Once a book is published it can’t be changed, which is a stressful proposition for this improviser who relies on her charm. I’ve been told that I am “better in the room” and “prettier in person”. Both these things are not helpful when writing a book.
If you don’t know who Amy Poehler is, cast member of Saturday Night Live for seven years and Leslie Knope in the award winning Parks and Recreation should do you for now. Although maybe you should pop over to the Telegraph site and watch her 10 Funniest Clips. I’ll see you in half an hour.
Okay, so we’re all up to speed. Poehler, then, has written a book. It’s part-autobiography, part-advice. No, no, no, no, don’t run away. It’s by Amy Poehler, she’s funny and smart and so is Yes, Please.
She describes the book as ‘a missive from the middle’ (Poehler’s in her early 40s).
It’s called Yes Please because it is the constant struggle and often the right answer. Can we figure out what we want, ask for it, and stop talking? Yes please. Is being vulnerable a powerful position? Yes please. Am I allowed to take up space? Yes please. Would you like to be left alone? Yes please…”Yes please” sounds powerful and concise. It’s a response and a request. It is not about being a good girl; it is about being a real woman.
The book’s divided into three sections: ‘Say whatever you want’; ‘Do whatever you like’; ‘Be whoever you please’. Each section begins with an autobiographical chapter called ‘How I Fell in Love with Improv’ that moves around the three places Poehler’s lived and performed: Boston, Chicago and New York. It takes us from her childhood performance as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz through to Parks and Recreation.
The advice sections of the book come in different forms. Sometimes it’s comes within an autobiographical chapter, for example when Poehler writes about her looks and the demon voice that ‘tells you that you are fat and ugly and you don’t deserve love’ or when she writes about the apology she made too late. Other times it comes in the form of a list – how women torture themselves and each other, for example – or, in the chapter where she says she doesn’t want to write about her own divorce and instead provides us with a set of hilarious pitches for books she thinks should be written about divorce.
There are also chapters in the book written by other people – one by her friend and SNL co-star Seth Meyers, one by her mum which her dad chips in on at the end and one which Poehler writes herself about Parks and Recreation but the creator, Mike Schur, adds footnotes to – for me, the most successful addition from someone else.
Poehler is eminently quotable, as you can see from the number of post-its attached to my copy after I’d finished reading. A taste:
The truth is, writing is this: hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not…It has been like hacking away at a freezer with a screwdriver.
Treat your career like a bad boyfriend…It’s never going to leave its wife. Your career is fucking other people and everyone knows but you. Your career will never marry you.
If you can surf your life rather than plant your feet, you will be happier. Maybe I should have called this book Surf Your Life. The cover could feature a picture of me on a giant wave wearing a wizard hat. I wonder if it’s too late. I’ll make a call.
The book has been beautifully put together – it’s heavy! The pages are all glossy and strokeable; there are great pictures of Poehler in different get-ups that start each of the three sections (see below), and a series of pull quotes laid out in a variety of ways on different coloured backgrounds (see further below).
As you can see from that last quotation, Poehler goes out of her way several times to try and prove to us that she’s not very nice. It doesn’t really work when the examples merely prove that she’s human rather than horrible. However, I do hate Amy Poehler: I hate her because she’s smart; I hate her because she’s funny; I hate her because she goes out of her way to help other people (see the Upright Citizens Brigade and Smart Girls at the Party); I hate her because I want her to be my friend and it’s never going to happen. In lieu of that, I plan to clutch Yes Please to my chest and take it everywhere with me so when I’m stuck or in a moment of crisis, I can remind myself what Amy Poehler would do.
In case I haven’t made it clear enough, I suggest you get yourself a copy of Yes Please and do the same. (Maybe read it first though.) It’s smart, funny and colourful, just like the woman herself.
Thanks to Picador for the review copy.