Maybe Tina Fey doesn’t sit beside Oprah on the velvet-cushioned sofa reserved for powerful women in entertainment, but who cares? She likes Oprah. And besides, she has a comfy chair of her own in the same room.
Fey’s resume includes:
- Head writer on Saturday Night Live
- Series creator and writer of 30 Rock; s
- Series co-creator and producer of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
- Writer and/or actor in such projects as Mean Girls, Date Night, Megamind, This is Where I Leave You.
In 2013, Fey and her friend Amy Poehler hosted the Golden Globe Awards. Their performance was so popular they were invited to do it again. And again. Fey has received two Golden Globes, four Writers Guild of America Awards, five Screen Actors Guild Awards and eight (yowza!) Emmy Awards. She was named the Associated Press Entertainer of the Year for her hoot-worthy portrayal of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in several guest appearances on Saturday Night Live. These prizes don’t just fall into her lap. She works for them.
No doubt Tina Fey is funny and popular. I love watching her and Poehler together. So when I had a long flight ahead and the Bossypants paperback stared down at me from the airport bookstore shelf with quotes like “Amazingly, absurdly, deliriously funny” printed on the cover, I knew I was in for a treat.
Bossypants, which has been called an autobiography, was at the top of The New York Times Best Seller list for five weeks. I wouldn’t call it amazing or delirious or absurd though there are many points of interest in it. I also wouldn’t call Bossypants an autobiography. It’s a compilation of essays about the how and why of Tina Fey’s career, told in chronological order. From her youth as a gawky kid to her discovery of theater and gay friends to her early awkwardness with men, she tells some good stories that people in show business will relate to.
The story that made me laugh out loud tells of her experience when having to give host Sylvester Stallone a performance note. She knocks on his dressing room door and is ushered in:
Judge Dredd himself was on the couch in an undershirt, smoking another cigar. He looked up at me. I muttered, ‘In the Rita sketch, you were a little hard to understand. Can you just enunciate a little more?’ Stallone was unfazed. ‘Youcannunnastanme? Youneeme nanaunciuate maw? Okay.’ He couldn’t have been more easygoing about it…I went back outside and manually released my butt cheeks.
Fey is self-effacing, always making the reader feel like “you could do this, too, anyone could; I’m not special.” She gives her coworkers, male and female, full credit for their talents. And she really does love Amy Poehler:
Amy made it clear that she wasn’t [at SNL] to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not [bleeping] care if you liked it.
I was so happy. Weirdly, I remember thinking, ‘My friend is here! My friend is here!’ Even though things had been going great for me at the show, with Amy there, I felt less alone.
Tina Fey is to be admired for many things: she acts, writes, tells jokes and produces great television. She’s a mom and a wife, and apparently good at those things, too. But what I find most impressive is that she’s a supporter of women, even in all the things she does. She doesn’t see herself in competition with other women; she’s aware that the best way for us to help ourselves is to help each other.
Her spot-on description of her time with The Second City National Touring Company describes, among other things, the sexist casting system that was already outdated when The Second City began in 1959. The four-man, two-woman formula was based on the producers’ misguided belief that women weren’t funny. You needed a pretty one to play wives and hookers, and a wacky one to play, um, wackos. I was in the Touring Company in the 1980’s and had hoped that by the mid-90’s, when Tina Fey arrived, this would be a thing of the past. It wasn’t, but by the time she left it was on its way out and she can be credited with helping it on its way.
The same kind of mind shift happened while she was at Saturday Night Live. She doesn’t claim responsibility, but as a head writer she must have had a hand in it:
The women in the cast took over the show in that decade, and I had the pleasure of being there to witness it.
Fey cracks wise throughout Bossypants, which is fine for a while, but it does become a single, repeating note. Near the end she touches lightly on her personal feelings. But if you’re looking for insight into Tina Fey the human, you’ll want to dig deeper than this book.
Bossypants is about Tina Fey’s development as a performer, writer and executive. It’s not about sexism or feminism, though inevitably those subjects arise when you’re talking about a woman in power. I didn’t find Bossypants to be “amazingly, absurdly, deliriously funny” but I did chuckle many times, and although I wish I’d gotten to know Tina Fey a little better, who cares? I still think she’s stellar.
Petrea Burchard is a Pasadena photographer, blogger, voice-over talent and author. Her story “Portraits” is included in Literary Pasadena (Prospect Park Books, 2013). She contributes book reviews to Hometown Pasadena, for which we and our readers are very grateful. Find more Petrea doings, writings, and photography at PetreaBurchard.com and LivingVicuriously.
Petrea’s novel, Camelot & Vine, can be bought locally at the Pasadena Museum of History, Hoopla! in Altadena and the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse. The ebook version is available on Amazon.com.