I’ve had this on my shelf for a really long time. I’d say it’s been about 5 years but I can’t actually remember when I bought it. When I got it, I had every intention of reading it quite quickly because I liked Amy Poehler. Spoiler alert, I didn’t. I think it’s because I struggle with non-fiction so much. I’m especially sceptical of memoir style books. They can be so hit and miss. Something that the writers believes is a hilarious anecdote might actually just be an in-joke that most readers won’t appreciate. So, this could very easily have remained unopened on my shelf for the rest of time. Well, until I decided to take part in my own version of the Spell the Month in Book Titles challenge. When I tailored my January TBR to spell out the name of the month, I knew that I’d need a book starting with “Y”. Looks like the time had finally come.
Expectations are always going to be high when someone as funny as Amy Poehler turns their hand to writing a book. As one of the funniest female performers around, we know that Poehler understands how to be funny. But could this humour come out in the same way? So often, comedy isn’t always transferable to the page. It takes different skills to bring humour to the written word. Amy Poehler is hilarious but how much of that comes from physical comedy? From her facial expressions or characters? These are all great but don’t exactly translate to a book. Then there’s the fact that Poehler is a private person who doesn’t like to reveal too much about her personal life. Not really the best approach to a memoir.
Although to be fair, Poehler does spend a lot of the book reminding you to lower your expectations. A lot of time. One of the major issues with this book is the repetitiveness. It’s like she found three jokes that she was comfortable with and then just reused them as often as possible. Along with the expectations stuff, we so often hear her woes about writing a book. Almost every section is littered with asides from the comedian about how hard the process was. Okay, I get it. Writing a book is tough but mentioning it all the time is only going to infuriate your readers. It’s just going to get quite predictable and any potential humour that could be gained is quickly lost.
In terms of the actual memoir elements of the book, this is a perfectly fine attempt. It’s not the worst I’ve ever read but it’s hardly memorable either. There are some interesting insights into her early days in comedy but it never really goes too deep. We get a basic history of events and a few mediocre anecdotes. It’s just not the kind of stuff you’re going to really remember long after you’ve read them. We get several anecdotes from her days at SNL and her time working on Parks and Rec but, again, it’s all very safe. I didn’t get the feeling that I knew Poehler any better after reading this book than I did before. I’m not saying that she had to reveal intimate personal details because that’s not for me either. I just think there was probably a more entertaining way to relive these moments in her life.
The moments when Poehler really comes alive is when she’s talking about her loved ones. She briefly discusses her sons and we get to see some strong motherly emotions coming through. She touches on her friendships with fellow comedians like Tina Fey and Seth Meyers, where we see the deep connections up close. Then there are the chapters where she discusses her upbringing. Again, this isn’t exactly revealing but it’s a very sweet picture of family life. The problem is, you get the sense that as soon as she feels she’s too close to her limit of intimacy, we get drawn away with some forced joke or aside about writing. This is a book full of ruined moments of emotional clarity.
I started off by reading this book but, after the first chapter, I gave in and bought the audiobook. I’m not sure I’d have made it through if I’d been reading as normal. Having Poehler narrate the story gave the words more of a personal feel. The fact that she also included her parents, Seth Meyers, Michael Schur, Patrick Stewart and Kathleen Turner, gave the book an added dimension that it really needed. Hearing Poehler riff with her fellow narrators was often much funnier than the actual writing. If only she could have improvised her memoir instead. What we end up with is a messy and kind of confused book. It doesn’t really work as a memoir either. There is so little personal history here that you wonder why she agreed to write it.