Riding on planes with books: Mindy Kaling, Jane Lynch and Tina Fey guaranteeeasy laughs
Every year, I spend a significant chunk of my holiday vacation in some sort of airport limbo. I could pretend I use this opportunity to finally read theNew Yorkerissues piling up in my living room (seriously, it’s like they come out every week or something), but truthfully, I’ve come to approach my holiday reading with the impatience of a viral video audience: it better make me laugh and it better do it fast.
This is probably why I’ve developed an unhealthy addiction to comedian memoirs, particularly as the current crop have become less like memoirs and much more like novel-length humorous essays, a trend I wholeheartedly support.
Lucky for me, there’s a steady stream of these perfect airplane reads coming out. Jane Lynch’s Happy Accidents and Mindy Kaling’s Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns were released this fall, while Tina Fey’s Bossypants just came out in paperback.
Contrary to the popular view that most comedians are inherently tortured anti-authoritarians, what's striking about Lynch, Kaling and Fey's recollections is that each of them were rule-following good girls seeking to please their parents, sometimes to their own detriment.
Lynch's Happy Accidents is a traditional celebrity memoir, with the actress writing about the difficulty of coming out to her family, the process of gaining confidence in herself and her struggle with alcoholism.
Most compelling is her discussion of her lifelong struggles with insecurity, which is in contrast to the cocky roles she plays (many of which, interestingly enough, were originally written for men). She writes that her need for acceptance is what drew her to the stage in the first place: "On stage, playing a role that was written in black and white — I could not be rejected. The only place I felt safe from that possibility was on stage."
It's disappointing, then, that in the latter half of the book, as she details her acting career from her least glamorous gig to working with Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, the seriousness rises in proportion to her success. Fans of Party Down will be psyched to know she discusses her time on the show, but it's brief.
Mindy Kaling is best known as Kelly Kapoor on The Office, but she's a comedy writer first (and has been on the show's writing staff since it began in 2004). As such, her book fits firmly in the humorous essay department, and it delivers. Charmingly self-deprecating, she explains her life-long lack of athleticism, her middle school discovery that she’d rather hang out with her comedy nerd friend than her boy crazy ones and the day she pitched a fit at Greg Daniels in the The Office'swriters' room.
Refreshingly, Kaling embraces her love of girly things that are often derided as cheesy. She even devotes a chapter to her love of romantic comedies while detailing the characters within that have zero basis in reality. In describing the klutz, she writes: "Despite being five foot nine and weighing 110 pounds, she is basically like a drunk buffalo who has never been a part of human society."
Throughout, Kaling offers many a funny list (sample chapter title: "Somewhere in Hollywood, Someone is Pitching this Movie") and she's dedicated to not take herself seriously, even giving strict instructions for her eventual funeral: “My a cappella group from college will try to perform. This is not allowed to happen.”
Of course, the true heavyweight champion of the chapter-list is Tina Fey. And yes, Bossypants has been out for a while now, but as it was just released in paperback, its excellence bears repeating. Bossypants was on practically every year-end best-of list around — and deservedly so. Within, Fey's wit is both acerbic and welcoming, and the pages are rife with her trademark sarcasm.
While much was made of Fey's statements on the never-ending discussion of women in comedy (she called it the "Freaking Always-Asked Question") and her recollections of life at SNL, it's her wry, exaggerated perspective that will make Bossypants worth returning to for multiple readings.
One of my particular favorites is her take-down of the beauty industry as she reveals the behind-the scenes at magazine photo shoots and proclaims her love of her flaws while mercilessly cataloguing them, writing: "I wouldn't even trade the acne scar on my right cheek, because that recurring zit spent more time with me in college than any boy ever did."
Bossypants is unfailingly funny, as when she responds to the dregs of internet critics with irreverent aplomb: "To say I'm an overrated troll when you have never seen me guard a bridge is patently unfair."
What better way to drown out crying babies and passengers irritable from flight delays than with the words of women you love to see onscreen?