In the ever-expanding ocean of books, which waves are most likely to sweep you away? Some of us read deeply—checking out all books by the same author and others in the same genre—while others tend to read more broadly—choosing a mystery here or a sci-fi there, etc. And, of course, some of us do both. When I was younger, reading a book was a major time commitment, so I would stick to the usual suspects. Now, however, with audiobooks I consume information and stories at an absurd pace and am more liberal in my reading choices.
In my quest to puruse books wide and narrow, I have stumbled upon the sub-sub-genre of ‘memoirs by female comedians’ and have wasted no time in falling down this rabbit hole. If you are in search of some lighthearted reads during the pandemic, then, perhaps, checking out some of the below titles can bring you some much needed humor and levity into this dark time.
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo – Amy Schumer
There is something profound about raw, emotional honesty. The author talks about her complicated youth, sex life, and career in a candid, poetic, and sometimes crude way. Schumer is witty, smart, and unapologetic of her character. The only section of this book that felt out of place was a passage on gun control. An armed man opened fire during a screening of Schumer’s 2015 movie “Trainwreck,” killing two people and injuring nine. Schumer was affected personally by this incident and has devoted a chapter to advocate for stricter gun control laws. Even Schumer admits that this section is a non-sequitur in her otherwise personal work. Although this issue is greatly important to the author, in my opinion, the inclusion of this topic made the overall story to feel a little detached at the end. Either way, I read this book when I was in need of some levity (more here) and was surprised by how much I enjoyed the memoir.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? – Mindy Kaling
I was unfamiliar with Mindy Kaling’s work before this book and to me, the most intriguing bits were when she was describing her everyday struggles and stories from before she was famous. Mindy Kaling is a perceptive and hilarious storyteller when she talks about her personal life. However, when she describes action on the set of “The Office,” the narrative felt a little more shallow and the story devolved into a who’s who behind the camera and a superficial retelling of episode plotlines. I’ve never seen “The Office” (or Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, The Mindy Project or any other TV show mentioned in these books), so I was not interested in learning about Kelly Kapoor and Ryan Howard’s rocky onscreen relationship. However, if these shows do interest you, I imagine that Kaling’s insider perspective would be a bonus! I did enjoy this memoir overall; it actually accompanied me on a few of my runs. Kaling has a second book out called Why Not Me? I read this one too… but you should, perhaps, skip it. While the first is a story of personal and career growth, the second is full of name dropping and unsolicited advice about how to be fabulous.
I’m Fine… And Other Lies – Whitney Cummings
Poor Whitney Cummings. I had never heard of Whitney Cummings (American stand-up comedian), however, the title I’m Fine…And Other Lies felt like one that I could personally connect to. This book discusses anxiety, anorexia, codependence, perfectionism and other disorders in a deeply personal, yet ‘let’s-make-light-of-it’ sort of way. Cummings has suffered from all of the above and uses her struggles as the anchor for her story of growth and career success. Because Cummings’s struggles are real and serious, the tone of this book is at times a little sullen. Her psychological need for acceptance from others is a common refrain in these pages to the point of repetition. On a whole, this book was a perplexing mélange between a humorous memoir, self-help book, and, in a way, a cry for help from the author. I wasn’t a fan of this book, however, if you are interested in exploring any of the ailments that I listed above, these short essays will give you deeply personal insights and stories into these struggles.
Bossypants – Tina Fey
Out of all the books on this list, Bossy Pants turned out to be one of my least favorites (just above Whitney Cummings’s book). While other authors talked openly, personally, and emotionally about their stories, Tina Fey always held back a little. Like the other books on this list, Bossypants details key and amusing moments in the author’s life. If you are a fan of “Saturday Night Live” or “30 Rock,” you are bound to enjoy Fey’s behind-the-scenes tales of life on set. However, if you are like me (someone who is relatively unfamiliar with all comediennes on this list!) hearing quips about famous people and superficial stories from the studio may not sustain your attention. Overall, I found the book to be lighthearted, yet lacking in its ability to engage with the audience. However, if you are in the mood for something short, funny, about the comedy industry, or just Tina Fey – check it out!
Yes Please – Amy Poehler
By the time that I read Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please, I admit that my appeal for the female comedian memoir genre had already begun to wane. However, my interest was piqued once more when I learned that Poehler is from the Boston area. Poehler’s stories from her childhood in Burlington, Massachusetts in the 1970s were fun to listen to. Yes Please also stood out to me because it featured a slew of celebrity guest speakers including Seth Meyers and Patrick Stewart. Amy Poehler’s book ties nicely with Tina Fey’s. The two are great friends and some of the duo’s adventures performing comedy on the road and at “Saturday Night Live” overlap in each author’s works. As someone who read both of the books (Bossypants came out first and I coincidentally read that one first), it was interesting to hear Poehler reference anecdotes that Fey already expounded upon. If you are considering picking up this book, I highly recommend the audiobook version.
The Last Black Unicorn – Tiffany Haddish
Is there another book like The Last Black Unicorn? Well, certainly not on this list! I had not heard of Tiffany Haddish before this book, however, that did not matter, because her story is like a work of fiction in the way that it told of her upbringing, rise to prominence, and all the struggles along the way. Tiffany Haddish had it hard growing up. Everyone on this list had to overcome struggles, but, objectively, Haddish started out life on one of the lowest rungs of the ladder. She talked about growing up poor, without a stable homelife, and experiencing sexual abuse as a child. Haddish describes her series of unfortunate events with humor even at the darkest of times. I wanted to shut the audiobook off at a few moments, because her desperate situation was at times too hard to listen to. I’m glad that I finished the book though. Haddish has a story worth listening to and I highly recommend it if you are looking for something different.
Listening to famous female comedians tell their stories through earbuds is like hearing stand-up or a sitcom in your head. When things are tough or you just need a change, consider picking up one of these light reads. While they all deal with some heavier themes (abuse, mental health, body image, etc.), each woman is able to put a spin on things to help you see that there is beauty and comedy even in life’s darker moments. More than one of these titles became a comfort and a fun distraction for me when things were uncertain. I hope you too can continue to find goodness in books and stories even during the pandemic.