Biographies had never really interested me until I happened to come across a book by Ellen DeGeneres in a charity shop in Richmond. It was soon after Finding Nemo had come out and let’s be honest Dory was the best. I can also speak whale. This particular little book contains a lot of the material she used in an early stand up show, along with other life anecdotes and thoughts. This sort of comical musing opened me up to reading more widely. Now I can’t say that I’ll ever pick up a biography about Winston Churchill but I would consider one about Johnny Cash, which I wouldn’t otherwise have.
Dear Fatty by Dawn French
Is there a more loveable woman in comedy? I challenge you to find one. Especially one who’s had the success that she’s had both professionally and personally. Not only has she created one of the finest shows ever made, The Vicar of Dibley, but she was also one half of perhaps the most successful female comedy duos, French and Saunders.
Possibly due to my own personal adoration for Dawn French, as soon as I saw her autobiography was out I wanted it. I bought it in hardcover. And it was a signed copy! I just wish I’d seen her sign it herself.
My expectations told me this book would be as funny, witty and tongue in cheek as French and her style of comedy is. In this I was not disappointed. There are stories about the shows she did, the ways she and her fellow people of humour came together and how they transitioned from studying to the stage. What I didn’t expect was how riveting and heartfelt the personal stories would be, without being sensationalised for the sake of sales. Her ability to write, to be read rather than performed, was so clear and honest. While I won’t spoil too much, some of the best parts are how she respectfully discusses her father’s death and the questions she asked that couldn’t be answered, learning to showcase her talent and about her daughter, Billie, or rather the lack there of as she firmly believes that her daughter’s life shouldn’t be media orientated. (She’s one of the few celebrities who have managed to keep a truly ‘personal’ life, whilst keeping her work life popular at the same time! Imagine that being possible?!)
I can’t recommend this book enough to anyone who’s enjoyed this woman in anything – TV or stage. It’s easy to read, nicely written and funny, sweet and poignant in the right doses.
Bossypants by Tina Fey
SNL and 30 Rock are Tina Fey’s claims to fame; that and a certain Sarah Palin impression, which is really how I came to know her. You may also recognise her from Mean Girls starring Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Seyfried and Regina George…I mean Rachel McAdams, which Fey wrote as an adaptation of a book called Queen Bees and Wannabes. Her weirdly wonderful comedy is unquestionable, but I did find myself thinking, as with many celebrity autobiographies, would she be interesting as a person as much as a character?
So what a relief that she took such an approachable direction to her autobiography, focussing on what someone who enjoys her shows would want to know about, namely the behind the scenes and “how did it all happen?” questions. Of course there are the obligatory interesting tidbits about Fey’s life before she could get recognised in the street by the public, but on the whole this book is the story of how Tina Fey of SNL became Tina Fey creator of 30 Rock, which has received, Fey admits, surprising success.
Having only caught up on season one of 30 Rock so far and intermittent clips and episodes of SNL, I found this book engaging and interesting, with just enough references to things I’d seen to feel like I was in the know. Moreover, I was torn between wanting to read on, not wanting to finish the book I was fascinated with and wanting to watch more 30 Rock.
If you like the show, or even just Fey herself, then this is worth reading. It’s even worth reading if you’re interested in reading about how someone manages working at a place that you’re writing about in a fictitious way. She’s a woman with drive and talent I have absolutely no doubt.
There are so many funny women in comedy who are finally getting recognition, like so many more men have done before and these books just highlight further the ways that they’re winning over our hearts with humour.
P.s. The Ellen DeGeneres book is called The Funny Thing Is…