Tina Fey’s book explains comedy’s role in daily life

Aleksander Chan

There’s been debate about what exactly Tina Fey’s book, “Bossypants,” is. Is it “a sort-of memoir” as The Washington Post describes it? Or is it, as Entertainment Weekly says, a “genially jumbled memoir-esque collection”? In her New York Times review Janet Maslin says it is not a memoir but a “spiky blend of humor, introspection, critical thinking and Nora Ephron-isms for a new generation.” Comic Janeane Garofalo for NPR: “a sort of here’s-what-happened-and-why-I think-this kind of

book.” Huh?

Let’s put this to bed: “Bossypants,” referring to her management style, is not a memoir, essay collection, feminist manifesto or whatever it was Garofalo was trying to say. It is funny. Why does it have to be anything else? If Fey has taught us anything in her career as a celebrated humorist working as the first female head writer of “Saturday Night Live,” the brains behind “Mean Girls” and the star of “30 Rock,” it is that some of the best humor comes from a willingness to laugh at people (including yourself) who take things too seriously.

And while “Bossypants” touches on some serious subjects (body issues, cruel comments, motherhood), the only solid stance Fey takes in her short book is that if life’s challenges are slowly killing you, a sense of humor is going to help you get through it.

There are numerous accounts, the best including her confronting an early puberty (“I knew from commercials that one’s menstrual period was a blue liquid that you poured like laundry detergent onto pads to test their absorbency.”), an inside look of glamorous magazine photo shoots (“THE FUNNEST!”) and how “30 Rock” came to be (“People would stop to watch before realizing we were not ‘Sex and the City,’ when they would leave immediately.”)

Having worked in TV and sketch comedy (and TV about sketch comedy) for most of her life, her comedic style and thinking seems consequently episodic in nature; each individual piece or joke may be hilarious, but taken as a whole, it’s unclear how it’s all supposed to fit together.

It’s a good thing then that in “Bossypants,” she fires off some of the best one-offs in her career. In the chapter “Dear Internet,” she does what few celebrities would have the gall to do: She calls out snarky and sometimes flat-out nasty Internet commenters like Perez Hilton who wrote “she has not a single funny bone in her body.” Part of her reply is: “You know who does have a funny bone in her body? Your mom every night for a dollar.”

Throughout the book, Fey shifts between embarrassing autobiographical storyteller to showbiz insider to relatable dinner conversationalist. And as a comedienne, she knows how to turn a phrase so it hits just the right points of wryness, sarcasm and sanity. An almost 300-page riff on her own life, “Bossypants” is Tina Fey being as true to herself as she’s
ever been.