Bossypants by Tina Fey (New York: Reagan Arthur, 2011. 288 pp)
Born in a suburb of Philadelphia, Tina Fey graduated from the University of Virginia with a B.A. in drama. After moving to Chicago, she started her comedic career with The Second City, an improvisational group. Later, she joined Saturday Night Live, eventually becoming head writer and co-host of Weekend Update. Fey currently writes and produces 30 Rock, a sketch comedy series on NBC. She has also adapted the screenplays for Mean Girls and Baby Mama for the big screen. Fey has won seven Emmy, three Golden Globe, four Screen Actors Guild, and four Writers Guild of America awards.
“There are no funny female comedians.” Too often someone erroneously utters this phrase. However, the more opportunities women receive at the highest levels of the comedic profession, the more the previous statement exposes some deep-seated flaws in reasoning.
Look no further than the stars of Saturday Night Live in the last decade. Where Mike Myers, Adam Sandler, and Will Ferrell dominated the screen in the 90s, Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey have been the defining comedic stars of the last decade.
A Comedy Memoir
With a behind-the-scenes look at television and a transparent view on the way gender influences comedy, Tina Fey’s memoir, Bossypants, defines the Tina Fey brand well. Equal parts snarky, honest, erudite, and ludicrous, Bossypants outlines Tina Fey’s life as she worked her way to the executive producer of a 30 Rock, a critically acclaimed series.
As a memoir, Bossypants is a collection of loosely related essays providing a biographical narrative. We read about Fey’s adolescent years; her reflections on her parents, husband, and child; her rise to notoriety in the comedy world; her views on gender politics; and a behind-the-scenes look at both Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock.
While Bossypants explores a wide variety of topics, Fey’s notes on gender and the inner workings of the television industry shine the brightest.
Gender: Corporate Synergy
Females in the comedy world find the path to success difficult. Since the women-as-not-funny assumption permeated the comedy world, women face an uphill battle. Fey admits her opportunity with Saturday Night Live might have arisen from corporate attempts to diversify.
“In 1997 I flew to New York from Chicago to interview for a writing position at Saturday Night Live. It seemed promising because I’d heard the show was looking to diversify. Only in comedy, by the way, does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity” (119).
Once hired, Fey divulges the many instances where the women on Saturday Night Live were prone to viewing the other females as enemies instead of collaborators, reliving the typical tumultuous high school experience.
“Obviously, as an adult I realize this girl-on-girl sabotage is the third worst kind of female behavior, right behind saying ‘like’ all the time and leaving your baby in a dumpster. I’m proud to say I would never sabotage a fellow female like that now. Not even if Christina Applegate and I were both up for the same part as Vince Vaughn’s mother in a big-budget comedy called Beer Guys” (40).
Television Requires Logistics
“There is one other embarrassing secret I must reveal, something I’ve never admitted to anyone. Though we are grateful for the affection 30 Rock has received from critics and hipsters, we were actually trying to make a hit show. We weren’t trying to make a low-rated critical darling that snarled in the face of conventionality. We were trying to make Home Improvement and we did it wrong. You know those scientists who were developing a blood-pressure medicine and they accidentally invented Viagra? We were trying to make Viagra and we ended up with blood pressure medicine” (190).
In sum, Tina Fey exposes deeply held opinions and behind-the-scenes moments with alacrity. With a charming and witty touch, Bossypants exposes the flawed opinions widely held on both comedy and gender. Tina Fey is a brilliant writer, and her memoir reinforces the notion that she is a heavy weight in the current comedy scene. If you want a good laugh and an interesting look into the world of comedy, check out Bossypants.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
What about you? Have you read Bossypants? Are you a fan of Tina Fey’s work with Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock? What are your thoughts on the role of gender in comedy?
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