“I made [my husband] fly once before we married because he was offered a free trip to Vienna, Austria, to direct a sketch comedy show for an English-language theatre. If you know anything about Vienna, you know that they love Chicago-style sketch comedy!*
*The Viennese do not enjoy American sketch comedy.”
In Bossypants, Tina Fey blends comedy and memoir, hopping chronologically through her childhood—how did she get her scar, and what do peoples’ reactions to it reveal about them?—to her time working on Saturday Night Live, and eventually creating her own show, 30 Rock. She recounts her mixed feelings about her famous role imitating Sarah Palin on SNL, derides sexism in the comedy business, and shares the bizarre experience of participating in magazine cover photo shoot. Unfortunately, her popular film, Mean Girls, receives only passing mentions.
Bossypants was recommended to me repeatedly by friends who knew I had enjoyed How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. While both are humourous memoirs by women, I didn’t otherwise find the two books to be terribly similar. The rub comes down to this: like the Viennese (see quote above) I don’t actually find American sketch comedy to be all that funny most of the time, and The Washington Post has aptly described Bossypants as “sketch narrative.” When I laughed on page 173, and it dawned on me that this was the first time that I had laughed out loud at the book, I knew I was in trouble. Still wanting to give the book the benefit of the doubt, I decided to switch to the audio version. After all, certain brands of humour are meant to be performed, not read (which isn’t to say that writing can’t be funny). The audio book was a definite improvement over reading the book, and Fey does a good job of bringing the material life. However, the humour still didn’t really do it for me.
Humour aside, though, Bossypants is still an interesting read. Fey was on the front lines of a generation of women making career breakthroughs in comedy, and her observations about sexism are astute. There are a number of revealing chapters dealing with women’s physical appearances, including “Origin Story,” “Remembrances of Being Very Very Skinny,” “Remembrances of Being a Little Bit Fat,” and “Amazing, Gorgeous, Not Like That.” For me, Fey is at her best when she is tackling these issues with humour, grace, and pointed sarcasm. It’s also interesting to get a glimpse of the lifestyle and work that goes into being a profession comedian. Bossypants stood out more as a memoir than as a work of humour, but I have no doubt that others with a different sense of humour will disagree.