Tina Fey’s Bossypants Keeps You at a Hairy Arm’s Distance
The best part of Tina Fey’s Bossypants is the cover. Which says more about the strength of the cover than the weakness of the book. Bossypants was a good airplane read, but unlike my flight to Columbus, Ohio, when finished I was left wanting more.
This is the part of the review where I talk about how I’ve always been a big fan of Tina Fey, even before she became popular. It’s where I mention Weekend Update, 30 Rock, the 2008 presidential election, Mean Girls, and the PBS Mark Twain Prize for Humor television special. It’s probably where I should also throw in an obscure Fey reference that proves my street cred with Fey purists.
However, I don’t have time to google an obscure reference, so I’ll just leave it at this: My wife and I DVR 30 Rock and watch it when the kids have finally headed to bed. We usually enjoy about seven tenths of the show. Which is a really awkward comedy fraction, considering it includes the averaging of my wife’s and my variant per episode scoring. Even so, when it comes to comedy, 7/10 is a respectable measurement of entertainment value. For those of you wondering why I dislike three tenths (3/10) of the show or why I dislike formulating my fractions into percentages, I ask you to be content with mystery and ambiguity. Nothing is ten tenths certain or understandable.
If you skipped the last paragraph out of an innate fear of word problems, I’m simply trying to point out that I was really looking forward to reading Tina Fey’s clever insights on life and the entertainment industry. Unfortunately, Bossypants had the arms, but not the legs to make a more potent impression.
It seems the genesis of this book was rooted in more practical concerns than profound artistic convictions. I imagine the conversation went something like this:
Tina Fey Influencer: “You should write a book.”
Tina Fey: “Why would I do that?”
Tina Fey Influencer: “Well, 30 Rock will soon be coming to an end and you might as well cash in while you’re on the top of your game.”
Tina Fey: “But I don’t have time to write a book. I’m very busy.”
Tina Fey Influencer: “Don’t worry, just take some of those columns you wrote for The New Yorker and repackage them with some insights from your time at SNL.”
Tina Fey: “Wow, Mr. or Mrs. Influencer, you make a good argument. But I’m not really big on those tell all books.”
Tina Fey Influencer: “Don’t worry, when your career is going well, you don’t have to write nasty things about other people. Just make your book really generic, non-threatening, and non-provocative. Make sure no one could really be offended by anything you write, except for the groups that already don’t like you. Make sure you leave the door open for everyone to still work with you. And above all, make sure you write a book that purposely avoids letting people really know the core of who you are and what you believe. Leave out all the important personal experiences in your life. Make it seem like a memoir, when in fact it is just some cute stories strung together at the height of your career. That way you can please everyone, without anyone knowing who you really are. When your career is over, then you can write that other book.”
Tina Fey: “What other book?”
Tina Fey Influencer: “The honest, unfiltered book. . . the one that is actually about you.”
Tina Fey: “Why in the world would I want anyone to know the real me. . . You must not know many comedians. Now let me eat my gyro and I’ll get back to you.”
Tina Fey Influencer: “One last thing. . . Make sure it has a catchy cover. Maybe a picture of you shaving Alec Baldwin’s head.”
Tina Fey: “Yah, I’ll be sure to consider that.”
Of course this conversation never happened. For those of you who think my scenario presents Tina Fey as easily influenced by mysterious influencers, I prefer to view the role of “Tina Fey Influencer” as a composite of internal and external forces. Friends, family, agents, and Tina Fey’s own thoughts personified as a book pusher.
Regardless of what motivated the writing of Bossypants, the end result is a rather surface level, well intentioned attempt to humor an audience without inconveniencing them with unneeded transparency.
Bossypants occasionally gives us a glimpse behind the veneer. Fey sporadically hints at the complex struggles of being a woman, mother, and artist in a frequently absurd, superficial entertainment culture. However, there is a consistent surface level depth to these observations. Fey is unwilling to sacrifice a boundary between the readers and the reality of her life. She simply refuses to answer the important questions; as if she believes the core of what makes her tick is a trivial distraction to the story she’s actually willing to tell. “Oh you don’t want to hear all those boring important parts. . . Let’s just talk about boys peeing in cups,” she says with a endearing smile and tilt of the head.
Consequently, after reading Bossypants, I know very little about Tina Fey as a person, but I know much about her as a calculated communicator. Bossypants has many clever stories and insights. However, in this fan’s opinion, it gives very little insight into what actually makes Tina Fey tick. It is certainly her right to limit such revelations. Even so, I look forward to the day when she writes her second book and first memoir. The one that has more to do with freedom, and less to do with guarding both her private and public image.
Then again, that might never happen. Tina Fey may always keep her fans at a Popeye hairy arm distance. Regardless, I look forward to whatever she produces. Transparency aside, she has a consistent habit of being perpetually funny.
Doug blogs and tweets Fairlyspiritual