Generally I don’t consider listening to audiobooks to be the same as actually “reading” a book. Now, this is not due to any judgmental or lofty idea of “literary purism” that I might have (well…maybe just a little)…but more of a personal preference, since I tend to retain information better when I read it and can get easily distrac…I like cheese!
What was I saying?
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Audible.com, it is a great service in which you can download thousands of audiobook titles and listen to them on your computer, add them to iTunes | iPod or even use the free and stellar mobile app. I used to use Audible a lot when the show was available on a 24/7 stream, as it made for great content to keep the listener’s boredom stimulated on the weeks that I took off from recording the program.
Anyway, although I am currently reading another book, I recently discovered that I had some free audiobook credits still available on my old account and decided to nab Tina Fey’s, “Bossypants” and give it a listen.
I am a huge SNL fan and can say with confidence that I have not missed an episode in probably over 20 years. And for the shows that I was too young to watch when they were first ‘Live from New York’, I have since watched them through countless specials, re-runs and Instant Netflix. I devoured the book, “Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live“, as I enjoyed all of the accounts from those associated with the show (i.e. cast members, crew, Lorne Michaels) discussing how it began, going behind the scenes, who the cast thought the best and worst hosts were etc. Basically, you do not want to go toe to toe with me in SNL Trivial Pursuit.
Now that I firmly have my Studio 8H bona fides in place (/flex), let’s discuss the book.
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t usually prefer to listen to audiobooks save for maybe one exception: autobiographies in which the author is the narrator. Especially if the author is a comedian. There is just something about hearing their inflection and comedic timing while reading their own words, it’s almost like listening to one of their routines. I have listened to audiobooks by Lewis Black, Bill Maher and Steve Martin, and I have to say that this (when the author is the narrator) is when I prefer to listen to the audio version of a book.
I have been a fan of Tina Fey’s for many years…what can I say, I like smart and funny women. From her time as the Head Writer on SNL, to being behind the desk on ‘Weekend Update’, through her on-the-nose impersonations of Sarah Palin and most recently on ’30 Rock’ (the show that she created), I have always enjoyed her writing, self-deprecating personality and funny performances.
“Bossypants” is not a deep and retrospective look into her life, but rather a chronological collection of humorous anecdotes and stories about her childhood, former jobs and subsequent time as an improvisational actor with Chicago’s famous ‘Second City’, her audition and subsequent 9 years at SNL, the creation of ’30 Rock’ and becoming a mother.
Due to Fey’s excellent reading of her book – which she obviously approached as more than just reading, but rather performing it – you can’t help but smirk, smile and laugh aloud as she takes you through her years growing up (including a brief explanation of the famous scar on her chin) and her entry into performing, writing and comedy. She describes the difficulty of finding a job – not to mention the shitty one she finally got – in order to make ends meet when she moved to Chicago to pursue her career in entertainment. Every story has her famous inflection and delivery; and although reading the book is still funny, it just does not compare to hearing her read it.
I became the most interested when she came to the chapters concerning her time at Saturday Night Live. She describes her first nerve wracking meeting with Lorne Michaels when she was being interviewed for a writing position:
From that point on, the book was (even more so) tremendously fascinating and entertaining to me, as she discussed: the politics of being a woman on SNL and the moment when she realized that the female cast took control of the program, the stress and exhilaration of trying to come up with sketch ideas into the wee hours of the morning, how she came to try out for ‘Weekend Update’ and the behind-the-scenes process of putting on the perennial and iconic weekly program.
I really enjoyed her telling the story of her first year as a writer and being asked by Lorne to tell (that week’s host) Sylvester Stallone that no one can understand him and he needs to enunciate…all the way up to her famous, “Bitches get stuff done” riff with Amy Pohler on Update.
However, the most poignant passages of the book to me were when she came to the inevitable story of how she came to play (her now famous and unforgettable) portrayal of Sarah Palin. She starts off with how everyone around her commented on the resemblance between her and Palin, but how she was at 30 Rock at the time and assumed it would go to SNL cast member, Kristen Wiig (who was working on an impersonation of her own). And also how the decision came down to the last minute in which she had to quickly hone her (now famous) caricature of the ex-Governor. Oprah Winfrey was doing a guest spot on 30 Rock at the time and had expressed her concern about how Tina could possibly rehearse in time, do the 30 Rock episode and rush over to Studio 8H for the live cold open, to which Tina remarks about in the book:
“By the way, when Oprah Winfrey is suggesting you may have overextended yourself, you need to examine your fucking life.”
Later she recalls the moment when she learned that Palin agreed to do a guest spot on SNL and how their first meeting & exchange went. This is why I used the word “poignant” earlier, because I was genuinely amazed and impressed with the amount of intelligent thought that went into how to write Palin’s guest appearance (not to mention Fey’s sketches where she played her). Earlier in this chapter she also discusses (with the same impressive forethought), how to address Hillary Clinton in the campaign and how Amy Pohler would play her. To those of us watching, the sketches were funny and entertaining…but what was so impressive is how carefully those portrayals and sketches were written and the logic behind rejecting some of the ideas suggested by the writers and how much Fey and Pohler had a hand in the final skits that made it on air.
Tina ends this chapter with absolutely hilarious responses to comments from websites about her portrayal of Palin.
Fey eventually moves to the namesake of the book, which is about her being the “boss” over at 30 Rock and the process by which she developed the program. I especially enjoyed listening to her formula for how she chose writers for the show and her self-deprecating approach to the program’s critical – but not popular – success.
She talks about how she wrote the part of Jack Donaghy, played perfectly by Alec Baldwin…before Alec had ever agreed to do the show…and how no one thought the pilot would be picked up, let alone for a second season:
The remainder of the chapter is revealing in the sense that you understand how seriously Tina takes her role as the boss at 30 Rock and her appreciation and concern over how people’s livelihoods depend upon her, while also balancing her personal life as a wife and new mother.
Again, intertwined among all of this, she continues to provide interesting and entertaining insight into how the show is produced and her role in it. She even humorously answers fan mail and commonly asked questions about the show.
Finally the book is rounded out by her thoughts on motherhood. As you can imagine, her description of (and concerns about) her new role is just as entertaining as her childhood, SNL and 30 Rock stories. At the end, she offers this prayer for her daughter (which I especially appreciated, thanks to her reference to my beloved Alma Mater, FSU):
May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.
When the Crystal Meth is offered, May she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half And stick with Beer.
Guide her, protect her
When crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called “Hell Drop,” “Tower of Torture,” or “The Death Spiral Rock ‘N Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith,” and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere, at any age.
Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes And not have to wear high heels.
What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.
May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.
Grant her a Rough Patch from twelve to seventeen. Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long, For childhood is short – a Tiger Flower blooming Magenta for one day – And adulthood is long and dry-humping in cars will wait.
O Lord, break the Internet forever, That she may be spared the misspelled invective of her peers And the online marketing campaign for Rape Hostel V: Girls Just Wanna Get Stabbed.
And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.
And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back.
“My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.
I really enjoyed listening to this audiobook and felt as though the 5 1/2 hours went by too quickly. Fey did a tremendous job in her reading of the book and the humor was drastically accentuated as a result. If you are a fan of SNL or Fey, you are going to love this book and the humor, insights and stories that it tells. If you don’t like Tina (most likely Palin supporters), chances are you didn’t read this far anyway.
As someone who has both the audiobook and the Kindle version…I would choose the audiobook version every time.
By: Dana Sciandra
Note to Publishers & Authors: If you are interested in having a book reviewed, please contact me. I will only review books in which the subject matter personally interests me. I will also make all reasonable effort to post an honest review prior to the scheduled release date, therefore (when sending an advanced copy) please allot enough time for this prior to publication. Should I enjoy the book, I will also honor requests to interview the author on the podcast. Thank you!