I must confess that I'm a latecomer to appreciating the talent of Amy Poehler. I first saw her during her stint on Saturday Night Live, though she was on during a time when I pretty much never watched the show, so much of it was filtered through clips of her "Weekend Update" performances and her (amazingly perceptive) Hillary Clinton impersonation. I've also enjoyed her voice work (especially as Joy in Inside Out), but this alone wasn't necessarily enough. It was only when I finally discovered Parks and Recreation for myself earlier this year that I realized how gifted she is as an actress and writer, and once I was done watching the series I felt that I wanted more of her brand of humor.
This is what brought me to this book. I remember reading some less-than-glowing reviews of it when it was first published, and to be fair some of their points are valid. The text consists of a choppy and episodic collection of chapters about Poehler's experiences as a daughter, student, comedienne, actress, mother, and celebrity. The structure is a little disjointed, and the text is padded out with visual jokes that can be cute but seem to be more about filling space. At the start of the book she comments that writing one is hard, and this exercise seems to be proof of the sincerity of that statement.
It's especially unfortunate given how funny she is as an author. Her book is a great read, one that had me laughing at nearly every page. As an author she is wry, self-deprecating, and has a good sense of the absurd. She is also incredibly generous, with only praise for the many people she mentions throughout its pages. It's the kind of thing that makes me happy for the success that she earned over many years of grinding effort, much of which she describes in very funny detail. In many ways it's a typical story of working in the service industry (she is refreshingly proud of her skills as a waitress) while learning the craft of comedy performance from some of the best teachers around, followed by unpaid performances in whatever spaces could be found for staging them. Fame in her case was not the matter of a big discovery but of friends who used their own success to open up opportunities for her. In this respect her gratitude is both understandable and a testament to her values, as I suspect not every star is as willing to acknowledge the help they received along the way.
Yet Poehler describes more than just her path to fame and fortune. Her book is leavened with the lessons she has drawn from her experiences, which she conveys though anecdotes that are among the best parts of the text. Though it is impossible to establish their veracity, whether we get the "real" or "complete" Poehler in its pages, I certainly want to believe that we get a reasonably accurate approximation. Life just seems better knowing that someone like her is around.