Recommended: Bossypants by Tina Fey
Whether or not you became a fan of Tina Fey when she was a co-host of Weekend Update on “Saturday Night Live” or as the creator/showrunner and star of the Emmy winning NBC series “30 Rock,” you must recognize that she has broken a lot of ground as a woman in comedy, an especially male-dominated area of the entertainment industry. She was the first-ever female head writer on SNL. She is now an A-list writer, an Emmy winner, and a TV star who clearly charts her own course.
Her just-released autobiography, Bossypants (affiliate link), is a true window into the comedy world and into the challenges that anyone, especially anyone female, faces in trying to make it. It also offers insight into why and how Tina herself was able to get to where she currently is and provides a wealth of wisdom for those just starting out as to how to give themselves the best chance for success.
On a pure enjoyment level, the chapter on her father is the best. He’s one of those 70s-style stoics who nobody messes with, which clearly shaped Tina’s development (kept her in line, really) growing up and into adulthood. She describes him as looking like Clint Eastwood and in the picture she includes of 70s-era Don Fey, you can tell, through the sleeves of his form-fitting long-sleeve turtleneck, he’s got guns. Much of this chapter is difficult to excerpt since it all builds upon itself, but here is a snippet:
Don Fey dresses well. He has an artist’s eye for mixing colors and prints. He wears tweedy jackets over sweater vests in the winter and seersucker suits in the summer. His garnet college ring shows off his well-groomed hands. He can still rock a hat.
There is a lot of silliness in this book, such as chapters devoted to her job at the local YMCA when she was in her 20s, to her disastrous honeymoon, and to starring in photo shoots. She also goes into much detail about how awkward she was as a child, an adolescent, and an early adult, and as she allegedly continued/continues to be even as a highly-successful comedy professional.
So if you aren’t a fan of Tina Fey’s work or her humor, you may have a hard time getting through it, in spite of your desire to get the career takeaways. But if you are a fan, this will be an extremely enjoyable and quick read.
For those who want an idea of what kind of takeaways you will get to apply to your own career, here’s a list of some of my favorites:
- The Rules of Improvisation That Will Change Your Life – This is a small section about applying the rules of improv, which she initially learned during her time with Second City in Chicago, to your work life, such as, “Always agree.” She takes this to the real world by saying, “Be open. Start from an open-minded place.” And, not only that, “Always say ‘Yes, and…,’” meaning “Don’t be afraid to contribute.”
- Things I Learned from Lorne Michaels - This is a list of lessons she gleaned from her working relationship with the “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” executive producer (among many, many credits)/comedy legend who hired and mentored her at SNL. Lesson #2 is “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.” I’d imagine when you’re producing a live show, that little tidbit gets bandied about a lot, but it can be applied to many things in one’s career.
- I Don’t Care If You Like It - This chapter is named after something Amy Poehler said to Jimmy Fallon when she was new to SNL and he was complaining that he didn’t like some comedy bit she was doing. The chapter is about sexism in comedy, about men who say women aren’t funny and otherwise try to undermine their comedy confidence. Tina gives her unsolicited advice about how to deal with such behavior, which is a version of the title of the chapter, as in, “Unless they are your boss or are otherwise standing in the way of you getting what you want, tell them…”
There is plenty of other career instruction sprinkled throughout the book, as well as whole chapters about getting “30 Rock” on the air, juggling life as a new mother and a new showrunner, and about the series of appearances Tina made on SNL as Sarah Palin. But even on their own, the three sections listed above can educate and really light a fire under the right kind of person, especially (but by no means only) for a young woman who dreams of starring on “Saturday Night Live.” Unless you don’t “get” Tina Fey’s type of humor (and she even admits not everyone does), pick up or download a copy of Bossypants and get ready to laugh and learn.
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