Hilarious confessions seem to spring unbidden from Tina Fey in Bossypants, but don’t be fooled: The artistry of her autobiography-turned-polemic raises the bar for every comedian who dares put cursor to Word doc.
Bossypants takes Fey from her bad-haircut years through Saturday Night Live to creative immortality on 30 Rock, with stops at Second City and in political satire along the way. A lonely kid who idolized her father and lived for musical theater camp each summer, Fey took a bleak early-morning job to pay for improv classes, launching her into a career that would be altered in turn by encounters with Lorne Michaels, Alec Baldwin, and Sarah Palin. Along the way, she provides digressions about dating in college (frustrating), a mock-up of women’s-magazine beauty secrets (including a plug for “laser money removal”) and retorts to comments about her on celebrity blogs. (“I guess I could wear a bag on my head, but do I go with linen like the Elephant Man or a simple brown paper like the Unknown Comic? Too many choices, help!”)
Preserving the comic voice she honed for years onstage and on SNL, Fey lets her jokes travel unintercepted to the ends of her sentences, magnifying their impact with the element of surprise. She’s also joyously, unexpectedly blunt about her weaknesses and disappointments, from 30 Rock’s ratings troubles to her indecisiveness over whether to have another child. As she progresses from cast member to head writer, Fey fights to indulge her inner Bossypants, and subsequent take-offs on managerial advice prove that, while she once declared on a special edition of Weekend Update that “bitches get shit done,” a more delicate hand is sometimes required.
That struggle is only one platform for punchlines, but it lets Fey launch her attack on the status quo of women in entertainment and her own charmed corner of it. Time and power allow her to calmly dissect the obstacles she faced, while gleefully skewering the sexist, misogynistic views she was expected to take for granted on her way up, including the myth that her presence prevented another woman’s progress. Embedding her life with a sharp critique of the world that shaped her is painstaking work, but Fey jabs and punches artfully, tempering herself with self-deprecation instead of self-pity. Even as she declares her effortlessness to be an illusion, Fey makes her potent combination of wit and attack look easy.