The Designer’s Drugs: Tina Fey – Bossypants

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Tina Fey – Bossypants

Anno: 2011

This half-biography, half humor book from America’s reigning comedic mind alternates between being too short and running at just the right length.  If one is looking for Tina Fey to give a detailed, minute by minute account of her life and career, well, that didn’t happen.  When she does talk about herself, Fey gives a Cliff’s Notes version of her life: childhood, awkward dates, Second City, getting hired at Saturday Night Live, the process of creating 30 Rock, and her Sarah Palin impersonation that became one of the most notorious aspects of the 2008 presidential election.  Yet it seems obvious that the biography parts, especially the personal, serious bits, were written with great reluctance and as necessary evils.  With the exception of describing work-related stress, she tends not to dwell on feelings and sticks to the facts when the big picture is called for.  As such, there are brief moments when Bossypants gets more biography than autobiography, with “I” being substituted for “she.”  In contrast, it’s clear that the goof off parts of the book, the weird asides and ridiculous lists, are where Fey’s heart really lies.

This isn’t to say that the tone of the book is harshly bipolar, but that the most personal parts of Bossypants often come with a healthy dose of deflection.  Humor is the easy disguise, but Fey exposes herself most in describing others, whether it’s talking her dad up to tall tale proportions or describing her husband’s travel hang-ups and their disastrous journeys together.  It’s in keeping with this lack of self-centeredness that the book’s strongest statement about the potential of women in comedy is a story in which Fey watches from the sidelines as a female castmate tells off a male castmate.

The book does end sort of awkwardly.  The coda begins with Fey musing about being a woman getting older in a business that sycophantically worships youth.  Yet as it progresses, a growing part of that musing involves whether or not Fey should have a second child.  Ultimately it becomes a question Fey asks the reader.  It’s a strange enough ending point on its face, but its gets stranger when one discovers that Fey announced, around the time of this book’s publication, that she is in fact pregnant.  This may be a case of strange and highly appropriate timing or an intentional art-into-life narrative, but the end effect comes off like asking people to vote in an election that was decided the previous week.

Bossypants may not be the greatest comedian’s memoir of all time, but it is a very good supplement to the rest of Tina Fey’s work.

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