This is the best book I’ve read in this genre – this genre being loosely-related personal essays by female comedians. I’d say by comedians period, but I haven’t read any books by male comedians, and since Trump got elected I haven’t been able to read any books by men. Amy Poehler’s Yes Please leaned too heavily on behind-the-scenes celebrity, plus Poehler kept bringing up how hard it was to write a book. Phoebe Robinson’s You Can’t Touch My Hair repeated too much of her readily-available stand-up routine. Lena Dunham’s book was more feminist literary essays (it’s even filed differently in the Dewey Decimal System), and Lena Dunham has since uttered and apologized for about three million racist and otherwise problematic statements. Fey’s book is vulnerable in a way that these books aren’t; behind-the-scenes stories are thoughtfully curated and then situated in (usually feminist) analysis; most of the book feels fresh because its content is book-appropriate and therefore wasn’t spoiled in other mediums. Make no mistake: this is a light read. But when I’ve fallen out of the habit and need help reading again, this is the kind of sure-fire I turn to, and that’s important.
The book loosely follows Fey’s life from childhood to the present, but it sticks closer to the themes of work, outsiders, and creative process. This structure and discipline helps a lot. The only story about the SNL pitch room is a brief interaction between Amy Poehler and Jimmy Fallon, which Fey tells not because it’s the best, the meanest, or the funniest, but just because it serves a point she’s making about role models and office culture. When Fey discusses her stint as Sarah Palin impersonator, she isn’t just running a play-by-play, she’s revealing creative thought-processes about one- vs. two-person sketches, how ratings affect creativity, and impression make-up. She’s also giving equal page space to Palin on SNL, Oprah on 30 Rock, and her daughter’s Peter Pan birthday party, because all three crises were important to her at the time.
But my favorite inside-scoop has to be the draft of a Palin-Clinton Saturday Night Live sketch complete with pencil-edits from Fey.
These edits show improvements for concision and clarity, but they also show Fey sharpening jokes, which I’ve never been able to envision (being a writer, not a comedian). And they show the importance of women writing for women – or at least the importance of female editors – because this sketch was written by Seth Meyers and edited by Fey. Fey’s edits show slight adjustments that change agency and power dynamics and add vocabulary a female is more likely to know. Fey had the power to make these changes, and her opinion was respected, because by the time this sketch aired she’d already made head writer and transitioned to her own TV show.
Then there’s the fact that this draft was one of many written on SATURDAY for a show called SATURDAY Night Live, and my slow-moving writer’s mind has exploded.