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This article was published 15/4/2011 (4060 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
By Tina Fey
Little Brown, 277 pages, $30
You know the joke:
Q: How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: That's not funny. (Said with the kind of scowl that gives you unattractive forehead wrinkles.)
For many of us, American comedian Tina Fey has been our first, best defence against the charge that feminists are not funny. (We also love that's she's the only woman in showbiz with thin lips.)
Making her name first as a writer and then as a performer on Saturday Night Live, the 40-year-old mulit-hyphenate has conquered movies (Mean Girls) and prime-time television (30 Rock). Now she has written a book, which comes off as an effortless extension of her comic persona -- that nice, smart, slightly uptight gal with the unexpected streak of raunch.
Bossypants -- the title and the oogy cover photo are awkward on purpose, another Fey trademark -- isn't exactly a memoir, or a self-help book, or a collection of random comic musings.
It's all three of those things, plus a little Nora Ephron and a touch of Steve Martin, held together by Fey's voice, which can be very funny, often laugh-out-loud funny, occasionally snort-coffee-out-your-nose funny.
Mostly, it's funny because it's true. Even though Fey has been on the cover of Vogue and makes a reported $300,000 per episode for 30 Rock, she manages to nail the concerns of the average middle-class 40-something woman without sounding like a slumming celeb.
Fey writes about work-life balance, self-esteem, body issues, and "aging naturally without looking like time-lapse photos of a rotting sparrow."
In fact, many of the estrogen-heavy issues that get earnest, emotionally goopy coverage on Oprah get a brisk, breezy airing here.
Take Fey's advice for women who want to succeed in a male-dominated workplace: "No pigtails, no tube tops. Cry sparingly."
Or her proposed truce in the so-called Mommy Wars, between women who stay at home with their kids and those who go out to work: "I think we should agree to blame the children."
Professional contrarian Christopher Hitchens has argued that women aren't funny because, in an evolutionary sense, they don't need to be. Fey briefly responds to his specific point, but her best answer is the whole book, which suggests that women -- especially women of a certain age -- damn well better have a sense of humour.
While admitting that her job as wife/mother/comic goddess isn't as hard as coal mining or active military service or even "managing a Chili's on a Friday night," she observes ruefully that her baby clock is ticking at the same time her Hollywood movie-offer card is expiring.
Following her policy of joking rather than whining, Fey imagines her future work in romantic comedies: as the heroine's less-attractive friend's "mean boss" or the part of Vince Vaughn's mother.
Things are more promising on the baby front. Since the book's release, Fey has announced that she and her husband, Jeff Richmond, are expecting a second child.
The autobiographical sections of the book resemble uneven sketch comedy. Fey is probably sharpest when talking about her work life. Relating that she was hired in 1997 to diversify the writing staff at SNL, she notes wryly that only in comedy would "an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity."
Mind you, there are clear differences between the male and female writers: Fey makes the disconcerting discovery that many of the SNL men pee in cups in their offices because they can't be bothered to walk down the hall. Women are, admittedly, at a disadvantage here.
Fey is protective of her personal life, offering only episodic accounts of a sunny childhood and adorably geeky adolescence just outside Philadelphia, as well as a stint at the University of Virginia, where she couldn't lose her virginity to save her life.
It's impossible not to see parallels between Fey and Liz Lemon, her cheese-eating, bad-dating, neurotic alter-ego on 30 Rock.
Lemon-like moments include Fey and her new husband taking a potentially fatal honeymoon cruise. (When fire breaks out, Fey finds herself at an emergency muster station with several teary tween-aged girls who have been conditioned by repeated viewings of Titanic.)
Some of the book's funniest sections are the most Lemon-ish, particularly Fey's dorky, self-deprecating account of the transformations required for glamour photo shoots. Mario Testino tells her, "Lift your chin, darling, you are not 18." Fey consoles herself with the thought that he probably says this to 19-year-olds.
But the weakest sections have a Lemon-ish quality, too. Like the anxious, people-pleasing Liz, Fey worries too much about being liked.
She seems to have ambivalent feelings about what is arguably her greatest comic success -- her hilarious, uncannily accurate, much-YouTubed impersonations of Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential race. Weirdly, Fey's account of that whole pop-culture circus is both evasive and over-explainy.
Here's where the book is searing, soul-baring and unflinchingly brave, though. Bossypants features many, many photographs of Fey with terrible haircuts.
And we love her for that.
Winnipeg writer Alison Gillmor tries to cry sparingly at work.
Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.