Improv, SNL, babies and 30 Rock — Fey’s giant juggle act
Tina Fey’s already best selling book is not so much a memoir as an explication of her philosophy of being a modern woman, writes Mahima Kaul
At first, a full disclaimer: I have, like possibly millions of other women, a complete girl-crush on Tina Fey. It began with a special edition DVD of Mean Girls, which cemented my Fey Fandom, and since then she has not failed to disappoint. Sarah Palin impressions on SNL, her award-winning show 30 Rock, even the film Date Night...her career has marched to the beat of its own drum, and this is one loud, celebratorial drum!
So, this brings us to her book, a loose autobiography. Fey has departed from the standard format and divided the book into various sections that cover the people and moments that have defined her life. And its decisions such as these and the million anecdotes in the book that make you realise this woman knows exactly who she is, and the confidence is electric.
To the book! Fey writes about the first moment she became aware of the millions things that can be considered "incorrect" on a woman's body. I remember mine — it was Aishwarya Rai, saying in a TV ad, 'if only our stomachs could be as flat.' Fey is clear about the traps society sets women. She rejects them outright, hilariously listing out body parts for which she is grateful, and this sets the tone. This actually is a book that deals with Fey's philosophy about being a woman in the 2000s. It is not really a memoir, which was a little disappointing.
She does on to describe her foray into the world of improvisational comedy (improv) — listing out rules for the uninitiated — and describes the thrill of performing for an audience. This is where Fey hits her stride. She talks about interviewing for Saturday Night Live and meeting her future mentor, Lorne Michaels. From a geeky kid growing up in the suburbs, she suddenly morphs into a career gal who is quite aware that her chosen profession is in truth a boys' club. A very quoted part of the book, when Amy Poehler slams Jimmy Fallon for not finding her funny — "I don't ***king care if you like it" — is a "cosmic shift" for Fey because she internalises this comment. Just because someone else doesn't like it, doesn't mean it isn't good. She advises women to do the same — "Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you're in charge, don't hire the people who were jerky to you."
Bossypants reveals Fey's love for her coworkers, and I suspect this deep connection can be found in her improv roots. She talks about leaving SNL and coming up with the concept for 30 Rock, all while pregnant with her first baby. Her decision to lampoon Sarah Palin on SNL, and her description of the incredible media coverage that followed, are the best chapters in my opinion. It is the eternal question when looking at a woman as successful as Fey: how does one act, write, executive produce, raise a baby and continue to look as relaxed and pretty as she does, all at the same time? There is a confidence to Fey that comes from an impressive understanding of the world she operates in. Her description of posing for magazine covers, when she reveals her willingness to be Photoshopped rather than opt for cosmetic sugery, is so endearing that you can't help but like her. I absolutely love that she writes about Amy Poehler's rapping during Sarah Palin's SNL guest spot: "The moment most emblematic of how things have changed for women in America was nine-month pregnant Amy Poehler rapping as Sarah Palin, tearing the roof of the place." If you haven't seen this clip, you need to Youtube it, because it is a phenomenal few minutes of entertainment television.
I had been searching for a chapter on Mean Girls and felt a bit cheated when I didn't find it. But, after I slept on it, I realised the book actually continues the philosophy she espouses in the movie -- if women are bad to each other, then it signals to the men that it is okay to be so too. She is brutally honest about her decision not to breastfeed, about the awkward relationship between a working mother and her babysitter (she means nanny) and finally, about deciding to have another baby at 40 and the many complications this brings in terms of her career.
The final verdict: it is an incredibly witty and honest insight into the life of a successful woman executive in the entertainment industry in the US. It is also not a book meant to talk about her life per se; she has glossed over her scar, the fact that she was a virgin until 24, and her romance with her husband. Instead, she's focused mainly on that personal development which led to professional development. By all accounts, the audio book might be funnier, as Fey's reading of the chapters include mimicking Alec Baldwin and Tracy Jordan. If not, watching her hour-long discussion with Eric Schimidt (available online) to see these stories come alive. Because, if anything, Tina Fey is a performer, and by god, Bossypants is an excellent performance.