Philadelphia is a funny place. Funny food, bizarre accent, absurd politicians. Logically, this region should produce far more funny people. We shouldn't have to go decades between Bill Cosby and Tina Fey, though the comic sage from Upper Darby was certainly worth the wait.
Bossypants is her delightful memoirish book, more a buffet of funny essays and aperçus about her life (her mother is strangely absent), perfectly timed for Fey's Tuesday taped appearance on Oprah and live Tuesday night at the Free Library's Philadelphia Book Festival, all 400 seats selling out in 10 minutes.
Yes, she's that impressive.
A friend of mine maintains a list, more a catalog of war crimes, of Women Who Are Not Helping - overachievers who do so much so well they end up shaming the rest of us - and I'm inclined to put Fey up there with Amy Chua and Cokie Roberts, even if she claims "I don't drive. I can't cook meat correctly. And I have no affinity for animals."
I thought about whether Fey was not helping after reading the chapter about her weekend - not week, mind you - where she filmed 30 Rock with the divine O, appeared as Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live, and hosted a Peter Pan-themed birthday party for her young daughter. (By the way, Palin later offered to have Bristol babysit Alice. Who has stories like that? You make fun of someone and she still volunteers her daughter to help?)
But I can't put Fey in this group because she's too disarmingly funny and self-deprecating about all aspects of her life. "By the way, when Oprah Winfrey is suggesting you may have overextended yourself, you need to examine your [expletive] life." After fretting in the last chapter about whether to have a second child, Fey's now having that second child and still running a show that employs 200 people and garners a gazillion awards.
Fey possesses a pitch-perfect ear and timing in her writing. There are many things you might complain have gotten worse, but sitcoms are not one of them. 30 Rock is brilliant, providing a welcoming neighborhood for the sparkling, infectious Community and Parks and Recreation. The scripts are performed at such breakneck speed as to regularly merit a second watching, or third. In Bossypants, Fey gives generous, repeated credit to the genius of Alec Baldwin and the writing crew but, hey, she's the one who assembled the team.
As for Upper Darby, Fey reveals that "I had grown up as the 'whitest' girl in a very Greek neighborhood" and "What Wales is to crooners, my hometown may be to homosexuals - meaning there seems to be a disproportionate number of them and they are the best in the world!" Fey loves the gays. In high school, "I was filled with a poisonous, pointless teenage jealousy, which, when combined with gay cattiness, can be intoxicating. Like mean meth."
My only beefs with the book - and Fey loves beef, the junkier the better - is that there's an aw-shucks approach about her talent and deserved success, like it just sort of happened through dumb luck. It's the Meryl Streep affect. And I'm not buying Fey's version, either.
Consequently, Fey comes off as the opposite of bossypants, though, when maligned, she has a snide side, unleashing the mean meth. She still can't believe Lorne Michaels hired her for SNL, where she became the institution's first female head writer. "Only in comedy, by the way, does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity."
She professes to run from conflict, which makes her stunning success even more remarkable. Fey credits her makeup artist with the line "bitch is the new black," her inspired SNL defense of Hillary Clinton. Bill and Hillary phoned separately the next day to thank her, but Fey claims that she isn't a political animal, though the book is studded with caustic asides about Republicans: "I think it's more powerful for comedians and news anchors to be impartial, and two: I am a coward."
Also, I tired of her constant put-downs about her looks ("my thick virgin eyebrows") while praising the miracle of Photoshop, something Jerry Seinfeld doesn't do, and he's never been on the cover of Vogue. Perhaps she's still recovering from a criminally bad childhood haircut, photo documentation included, but get over it. In this regard, Fey is sequestering herself in the Diller/Rivers/Griffin ugly gulag, and she's an improvement and more modern in every regard.
Besides, I've interviewed Fey, and she's lovely and adorable.
I imagine this Who me? adorableness is part of Fey's plan for total world domination. Many of us are already happily conquered.