Rolling with the Punches by Urzila Carlson
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I don’t Tweet. I am not even sure if I am able to Tweet from China. (Maybe I could and I just have never had a nice enough phone to send Twitter-twatter out into the ether.) Either way, I don’t Tweet, which put me at a possibly distinct disadvantage when I downloaded Rob Delaney’s recently released freshman collection of musings. As a non-Tweeter, I had no idea who this Rob Delaney guy was, but after doing a bit of post-book reading, I’ve discovered he is the bees knees when it comes to comedians on Twitter. But then again, maybe it was to my advantage to have no preconceived notion of his comedy, as I would imagine it is not easy to translate a regular stream of 140 character humorous reflections into a several hundred page collection of essays.
So, I picked up Rob Delaney: Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. blind, but left with my eyes wide open to more than I ever needed to know about some of Delaney’s down south goings-on. I guess it is the nature of comedy to expose yourself to the world, but many times, it is a literal exposure going on for Delaney. Not only do I have an inordinate amount of information about his personal pleasure choices, but I know that he has had an up-close and personal view of another human’s butt hole, as well as that he reciprocated said view to another. Wow!
Rob Delaney’s book is an interesting, although at times slightly odd, combination of marginally humorous essay mixed with recovering alcoholic reflections. Having quickly learned that Delaney makes his living as a comedian, I was surprised as the serious tone of many of the essays. Yes, there are sprinkles of humor thrown in throughout, but it is hard to find Twitter-feed type levity when talking about drunk driving, massive car accidents, hospitalization, rehab, jail time, halfway houses and the continuous struggles of an alcoholic. Had I come into this book as a fervent follower of the Twitter feed that made him popular, I think I would have been disappointed by the serious nature of much of this book. Memoir is probably a more accurate descriptor than humor.
Normally, I can’t wait to get my hands on an essay collection by a favorite blogger or comedian, but this one fell a bit short for me. The mixture between bits of comedy and the seriousness of his struggles with alchol never found a satisfying balance for me as the reader. I either wanted more remorse for his earlier actions (he talks about drunk driving as if it were just another blip on the radar) or I want a more extreme self-depreciative, dark humor. This middle ground just feels awkward. While I enjoyed his writing style, and would probably pick up a sophomore publication, Rob Delaney: Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. left me sitting on the proverbial fence, earning an in-the-middle:
While I am a big fan of literary novels and an occasional reader of non-fiction (more in the last few years than prior to my Peace Corps service), I had a real soft-spot for this new genre of comedy/memoir book that seems to have sprung up in the last few years. (Now that I think about it, maybe it has been there all along and I am just rediscovering it. I remember pulling dusty Erma Bombeck books off the shelf in our family room at home and devouring those during naptimes, when I didn’t have to sleep, but I did have to entertain myself quietly so my parents could have a few minutes of sanity each afternoon, all summer long.)
There are many things to like about these comedy/memoirs. The chapters are usually rather short, which are perfect for reading in a bubble bath or the taxi on the way to work. (Who ever thought a bubble bath and a taxi in Chengdu would have anything in common?) Also, the chapters, while all tied together, stand alone, making it okay if the books sits on my nightstand for a week or two, unread, because I somehow picked up another book and haven’t made it back to the first. Often times there are pictures or charts or comics to break up the various sections of the book, which let’s face it, even as adults, we like to see.
I was excited when I heard Tina Fey had a new book, Bossypants, coming out soon. I guess not excited enough though, since it took me over a year to actually get my hands on a copy and read it. In retrospect, I have to say that that is okay.
Tina Fey is awesome. I loved her in “Weekend Updates” on Saturday Night Live and her Sarah Palin was spot on during the 2008 presidential campaign. But, the book wasn’t everything I ever hoped it would be.
It was funny, at times. It was entertaining, at times. But, for comedy, it seemed to take itself a little too seriously, at times. There were points where I felt like I was getting a lecture about being a proper feminist, about how females can be funny, can have jobs and families, their cake and they can even eat it too.
I’m living the life I want to live. I don’t need Ms. Fey to give me a self-esteem boost. I just need a laugh after a long day of gray skies.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not totally panning the book. There were great parts to it and it did make me laugh. I loved hearing the backstories of the path that lead her to producing an award winning television series and some behind-the-scenes peeks at SNL. I especially got a kick out of the chapter about when her mom gave her the “special” booklet about becoming a woman, which had three best friends chatting with each other about their changing bodies. I clearly remember getting a similar pamphlet in the sixth grade, after sitting through a truly horrifying presentation by the school nurse, in which three flowers are going through “the change” and discussing what is happening to them. (On a total tangent, but are the flowers as main characters a snarky nod to “the birds and the bees?”)
Maybe I went into this book with a misconception about what it was. It isn’t really a memoir in the sense I expected, but rather a comedic look at the winding road required for women to be successful in a male-dominated field, like comedy. I would offer the book to a friend, for sure, but I would also warn them that it isn’t just a laugh-along look at the life and times of Ms. Tina Fey. It attempts more depth than that and definitely achieves a sharper edge. Overall, Bossypants was a great break from the longer novels and more intense non-fiction books that have been on the top of my reading pile lately. Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants earns a solid:
It appears that lately I’ve had a thing for the ladies of comedy. A few weeks ago I read (and reviewed) Mindy Kaling’s new book, then last week I bought Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants (which is currently in a box on the slow boat to China) and then today I finished (somewhere 30,000 feet above the flyover states) Rachel Dratch’s new release. I haven’t read Fey’s book, but I do have to admit right up front that between of Kaling’s and Dratch’s books, Kaling wins without a doubt.
Now, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy Girl Walks into a Bar, there were parts that made me laugh and parts that made me reflect on my own choices in life. I definitely agree with Dratch on her views of baby showers, (I mean, how many tiny pairs of pants can one oooh and ahhh over in the space of a single afternoon?)but overall I think the vast difference in where we are in life makes the book fall outside my range of interest.
Dratch focuses a lot on the fact that she became a mother for the first time at the age of forty-four. She had always wanted kids, but didn’t want to be a single mother and Mr. Right hadn’t found his way in to her life yet. Her world is turned upside down when, well past the time she thought she would have to worry about birth control, she finds out she is pregnant. The father is a man she had been seeing long-distance for several months, but one with whom there was no set commitment.
Before getting to the pregnancy, Dratch does detail the horrors of her dating life. I couldn’t help but laugh at how many crazies came her way over the years. From the married man who flirted like there wasn’t a wife and two kids at home to the one who casually asked her if she ever wondered what human flesh tasted like, she definitely got her fill of the New York dating scene.
The book references Saturday Night Live and its cast and host of characters pretty regularly, so that may be a draw for some. While I went through a period when I watched it most weekends, it has been a few years since I could be counted on to know the recurring skits. (Even when I was watching often, it was pretty much only for the digital shorts and Weekend Update. The rest was pretty hit or miss for me.)
Girl Walks into a Bar was a quick read and I am sure it will be popular with mothers who feel the pain/excitement/horror/joy/fear/blessing of an unexpected pregnancy, but this just wasn’t the queen of comedy book I had hoped for. (Fingers crossed that Tina Fey’s book will fall into the Mindy Kaling category and not the Rachel Dratch one… ) With that said, it was the perfect book for a cross-country airplane ride- easy to read and short chapters that don’t require excessive amounts of concentration. Overall, Rachel Dratch’s Girl Walks into a Bar earns:
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
As a relatively recent convert to The Office, and now officially in love with it, I was super excited to find this book by Mindy Kaling, one of the show’s writer and actresses. I’ve always been a fan of this genre of non-fiction book- the thoughts and ponderings of a comedian, their take on daily life stuff put into short, witty essays. As it turns out, Kaling is a girl after my own heart.
I’ve decided Mindy Kaling and I would be great pals. We share a love of clothes and fashion magazines and have similar outlooks on many of life’s little quirks. I love that she shares some of her most embarrassing moments, like when she tried out for a play in New York that required singing and dancing and acting, only to horrify the director with her lack of dancing aptitude. At one point she discusses how she is basically the polar opposite of athletic, which is exactly where I would fall on that spectrum as well.
Kaling’s essays are short, but filled with the not-so-mundane details of her pathway to Hollywood. She was raised an obedient child of hard-working immigrant parents who didn’t necessarily see comedy as the way to success in America, and yet they were supportive and she has found her niche in sunny southern California. She wasn’t successful at everything she tried, which is great for us as readers, as it provides hilarious fodder for her writing.
It is fun to see someone just about my same age, referencing the same late 80’s and early 90’s phenomenon that also make up a huge part of my childhood memories. The only thing I didn’t particularly like about this book was the format. They essays didn’t seem to flow between each other as much as I would have liked. I feel like there could have been more of foundation to the book that the writing could then have built off of and become more intertwined, rather than a series of essays that seem to not have a lot of order. (The book is broken into segments, each with an overall theme, but I would have liked to have something a bit more organized.)
This book never made me laugh out loud, but I did chuckle to myself quietly several times. I also found myself nodding along, agreeing as she wandered through her thoughts on marriage and friendship and the protocol behind sneaking out of parties you would rather not be at. If anything, the book was too short. Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) earns: