Book reviews: Lena Dunham & Amy Poehler

Amy Yes PleaseI am not normally a fan of autobiographies. Like TV, I prefer my books to be fiction rather than reality. If a friend or family member were to make the ill-advised decision to buy me John Key or Richie McCaw’s autobiographies for Christmas, I would feel compelled to use them as fire wood (the books, not the present giver – I am not THAT harsh ;-)). But, as with all of my rules, there is an exception. And for autobiographies it is funny females. I remember sitting by a pool in Tuscany a few years ago (humble brag) reading Tina Fey’s hilarious ‘Bossypants’ and annoying the hell out of my friends with my incessant cackling. One of my friends read it straight after me and added his own guffawing to the mix. So, imagine my elation when I learned that not one but two of my comedy heroines were penning their own memoirs/advice books and releasing them just in time for my holiday. Score!

The first one I consumed was Lena Dunham’s ‘Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s ‘Learned’’. The title itself was insight into what to expect. Lena – all of 28 – fesses up in the opening chapters that she wasn’t sure whether writing a ‘memoir’ at her young age was the right thing to do. But, she also felt compelled to put something out there – like she does in her show ‘Girls’ – that talks to the reality of dealing with the challenges of university and your early 20s. By the time she gets to her 80s she would have forgotten all of it, and no doubt half of it won’t be relevant to the kids of the future. But what she writes is supremely relevant – not to mention helpful – for people of today in that age group (and beyond).

Of course the book has gained some notoriety thanks to a right wing nut bar taking one of Lena’s childhood experiences with her sister and labelling her a ‘child molester’.  I have to say, I read that scene and thought ‘yeah, that’s a little strange, but we all do random things when we are little kids’ and thought nothing more of it. Lena’s honesty is what makes this book a must read – and it is shame to see her name being dragged through the mud because of it (though apparently she isn’t taking it too seriously, with her sister allegedly finding it all hilarious). Truth is very much at the heart of Lena’s book – which at times makes it a dark and uncomfortable read. But that is no reason to shy away from it – and is in fact even more reason to give it a try. Hell, you might even ‘learn’ something 😉

The next on my list was Amy Poehler’s ‘Yes Please’. Of course, as any of my avid blog readers will know, I am a massive fan of Amy’s –and of her show Parks and Recreation. And her book has simply made me even more of a fan girl. Again, she doesn’t pull any punches – dealing with issues like her recent divorce and the tough ride given to females in Hollywood in an amusing but insightful way. She will also make writers especially love her by admitting – many times – just how hard it is to write a book. It isn’t something that just magically appears out of thin air. She enlists some help – with friend Seth Meyers (love him) and her parents writing some (hilarious) chapters for the book.

Yes Please really made me appreciate how hard people like Amy and Tina Fey and many of their comedy counterparts have worked to get where they are today. They didn’t just get spotted by an agent on the street who said ‘you look funny/cute – we should give you your own show’. They slogged it out doing improv for years, before they hit the bright lights of Saturday Night Live (oh how I wish they showed it on normal TV here – and that I could go back ten years to see these guys at their prime) and then moved on to finally be masters of their own shows. Amy talks at length about all of her comedy experiences and –  yay for me and fans of Parks and Rec – also spends a chapter or two on her current, and soon to end, addition to the TV comedy cannon. Most interesting though were her insights into working at Saturday Night Live – especially the story of her giving birth a week after performing what has to be the funniest ever Sarah Palin rap (in the presence of Sarah Palin) you will ever see.

Both these books – along with Mindy Kaling’s ‘Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns)’ which I read earlier this year – made me even more certain that if, given the choice of any skill set/alternative life to have, I would definitely be a female comedy writer in Hollywood. Sure, it wouldn’t be easy, but the alternative perspectives, insights and general amusement they bring through their books and their other creative endeavours make me want to do what they do. It’s a shame then that my ability to be comedic is limited to bad ‘a polar bear walked into a bar’ jokes (he said ‘ouch’, in case you were wondering). So I will stick ‘to sort of funny but not really’ chick lit, and leave these guys to inspire the next generation of funny females. Read their books, I urge you. You won’t regret it.


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