Review: Bossypants

June 26, 2011 Comments Off on Review: Bossypants

This kind of book is tough to review, but I can definitely begin by saying that Tina Fey is my kinda girl. She’s smart, she writes well, and her opinions are down-to-earth and moderate. At least part of it is a smart meditation on leadership and getting places, and slowly moves from generic memoir to SNL-specific memories. Actually, that makes it a little weak, because after SNL (the highlight, of course, being her impersonation of Sarah Palin), she suddenly jumps into motherhood, and it’s such a weird topic change that it’s hard to process and, in the end, I didn’t think much of those last couple chapters. And I imagine a lot of the SNL/30 Rock stuff is hard to follow if you’ve never seen either, but as it was I got through it okay.

As you may be aware, one of my main obsessions at the moment is moderate positions, and Fey does a great job of expressing strong opinions without gravitating towards ridiculous extremes. I take this as a mark of intelligence. It’s especially moving when she talks about feminism. My favorite part was an anecdote where Amy Poehler did something vulgar, and Jimmy Fallon jokingly complained that he didn’t like it. Poehler turned around and said, “I don’t fucking care if you like it.” And just like that, she had asserted that she wasn’t there to be cute and play boring stock female roles, but was going to do what she wanted to do, and to hell with what you think of it. Fey does a fantastic job of communicating how psyched she was about that and how much of a change it was from past experiences. Also, she’s relatively classy about everything, not slamming Sarah Palin (and what’s harder to resist than slamming Sarah Palin?) and avoiding bad-mouthing in general.

Another of my favorite things that she does is a single spread where she talks about the rules of improv. She explains them in the context of life in a way that I really, really like and will include not only for your reading pleasure but also because I borrowed this book and want to remember the passage after I’ve returned it. It’s clever and very worth remembering. In conclusion, most of the book was great, the end was less so, but Tina Fey is AWESOME. But then, we already knew that.


The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun.

Now, obviously in real life you’re not always going to agree with everything everyone says. But the Rule of Agreement reminds you to “respect what your partner has created” and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you.

As an improviser, I always find it jarring when I meet someone in real life whose first answer is no. “No, we can’t do that.” “No, that’s not in the budget.” “No, I will not hold your hand for a dollar.” What kind of way is that to live?

The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own. If I start a scene with “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you just say, “Yeah…” we’re kind of at a stand-still. But if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “What did you expect? We’re in hell.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “I told you we shouldn’t have crawled into this dog’s mouth,” now we’re getting somewhere.

To me YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile.

The next rule is MAKE STATEMENTS. This is a positive way of saying “Don’t ask questions all the time.” If we’re in a scene and I say, “Who are you? Where are we? What are we doing here? What’s in that box?” I’m putting pressure on you to come up with all the answers.

In other words: whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles. We’ve all worked with that person. That person is a drag. It’s usually the same person around the office who says things like “There’s no calories in it if you eat it standing up!” and “I felt menaced when Terry raised her voice.”

MAKE STATEMENTS also applies to us women: Speak in statements instead of apologetic questions. No one wants to go to a doctor who says, “I’m going to be your surgeon? I’m here to talk to you about your procedure? I was first in my class at Johns Hopkins, so?” Make statements, with your actions and your voice.

Instead of saying “Where are we?” make a statement like “Here we are in Spain, Dracula.” Okay, “Here we are in Spain, Dracula” may seem like a terrible start to a scene, but this leads us to the best rule:

THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities. If I start a scene as what I think is very clearly a cop riding a bicycle, but you think I am a hamster in a hamster wheel, guess what? Now I’m a hamster in a hamster wheel. I’m not going to stop everything to explain that it was really supposed to be a bike. Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up being a police hamster who’s been put on “hamster wheel” duty because I’m “too much of a loose cannon” in the field. In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents. And many of the world’s greatest discoveries have been by accident. I mean, look at the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, or Botox.


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