused on women: breastfeeding, skin care, and a few other topics. She even had an offhanded joke, where the punchline thanked men for reading. These moments were relatively brief, but as a man reading these few sections, I felt like I was eavesdropping on a conversation I wasn’t necessarily invited to. Is it because Fey just didn’t expect men to find her funny due to the same sexist social pressures she mentions over and over in this book? Or was it because, as a male reader, I am just unaccustomed to some of these topics and jokes? Either way, these slightly awkward moments are brief, and usually interrupted by some joke or reference that brings you right back into the story.
I also wonder if some of the self-effacing humor goes a little far. Fey is a bright, super talented, attractive woman, but she is so down on herself that it seems kind of sad. The jokes are all funny, but did she really think she was fat? Or that her troubles are so meaningless just because there are people out there with more physical dangers? I would like to believe that it is all a show, but does this insecurity, whether real or feigned, lessen her message about a strong woman breaking into a male-dominated world? Probably not, Fey seems confident in her awkwardness, making some of the self-deprecation seem almost like an act to further our amusement. After all, she is a professional entertainer. And a good one at that. Her strength of character is on display, and moments of weakness should really be welcomed and be viewed courageously for being so honest.
Overall: don’t let those comments dissuade you in the slightest. This book is a must-read for all fans of Fey, TV comedy, or autobiographies. I tore through it in a matter of days. The tone and style of the writing grabs you from the first page. Fey graciously invites readers into her hilarious and interesting life and leaves us wanting more. She lays laugh-out-loud humor into a heart-felt story with more ease than anything else I’ve read. Though I don’t normally read memoirs, this one is an instant classic and almost flawless.
Rating: 9 out of 10