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I love Amy Poehler. God, I love her so much. I love her so much that I don't even care that, on page 87 of her new memoir, Yes Please, she writes: "I don't want to talk about my divorce because it is too sad and too personal. I also don't like people knowing my shit." Not liking people knowing your shit is a weird trait in someone who's writing an autobiography, and it seems to have made writing the book hard. Indeed, the book begins with a four-page preface titled "Writing is Hard."
But Poehler manages to succeed at this balancing act—of course she does; she's AMY POEHLER—by writing a book that's personal and honest enough to be funny without ever going very far beneath the surface of what most Amyaniacs (Poehler Explorers? Poehlunatics?) already know about her and her career. And even for those of us who already have a handle on her trajectory from working-class Massachusetts childhood to BC to Chicago's improv scene to UCB and Comedy Central to SNL to Parks and Rec, a recap from Poehler's POV is a welcome addition to our body of knowledge.
Poehler's at her funniest while talking about work, detailing how some of our favorite sketches and characters came about. Probably at this point anyone with a passing interest in how the SNL sausage is made has spent some time immersed in its mythos —books like Live From New York and Tina Fey's Bossypants, not to mention 30 Rock, already cover this terrain. But I can't get enough. The high school musical theater geek in me is still unendingly thrilled by the idea that a group of people is paid to sit in a Midtown office building all week coming up with comedy sketches, which they then perform live in front of a national TV audience.
Even when it's not good, which is often, there's something magical about SNL; its unglamorous "live"-ness, the obvious strain that goes into putting on a show, is a big part of its appeal. When Poehler writes about being secretly pregnant and having her symptoms of exhaustion and nausea go unnoticed because they were "par for the course at a job that made you stay up all night long and eat cold mozzarella sticks that you had to buy yourself," I found myself once again entertaining the fantasy that despite my total lack of comedy, improv, or Harvard Lampoon experience, I could one day sit at the desk where, Poehler reports, she and Molly Shannon and Kirsten Wiig have all carved their names. Working at SNL seems like so much manic, crazy, incredibly difficult and rewarding fun. Also mozzarella sticks are delicious, even cold.
Photo: Getty Images
The other strong suit of Yes, Please is advice. Poehler doesn't just use the idea of advice as a way to structure her book, she really delivers. Chapters about how to treat your career (like a "bad boyfriend," i.e., stop wanting things so badly and they'll come to you) and how to establish healthy boundaries (Poehler has read and loves The Gift of Fear) are not only full of resonant, helpful tidbits, they also present a pricklier side of Poehler that I frankly love even more than her zany, overgrown-kid public persona.
She reports that when asked "Can I ask you a question" on the street she always responds with with "No!" and says she enjoys telling the guy selling cheese at the farmer's market that he's not respecting her time. "See? I'm not as nice as you think I am," she writes, and I believe her and admire her for it.
One chapter deals with a creepy older male producer of an awards show who bungled her cue, then wanted her to put in extra work to fix his mistake, and then wanted a hug. Poehler writes, "Telling me to relax or smile when I'm angry is like bringing a birthday cake into an ape sanctuary. You're just asking to get your genitals bitten off." LOL, but even more helpfully, she describes how she handled the situation: by explicitly asking for an apology. "When someone is being rude, abusing your power, or not respecting you, just call them out in a really obvious way." It's so brilliant, right? I don't know why it's never occurred to me. (A: the patriarchy.)
Another benefit of this strategy, Poehler writes, is that it puts the attention back on the jerk so that you can take a moment to calm down and avoid bursting into tears. But if you do, she writes, "you can always say, 'I'm just crying because of how wrong you are.'" I plan to use this line in my own life probably within the next 24 hours. I'll let you know how it goes.
Photo: Getty Images
Despite her avowal that she doesn't like people knowing her shit, Poehler does offer a deep dive beneath the surface of her public persona in one of her book's most memorable passages. Writing about how she screwed up by making an offensive joke on SNL and then avoided apologizing for years, Poehler shows herself to be a deeply thoughtful, moral person, in addition to one of the world's most hilarious people. She writes about how to make choices as a performer and writer so that you don't have to find yourself immobilized by guilt. She prints her emails of eventual apology and the emails she received in return, and she even critiques her apology a little.
She also, in this chapter, points out that she's friends with Kathleen Hanna and Ad-Rock, because she can't resist "front-door bragging" about how cool it is to be friends with them. That glorious blend of profundity, goofiness, name-dropping and peeks behind the scenes is what makes this book, and Poehler herself, so irresistible.