- Craig Graziano
When I first saw Tina Fey co-anchor Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update with Jimmy Fallon on some lonely teenage evening, I couldn't stand her. The punchlines were marinated in a sense of overwhelming superiority, with a side of mean-spirited smarminess. Thankfully this is not the version of Tina Fey that came into focus as time passed. With her new memoir Bossypants, as well as her show 30 Rock, Fey has mastered the art of relatable, self-deprecating humor as seen in her introduction.
"Perhaps you’re a parent and you bought this book to learn how to raise an achievement-oriented, drug-free, adult virgin. You’ll find that too. The essential ingredients, I can tell you up front, are a strong father figure, bad skin, and a child-sized colonial-lady outfit."
Bizarre asides such as that speak volumes about what Fey's childhood must have been like and the sense of humor that emerged from it. Personal embarrassment is a key factor. She often writes characters who are losing their grasp on reality, unaware of the fact that they are weirding everyone out . Fey also has a tendency to go blue, throwing a vulgarity hand grenade into the mix when all else fails.
Despite the jokes at her own expense, Fey isn't a pushover when it comes the values she holds dear, particularly issues of gender in the workplace. Her first week on Saturday Night Live was most memorable due to a writer's choice of using a man in a dress instead of one of the incredibly talented female cast members for a sketch. Over the next several years, Fey managed to turn this boys' club into an equal opportunity environment where women were considered just as funny as men (if not funnier).
Rather than dishing dirt, this memoir focuses on the most important aspect of Fey's life: Humor. She tells war stories from her early improv days, gracefully addresses the asinine remarks of internet message board commentators, and touches on what it was like to shoot scenes for 30 Rock with Oprah, play Sarah Palin on SNL, and throw a Peter Pan-themed birthday party for her daughter all in the same weekend.
If you enjoy the personal essays of David Sedaris, this will delight you. Readers who enjoy the talk about drama behind the scenes at SNL should seek out the exceptional Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, in which Fey shows up for the last third.
I leave you with a link to a sketch that Tina Fey wrote when Christopher Walken hosted the show early last decade. This sketch was overshadowed by the more popular "Cowbell" sketch from the same episode, but I feel that this scene serves Walken's creepy persona better, and it illustrates Fey's talent for randomness in a pitch perfect manner.