Saturday Night Live’s season premier is September 28…with host Tina Fey!! Well on her way to being the third woman to join the Five Timers Club (Season 39’s premiere marks appearance No. 4), Fey and her book Bossypants have paved a path for other women in comedy to rise to great heights of success in the field. Women in comedy is as controversial a subject as women in any other male-dominated field—Christopher Hitchens published a notorious piece in Vanity Fair investigating “Why Women Aren’t Funny,” and here at home a local publication’s discussion board blew up when a writer broached the subject.
Despite the vitriol, some of our most checked-out nonfiction books are written by comedians—and comediennes. Bossypants was on the New York Times Bestseller list for more than a year. Publishers took note, and have picked up several other comedienne memoirs to offer eager readers.
Need to escape from a long day in these light, funny reads? Check one of these out today.
As the most senior comedienne on this list—she’s 80 years old and has been in the business since the ‘60s—Joan Rivers might also be the most edgy. She’s paid her dues and can pretty much say anything she wants at this point. Rivers’ memoir reads much like her comedy sounds—cascades of one-liners that flow into an overall story. The Queen of Comedy before Fey ever made it big, Rivers earned the right to hold nothing back. Recommended for readers who want their satire served with bite.
Mindy Kaling may not have the type of name recognition that Fey and Rivers do, but she may become Tuesday night’s sitcom queen very soon. Kaling’s comedy memoir also discusses her time as a writer on SNL, and goes further to detail her successes as an actor, writer, and producer of “The Office,” what she is most well-known for. The book ends touching on her newest, aptly named, project—“The Mindy Project,” a sitcom on Fox. Readers who liked Bossypants will find much to love in Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Recommended for fans of women in top positions.
Julia Sweeney’s If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your Mother is the latest to join the ICPL stacks. Sweeney’s book is based more on her recent experiences as a mother and less on her four years at SNL in the ‘90s (because, seriously, who wants to read about early ‘90s SNL??). As she tells NPR’s Scott Simon, “show business seemed sort of empty and mercurial and demanding and superficial. And then my joke to myself is — but that was before I knew how superficial and demanding family can be.” Recommended for parents who want the laughter coupled with keen insight.
Rachel Dratch, or Debbie Downer as her fans may know her, worked with Tina Fey on “30 Rock” after her contract was up with SNL in 2006. Before researching these books, I had not known she was the original Jenna Maroney on the show, before it was recast with Jane Krakowski in the role. This unplanned curve in her career path is just one of the unexpected turns her life took. But like on SNL, Dratch killed in her cameos on “30 Rock.” She couples that comedy with heart to share her own life’s stories. Recommended for readers who want to commiserate.
Not a comic herself, Kohen’s book We Killed catalogs a stellar list of comediennes beginning with the Joan Rivers generation and extending through to the current up-and-comers like Aubrey Plaza. Cecily Strong is slated to take over for Seth Meyers on SNL’s Weekend Update, a position Tina Fey once held. Is she too new to make the list? Pick it up to find out. Recommended for readers who wished they could take Women in Comedy as a history course.
Last on this list but first on the list of hilarity, Tig Notaro’s memoir in stand-up form is a must-listen. Live is the recording of a stand-up performance she gave four days after learning she had breast cancer. Louis C.K. called the performance “instantly legendary,” and This American Life featured an excerpt of her monologue on its episode “What Doesn’t Kill You.” Notaro endured much hardship leading up to this news, and taking her story to the stage cemented her reputation as a courageous comic, taking those risks that lead to rewards. Listeners will be much rewarded by Live, learning about life and its unbelievable—yet surmountable—battles. Recommended for everyone.