by Amy Poehler
2014 • 329 pages • Dey St.
The best story another person tells about Amy Poehler comes from Tina Fey’s Bossypants: it’s the story where Poehler and her BFF Seth Meyers are doing a bit in the Saturday Night Live writers’ room, and Poehler does something gross as part of the bit. Jimmy Fallon complains that the bit isn’t cute, and Poehler drops the comedy to snarl, “I don’t fucking care if you like it,” before getting back to being hilarious and gross. Fey writes about this incident with a peculiar, admiring radiance, like someone writing about the origin story of a beloved superhero, and uses it to jumpstart some discussion about women in the workplace. (The moral of the story? Be more Amy Poehler. This is a very good moral.)
The best story Amy Poehler tells about herself is as follows: during the promotion blitz for Baby Mama (or as we call that movie at the Church of Bowie, Labor Day), Poehler is having lunch with a non-comedian friend. Her face is plastered across taxis and buses and buildings in New York City and her friend is absolutely amazed. He asks her if she can believe that this happening. Yes, she answers—because she’s been working for a decade to get up to that point.
Fey’s anecdote characterizes Poehler as I tend to see her—as a ferocious, fearless comedy sprite who won’t let anyone get in her way. Poehler’s anecdote showcases a different side of Poehler, that might not be readily apparent if you’re only familiar with her in front of the camera—this is Poehler as a creative professional who is proud of the work she’s done and sees no point in false humility if it means denigrating the hours she’s put in.
It may be tempting to compare Yes Please to Bossypants, but that’s a fruitless exercise. (Also, we don’t pit women against each other in this house.) But in the pantheon of female comedy, Poehler is the Chaotic Good to Tina Fey’s Neutral Good. (Meyers is Lawful Good, and Fallon is Lawful Neutral. I think about these things a lot, okay?) They complement each other. While Bossypants feels more of a piece with the modern memoir, Yes Please is a little wilder and a little weirder, by virtue of being Poehler’s creation.
She jumps from topic to topic, taking up and abandoning and retaking up the subject of her childhood as she pleases. She talks a lot about the challenges of the writing process, especially on top of her workload on the last season of Parks and Recreation and raising two boys. She talks about her time at Saturday Night Live by shuffling all her best stories into one chapter. (The best? Might be Lorne Michaels asking her advice on a prop before one of her first sketches. Poehler still doesn’t “know if he was genuinely asking or doing some Jedi mind trick to help [her] be less nervous.”)
She also invites friends and family to write chapters of the book. Seth Meyers gives a chapter that I cannot look at objectively, because I find him very inspiring and his friendship with Poehler is so beautiful I’m turning red just writing this. Her Parks and Recreation co-showrunner Mike Schur gets a chapter (this chapter involves a story about Schur and Poehler making Meyers cry with happiness, which I obviously loved). Her parents also get one. Fey doesn’t, but Poehler does spend a chapter talking about just how great she is.
It makes for a well-rounded but very jerky picture of Poehler’s mindscape. Obviously, there are things she knows people are going to want to know about, and she talks about them. Like her divorce, which she treats gently and humorously, while never downplaying how much it must have hurt. But there’s no shape to Yes Please, which reflects less on the book itself and more on the current landscape of celebrity memoir.
There are, however, two chapters that stand out. The first is a chapter devoted to Poehler making amends for mocking a disabled woman in a sketch on Saturday Night Live years after the fact. She uses it as a way to talk about the right way to apologize, and doesn’t shy away from including letters from the woman she’s trying to apologize to and her guardians that depict her in a bad light. The other is a fairly freeform chapter about the town where she grew up where she approaches a level of weird serenity that feels like a very logical next step for her—or a part of her creativity that’s never been expressed quite this way. When contemplating girls she knew growing with eating disorders, she writes: “[s]ometimes I think about those skinny girls and their rapid and hungry hearts and I just want to put my hands on their chests and cry chocolate tears that they can lick and swallow. (291)” It’s an arrestingly weird and compassionate image.
I rented this book from the public library.