Published October 28, 2014
332 pages (hardcover)
I have a confession to make: until a few days ago, I had never seen an episode of Parks and Recreation. In fact, I didn’t watch an episode of Parks and Recreation until after I finished reading Amy Poehler’s book (for the record, I really enjoyed it and will be watching more). So, I am perhaps not the most qualified judge of her work.
But I do know this: back in the late-nineties, I saw a bit on Late Night with Conan O’Brien that I thought was hilarious. There was a chick who was playing Andy’s little sister. She had headgear, a ridiculous lisp, and was OBSESSED with Conan. She acted nuts, jumping on chairs and being generally overly exuberant . . . but, when Conan told her that he was too old for her, she flipped the switch and went ape shit. I found it so funny that I started watching Conan regularly in the hopes that she would be on it (this was, of course, in the days before YouTube and DVR). Here is the first one I saw:
Recognize the face behind that headgear? Yep, that’s Amy Poehler in all her glory.
There are certain comedy bits from the nineties (including Chris Rock’s routine about the two kinds of malls, David Spade’s bit where he changes the words to Wham!’s Jitterbug, Mike Myers as Linda Richman in Coffee Talk, and Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri as the Spartans cheerleaders) that will forever be comedy classics to me. Amy Poehler as Andy’s little sister is among them.
So, when I heard that her new book, Yes Please, harkens back to her time pre-Parks and Rec, pre-SNL, I was reminded of her glory days as Andy’s little sister and decided to read it.
I don’t read a lot of comics’ books (or comic books, for that matter). I haven’t read Bossypants or Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me? or Not That Kind of Girl or any of Chelsea Handler’s crap (for the record, I think Chelsea Handler is a deplorable human being). So, my review of this book is not a comparison of those books to this one. I have no frame of reference for the genre. I can only rate and review this book based on my general enjoyment of it as a book.
First things first: the book is printed on heavy, high-quality paper (it weighs, I kid you not, like ten pounds). Why? It is presented like a scrapbook, rather than a normal book–it is interspersed with color photographs (many of which are from her childhood and are actually quite cute), copies of her report cards, and reproductions of songs and poems she wrote as a child. There are also emails, random haikus about plastic surgery (“We know it’s Botox/And not your vegan diet/Nice try, Margaret”), and even an ode to the TSA agent (Sharita) who found Poehler’s lost computer. There’s a random chapter by Seth Meyers and an annotated chapter by Parks and Rec creator Mike Schur (that includes some fun script excerpts) and even a (surprisingly enjoyable) chapter co-written by Poehler’s parents. Almost every other page contains a picture or a bright two-page spread of a wannabe-inspirational quote, like this one (which induced my husband to say, “Well, this looks like a very self-indulgent book”):
There are some funny and random anecdotes, like a story about a plane ride Poehler took with Ana Gasteyer and Tina Fey (incidentally, they were on their way to shoot Mean Girls). They were flying from New York to Toronto in first class and gabbing away, exactly as you would imagine they would be. Imagine sitting next to all of them! What a delight! But the guy in the expensive suit who actually was sitting next to Poehler wasn’t having it:
A few times during the flight he sighed loudly, which I took as a sign that we were bothering him. I ignored it. Maybe that was a mistake, but sighing doesn’t really work on me. As we got off the airplane and headed toward the moving walkway, the man pushed past me and jostled me a bit.
“Excuse me,” I said.
“Excuse me? Excuse you!” he said.
I looked up at his boring, rich-guy face. He was turning red. I realized he was preparing to scold me. He had bumped into me on purpose to teach me a lesson.
“You girls were talking the entire flight,” he said. “You should not be in first class!”
All of my lower-middle-class Boston issues rose to the surface. I don’t like it when bratty, privileged old white guys speak to me like I am their mouthy niece. I got that amazing feeling you get when you know you are going to lose it in the best, most self-righteous way. I just leaned back and yelled, “FUUUUUUUUUUUUCK YOU.” Then I chased him as he tried to get away from me.
There’s a lot of name-dropping (Justin Timberlake, Louis CK, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss to name a very few), but she keeps details of certain people whose names you’d expect her to drop (Will Arnett, Nick Kroll, Tina Fey) pretty limited.
There are also some essays with a self-help bent about learning to love yourself (think: the cheesiest stuff on Smart Girls at the Party). I could have done without all of the trite advice (“Sticking up for ourselves in the same way we would one of our friends is a hard but satisfying thing to do.”) and silly, interspersed mantras.
She talks a lot about her early years—years when she was doing Second City and ImprovOlympics and co-founding Upright Citizens Brigade (and, yes, her stints on Conan as Andy’s little sister!). Interestingly, the chapter on SNL is not one of the better chapters in the book. Considering the ridiculously funny people she was working with, I had hoped for some outlandish stories of their times together. There are a couple quick mentions of funny sketches and fun hosts (including a story about Jon Hamm’s helpful reaction to the news that her OB-GYN had died the day before she went into labor–she talked about that part of the book on her appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers, which you can watch here). But it is clear that she doesn’t want her time on SNL to overshadow the rest of her career or define her as a person.
If you’re looking for gossipy and personal details, then the parts of the book about Parks and Rec will be more your speed. As I mentioned before, I was not a Parks and Rec watcher before, but reading all the inside scoop made me want to check it out (and get some context for her stories).
Basically, the book is a big, jumbled hodge-podge of ideas crammed together. It’s like a funny person with ADD and a not-very-diligent editor threw a book (part memoir, part self-help book, part funny book) together in her spare time. Which, I have a feeling, is exactly what happened (although I can’t confirm the ADD part. I just assume that all really funny, quirky people who love improv comedy have ADD).
At any rate, because of its format, the book is highly, highly readable. I finished it in a couple hours. It is written for people like me: people who have limited attention spans, enjoy short chapters, and like pictures and bright colors.
So, my overall assessment: There are some good insider tidbits about people whose names you know, it reads extremely quickly, and it is laugh-out-loud funny in places. There is too much self-help stuff, but that’s easy enough to gloss over/ignore. Is it worth reading? Sure. This is a fun, mindless vacation kind of book.
The [largely terrible] hype: This book is selling like whoa . . . but, by and large, critics have been harsh (overly harsh, in my opinion, and we all know that’s saying something) in judging it. A smattering of examples:
- From the New York Times: “Her heart isn’t in this book, which is O.K. — heart is overrated. But the jokes aren’t very good, either. ‘Yes Please’ reminds you of that squeaky fact: Even smart, hilarious people, the ones you wish were your great friends, sometimes can’t write. The world isn’t fair that way.”
- From The Guardian: “It’s not a coherent, well-knit piece of writing organised around a central narrative or argument. It cannot stand on its own. It’s hard to imagine anyone making sense of parts of it, let alone wanting to read the whole thing, if they aren’t already familiar with Poehler’s work in film, TV and improv comedy.” (NOTE: The Guardian review just came out a few days ago, and it seems heavily and suspiciously influenced by the NYT. Read them both, and you’ll see what I mean.)
But, on the flip side, there’s this review in the Chicago Tribune.
Who should read it: Amy Poehler super fans; Bonnie (i.e., people who like female comics and books by female comics); people who prefer the format of Buzzfeed lists to “normal” books.
Want to read along with me? Reviews of these books are coming soon:
- The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion (the soon-to-be-released sequel to the best-selling The Rosie Project, which was an Amazon Best Book of the Month in October 2013)
- The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (the #1 Indie Next List pick for January 2014 and an Oprah Book Club 2.0 pick in December 2013)