“That’s a dealbreaker!”
Tina Fey as Liz Lemon in 30 Rock, NBC
From The Book:
Neurosis and comedy make a natural pair. The former is often a type of pathological self-awareness, and nothing breeds a sense of comic irony like obsessive doubt and social maladjustment. Woody Allen, Richard Lewis, Larry David: all Jewish men from whose brains you can almost hear the constant whir of anxious introspection. Tina Fey may seem like an odd addition to the mix, fresh off a meteoric rise from frumpy nerd to glamorized cultural icon posing semi-clothed on the cover of Vanity Fair. But this—the overwhelmingly male tradition of the funny neurotic—is the legacy she proudly joins in her new book, a collection of biographical riffs on puberty, parenting, and being female in a male-dominated field.
Fey fashions herself as “a little tiny person with nothing to worry about running in circles, worried out of her mind,” stumbling from one lucky break to another, suppressing “terror burps” in anticipation of being scolded by her father, shedding flustered tears in the 30 Rock writers’ room after a TV Guide reporter quotes her on something that she had thought was off the record. None of her jokes irk or upbraid; all the barbs are directed inward. “What nineteen-year old Virginia boy doesn’t want a wide-hipped, sarcastic Greek girl with short hair that’s permed on top?” she writes of her time at the University of Virginia. “What’s that you say? None of them want that? You are correct.” For some added pseudo-self-flagellation, she occasionally throws in an old photograph of herself with a weird haircut or wearing some impressively bad outfit. “Because I am nothing if not an amazing businesswoman, I researched what kind of content makes for bestselling books,” she writes. “It turns out the answer is ‘one-night stands,’ drug addictions, and recipes. Here, we are out of luck. But I can offer you lurid tales of anxiety and cowardice.”
Neurosis has long been useful in the entertainment world. For Woody Allen, neurosis is existential, with philosophical ambitions: recall Annie Hall’s Alvy Singer at nine years old, slumped in the therapist’s office, saying, “Well, the universe is expanding, and if it’s expanding, someday it will break apart and that will be the end of everything.” If Allen’s neurosis springs from someplace deep, Fey’s is benign and mainly cosmetic. She has some genuine trauma in her past, but she chooses not to dwell on it: when she was five, she was slashed in the face by a stranger outside her house. “I accepted all the attention at face value and proceeded through life as if I really were extraordinary,” she says of being treated differently after the incident. “I guess what I’m saying is, this has all been a wonderful misunderstanding.”
It is easy to forget that beneath all the mentions of wide hips and “terror burps” she is actually an attractive, powerful woman.