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Arts in Review

Book Review: Bossypants by Tina Fey

You may already know who Tina Fey is. It’s hard not to if you’ve owned a television at any point in the last 12 years or if you like comedy even a little bit. Long-running Saturday Night Live writer and Weekend Update co-anchor, outspoken liberal feminist, and creator of the critically successful comedy 30 Rock, Tina Fey has a history of making us laugh on screens both small and big. But can she make us laugh in the old fashioned chunk-of-paper book format? Yes, it turns out she can.

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Date Posted: June 3, 2011
Print Edition: May 27, 2011

By Sophie Isbister (The Cascade) – Email

You may already know who Tina Fey is. It’s hard not to if you’ve owned a television at any point in the last 12 years or if you like comedy even a little bit. Long-running Saturday Night Live writer and Weekend Update co-anchor, outspoken liberal feminist, and creator of the critically successful comedy 30 Rock, Tina Fey has a history of making us laugh on screens both small and big. But can she make us laugh in the old fashioned chunk-of-paper book format? Yes, it turns out she can.

Bossypants delights on many levels. Both autobiographical and social commentary, the book has content that will appeal to Fey’s fans and foes alike. She spends as much time recounting her summers spent in youth community theatre as she does on her early days with comedy troupe The Second City and on SNL and 30 Rock insider stories that will delight even non-Fey-devotees. But for a self-proclaimed Fey fanatic (as I am), the real joy of the book is hearing her take on everything from Photoshop to Titanic, and from feminism to TNs (Teat Nazis, or breastfeeding mothers who “brag endlessly about how much their five year old still loves breast milk”).

You could say that aspects of Fey’s book are controversial (TNs being the most notable), but the message running behind each chapter is one of strong feminism without any woe-is-me whining. Fey is interesting in that she sees a future that eschews gender supremacy (“Once we know we’re really open to all the options, we can proceed with Whatever’s the Funniest… which will probably involve farts”), yet acknowledges the struggles women face in the workplace. While her book takes a bombastic raunchy-humour tone, and occasionally employs mildly misogynistic jokes (“Then she took out a speculum the size of a milk shake machine. Even Michelle Duggar would have flinched at this thing”), Fey is a self-proclaimed feminist and the book is clear on that. She takes pokes at feminist backlash by participating in it, and frankly discusses the barriers that she and other women have faced in the sometimes not-too-funny industry of sketch comedy.

Bossypants, while not explicitly a “how to survive in the world of male-dominated comedy” book, ends up churning out some much needed advice for women, including “No pigtails, no tube tops,” and also the more serious, “Don’t be fooled. You’re not in competition with other women. You’re in competition with everyone.” But like everything in this 277-page tome of tee-hees, most of her advice is tinged with the particular Fey brand of cutting dry wit and pop-culture references. Perhaps the topical nature of Fey’s funny will keep this book from reaching classic biography status, but who cares? Not me, as long as we get such comic gold as: “I am 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.”

Beauty, body image, first periods (“I knew from commercials that one’s menstrual period was a blue liquid […] This wasn’t blue, so… I ignored it for a few hours”), father figures, fashion shoots, motherhood, honeymoons, being Sarah Palin, being the boss: Bossypants touches on all the hallmarks of Fey’s life. The reader gets to know Fey’s long-suffering (not really) husband and daughter and also gain some illuminating insights into being a working mom (“By the way, when Oprah Winfrey is suggesting you may have overextended yourself, you need to examine your fucking life”). By the end of the book, you may feel like you know a little too much about the star-studded and bedazzled life of Tina Fey. But you’ll be happier for it.

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