Yes Please! by Amy Poehler
If you think that arriving at stardom just consists of lucky breaks—or tossing your screenplay onto the lap of a sleeping star during air travel—then you need the reality check of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please! Her mid-life biography recounts the long years of work she endured—at all odd hours—to get to where she is today. Poehler has been a regular on Saturday Night Live, a host of various award shows and the star of the sit com Parks and Recreation. But before that she was a waitress and an office assistant. She lived in crummy apartments in major urban areas such as Chicago and New York where she learned about comedy at the ImprovOlympic (Chicago) and with the Upright Citizens Brigade (New York).
Something I love about stories of the ‘hard times’—and Poehler’s is no exception—it that a lot of what a person endures for his or her craft engenders great creativity. And, despite those crappy apartments and weird hours, those creative years often bind you to the best friends you’ll have in your life. Poehler’s recounting of her friendship with Tina Fey is only one of such stories. She has many, and she credits numerous people who have helped her on her path to success. The stories of Seth Meyers (SNL) and fellow cast members of Parks and Recreation are both funny and touching.
A good biography always generalizes experience outward to the reader. Most likely, the reader is not on the road to stardom. Poehler connects to her reader with experiences that level the emotional field. She is entirely sincere in her confession that most of her interesting friends are not famous, and that many famous people she knows aren’t very interesting as friends. Her reflections on divorce are funny and yet true. And what’s great is that they aren’t a rant against her ex-husband, something that would get tiresome. Poehler’s advice on learning to apologize is something everyone should read. Really—even if you aren’t going to read her book, check it out from the library and read the apology chapter. It captures how difficult it is—and how necessary—to properly apologize. And a proper apology does not include excuses or wording like, “If I offended anyone, I’m sorry that they got offended.”
The one irritating piece of the book is Poehler’s long whine (or maybe it just feels longer than it is) on how hard it is to write a book—and this takes place at the very beginning, in the prologue. It has too much of the ‘poor me’ thing going. I know many writers who toil equally as hard and for a much longer period without a mega-bucks book deal, without any guarantee that they will ever have an audience. It’s a shame that the book begins this way because it makes the reader wonder if she should keep going. And she should keep going as there is so much worthwhile coming. Actually, a reader could skip the ‘a book is so hard to write’ whine altogether without missing anything.
I listened to the audio version of Yes Please! because there are some fun guests narrating—Poehler’s parents, Kathleen Turner, Seth Meyers, Carol Burnett, even Patrick Steward reading some haiku. If you can, get a hold of the audio and have a listen.
High school housekeeping: Some of you know Poehler and her work. I think you’ll enjoy her biography. It does have some colorful language, but no more than the average YA book. It’s a good choice for any assignment of the ‘American Dream today.’ It’s a good personal choice for anyone interested in a public life. And it’s a good choice for anyone who wonders how she’ll manage her creative spirit while engaging in real life—so, I guess that’s just about everyone. The inevitable student question: Is Yes Please! As good as Tina Fey’s Bossypants? Skip the opening whine mentioned above, and yes, it is.