Amy Poehler is pretty high on the list of women I admire. For years, I think dating back to Baby Mama, my BFF Emily and I have jokingly likened ourselves to Amy and Tina Fey. We are not nearly as funny or successful (give us time?) but I am a brunette with glasses and she is a blond and we are best friends. (Side note: Emily, are you still technically a blond? To me, you will always be, in-part, blond and ten years-old.)
Anyway, what I admire about Poehler’s comedy is the way she can be sharp and hilarious while still remaining upbeat. Her humor isn’t cruel. She is so smart and also bonkers. It’s a great energy and the balance between incisive and positive or constructive is something I try to achieve in my own work. Amy is the bomb.
So I was surprised when I wasn’t immediately taken with her new book, Yes Please. In my opinion, the book starts off overly self-deprecatingly, rambly, and with fits and starts. There’s a big trend in writing right now in which writers constantly interrupt their own sentences or stories with asides. If you know me in real life, you know that that is how I actually think and speak and tell stories a lot of the time (Sorry!). So I understand the style and I understand that it is supposed to make the writing sound more conversational and that it is supposed to be charming. And often I think it is. But also I think it should be used sparingly, because it can be confusing or come off as an obvious ploy to make the reader like you more. The book starts out this way.
But then the tone of the book hits its stride and it’s wonderful. The writing started to show the charm and warmth and wisdom I’ve come to associate with Poehler’s work, especially the bits associated with Smart Girls at the Party. Because she is so successful and thoughtful, but also a comedian who relishes in the inappropriate and vulnerable, it was a wonderful and enlightening read. Amy Poehler always seems so fearless to me, and I really appreciated reading about how she cultivated that feeling and how she deals with the “demons” that try to hold her back. This is super corny, but like with Fey’s Bossy Pants, I put the book down feeling motivated to chase my own dreams. “Bitches get shit done.” Books like Poehler’s are kind of big right now in publishing and I’ve read most of them (Fey, Poehler, Kaling…). I think it’s an important trend, though. I value what these women have to teach me as a woman starting her career and interested in starting a family and dreaming of having public impact. I think the best part about these books from women in comedy, as opposed to other industries (cough: Lean In), is that they are often less cautious about their own images (or at least they seem to be). They are honest about the shit they deal with without taking themselves too seriously. I’m a fan.
Ultimately, what I really love about the book is the way that Poehler writes about herself and the people in her life with such tenderness and the way that she speaks to the process of growing into and loving oneself. Yes Please is broken up into three sections: “Say Whatever You Want”, “Do Whatever You Like”, and “Be Whoever You Are.” That advice is pretty banal and vague. Inside those sections, however, are chapters that tell stories about forgiveness, aging, motherhood, friendship, love, and work, that deal with how hard it is to know yourself, let alone be or love yourself. It’s not preachy or overly simplified and, like Poehler’s comedy so often does, it feels honest and generous and sometimes rather hyper.
There are also some genuinely beautiful parts. For example, in one chapter, “Sorry Sorry Sorry,” Poehler tells the story of a skit she did on SNL that hurt the innocent person it mocked and how it took her five years to apologize. Inside the chapter are honest reflections about the situation and how our heads get in our way when we screw up and need to apologize. The story is also just moving and beautifully told.
Then there are just beautiful sentences. In a chapter about giving birth to her first son, Poehler writes about finding out on-set at SNL that her OBGYN died the day before her baby was due. She started sobbing and Jon Hamm (of course) made her laugh. She writes:
“Going from crying to laughing that fast and hard happens maybe five times in your life and that extreme right turn is the reason why we are alive, and I believe it extends our life by many years.”
The book is full of little nuggets like that and they are the best part of the whole thing.
But, if you read Yes Please, you will also get to see: Amy Poheler’s kindergarten report card, a note to her son Archie from Hillary Clinton on the occasion of his birth, her excellent sex advice, what she thinks of her Parks and Recreation castmates, and much, much more. Yes Please is a heavy, glossy book, but a quick read (even at 300+ pages) that I anticipate I’ll pull out every once in a while for a pick-me-up or a reminder to “treat [my] career like a bad boyfriend.” I recommend. And, as the back cover points out, it would be a great holiday gift.
Full disclosure: I received a promotional copy of this book from the publisher via the Birchbox Book Club. My review was not solicited nor compensated. But free book, heck yes please!