“Women are not as funny as men.” Whether or not you believe it, you’ve certainly heard that idea somewhere. Maybe you read it in Christopher Hitchens’ essay, “Why Women Aren’t Funny” (Hitchens argues that women don’t need to be witty: society thinks females shouldn’t be clever–men are supposed to use humor to attract a mate, etc.). So, what do women who consider themselves funny have to say about this?
“I don’t fucking care what you think” — (borrowed from Amy Pohler)
In Bossypants, Tina Fey acknowledges that inequality between the sexes isn’t a conspiracy theory, yet more of a miscommunication. Unfortunately, the idea that women are inferior to men still exists – especially in comedy. It is a stupid, ignorant and kind-of-dangerous idea—so Fey suggests throughout that we mock it – and everything else – accordingly. The book’s title might be a winking-nudge at Fey’s ascent to comedy’s highest echelon. But the title may be onto something: women don’t get a chance to wear the eponymous “bossypants” in the world of comedy. Fey, however, through hard work, a tempered attitude, and obvious talent, proves these silly pants fit her well.
A quick review: Fey is the star, executive producer, and head-writer of 30 Rock, the most critically acclaimed comedy on network television. Before creating (as described by Donald Glover) “a show that poops Emmys,” Fey was the head writer of SNL, screenwriter of Mean Girls, and an alumni of the prestigious Chicago improv troupe, Second City. She’s also a wife and mother. All this is discussed in her A number one New York Times best seller memoir Bossypants–with plenty of jokes, honesty, and feminist zeal. She makes people who think “Women aren’t funny” sound really stupid. Bossypants is an eclectic mix of family and career memories, tongue-in-cheek advice for woman in management, and a satirical stab at misogyny in America.
First, what everyone is most curious about: do we learn the details behind her notorious scar? Yes! Fey explains the origin of her scar matter-of-factly on page eight; save for a few self-effacing jokes, the scar isn’t mentioned for the rest of the book. Fey wonders if her scar might be the genesis of her, as she writes, “inflated sense of self.” Other factors could include: a loving, but hard-to-please father; exclusive association with flamboyant actors and actresses; the Young Men’s Christian Association; and losing her virginity at twenty-four. What makes a comedian“e” tick? Fey provides plenty of suggestions, but no conclusions. If you’re looking for the exigency underlying Fey’s “Funny”, you won’t find it–she’s just funny.
In the chapter, “All Girls Must Be Everything” Fey describes the impossible standard of beauty to which women are expected to conform; then, she lists how she defies all these “standards” with her “Straight Greek eyebrows…heart shaped ass…droopy brown eyes… [and] wide-set knockers.” Sometimes it’s hard to sympathize with Fey since she was on the cover of Vanity Fair; however, she explains that “The Beauty Problem,” for lack of a better term, gets hyperbolized when you’re a woman working in Hollywood. Eventually, she concludes: no women could be “everything” and beauty is exactly what you make of it. In Bossypants, appearance is a pitfall that tricks us into caring more about something that’s impossible to change instead of becoming better at doing real work. Fey sidesteps this pitfall and passes on her wisdom through jokes about Krispy Kreme.
In the book’s best chapter, Fey wonders if “The Beauty Problem” hindered Vice Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin during the 2008 election. Fey explains that her viral video Sarah Palin impression frenzy started during the same week of 1. her daughter’s birthday party and 2. filming Oprah’s guest-appearance on 30 Rock (further demonstrating Fey’s super-powers). Fey includes the “infamous” sketch’s script as a page-padding-primary source to prove that the joke’s raison d’être was
“[to] invite the media to be vigilant for sexist behavior…although it’s never sexist to question a female politician’s credentials.” Balancing Oprah, birthday, and Palin gave Fey an anecdote that allows her to make nuanced reflections about family/work/ politics/misinterpretation of a joke/celebrity in America; it would be hard to boil down these ideas into a sentence–that’s why you should just read it.
Instead of wasting time deconstructing her wit, Fey displays it. Bossypants is devoid of lofty pontification of what/why/how people think about being funny; instead, it’s just funny. Fey’s voice seamlessly blends anecdote, parody, satire, and even good-old-fashioned joke writing. She never sounds over-polished or forced because humor really is her modus operandi. Fey’s funny: that’s how she wrote such a great book. Unfortunately, at 277 pages, Bossypants is finishable in a plane ride. Thankfully, it’s making a lot of money, so there will likely be a sequel. Like other great comedian memoirs, Bossypants blends wit, personality, and a refined point of view.
Nick Martin is a writer from Urbana, Illinois. His primary interests are pop-culture criticism, graphic novels and comicbooks, contemporary fiction, and 20th century history/philosophy. When he’s not writing, Nick likes to trim his mustache and tell jokes.