Book Review: Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Two days ago I finished Yes Please by American comedian Amy Poehler. For those who do not know her, she starred on the TV show Saturday Night Live and as Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation. It is an excellent book that everyone should read, especially those in the entertainment industry. I found this book to be helpful in thinking about how I want to carve out my career as a musician. It really helps to read about what people go through to achieve success.

When I first saw this book at an airport bookstore I wanted to buy it, but J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy called my name and I didn’t have enough room in my luggage to put anymore books in there. Flash forward a few years later and I finally get it at the library.

Her preface “Writing is Hard” spoke to me on so many levels. In the preface she talks about how hard it was to write this book. Poehler is a very busy woman who has two children and many projects to juggle, so the idea of writing a book was overwhelming for her (as it is overwhelming for many people to think about). She had to carve out time to write wherever she found herself: on the subway, on an airplane, in between setups while writing her TV show. She scribbled notes every second she had to make this book possible, so she couldn’t afford to worry about perfection or whether she was qualified enough to write this book. Poehler sought out the advice from other people about how to find more time to write, but none of these people considered the fact that Poehler, like I said before, is a busy woman with kids. Writing when you are single and have no obligations is one thing, but when you have other human beings you need to take care of, it can be hard to find time to write, which is why Poehler’s book made me appreciative that I do not have obligations and can just write all the time while still keeping a low-stress day job. Poehler gives her own genius advice for writing, and it’s something that I will keep with me for years to come: just do it. Stop intellectualizing how your writing will sound. Just put your all into your writing because “the doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing. This is what I know. Writing the book is about writing the book.” (Poehler xv).

Here are some more jumbled thoughts I have about the book:

  • Only apologize if you did serious harm to someone. Amy says she apologizes a lot, but in one instance it took her a long time to apologize. It was for her Dakota Fanning Show sketch in which she pokes fun at Dakota Fanning’s penchant for thought-provoking topics. When she pretends to play dolls with Hannah Montana (played by actress Ellen Page) Dakota jokes that the dolls are mentally disabled twins and is named “Hurricane Mary”. Turns out that there are were two disabled twins whose life was portrayed in a TV film called Hurricane Mary. The couple who made the movie about the twins’ lives wrote to Poehler criticizing her for mocking those with disabilities. Poehler didn’t apologize for a long time because she felt incredibly ashamed, but after asking her friend and filmmaker Spike Jonze for advice, he suggested she could still reach out and apologize even after five years had passed since she got a letter from the couple criticizing her for mocking the twins, so Amy finally emailed the couple to apologize and let them know she was going to do better next time in educating herself about disability rights. The actual young woman emailed Poehler back and forgave her, telling her that it was good she was going to start really thinking before making fun of anyone with disabilities. This instance taught me that in some cases you do need to apologize, but for small things you shouldn’t say sorry all the time because then it comes off as sounding fake. I have learned to not apologize unless I truly did something terrible because most people don’t have the time to accept all the apologies that come out of my mouth.
  • the entertainment business is no joke. You have to really struggle through the tough times. Amy had to waitress, work as a clerk and do several other jobs to support her stand-up career. But she made it and learned a lot of lessons along the way.
  • I need to see Parks and Recreation.
  • Pregnancy is very difficult but Amy still slayed at rapping about Sarah Palin while on Saturday Night Live.
  • I kept thinking about the film Don’t Think Twice while reading her chapter on founding the Upright Citizens Brigade (a standup comedy troupe) because it is really hard to start a stand-up comedy troupe from scratch and especially nowadays there is a lot more competition in stand-up comedy. In Don’t Think Twice, the characters all do stand-up comedy at night but work day jobs to pay the bills, and when one of them is chosen to be a cast member for Saturday Night Live everyone has to decide if they want to keep going without him or risk dismantling the troupe altogether.
  • No one really talks about the struggle that goes into becoming successful in the entertainment industry. Most people expect that they will one day be discovered if they move to a big city like New York or Los Angeles without knowing how much the successful people had to struggle to be where they are today. I am guilty of this and for the past two years really wanted to just up and move to L.A. and N.Y. because I assumed that I would just do what any artist or musician does when they get there: wait tables and audition, audition, audition. But truth is, that’s not really fun. It’s easier to struggle in your hometown when you can come home and lay in your nice warm bed than have to live on tips to pay your rent and constantly get rejected. Also, because things are just getting more expensive, it’s not in artists’ best interests to move permanently to those big-name cities because the rent is becoming increasingly hard to afford and because there is so much talent out there, the entertainment industry is setting the bar higher for making it, so you have to learn multiple skills in order to stand out.
  • Retta, Poehler’s co-star on Parks and Rec, is related to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Yes, the former president of Liberia who made the TIME 100 List when I was in (I think it was) middle school for kicking butt as a woman in charge of Liberia’s political system. Retta is her niece.
  • Love your parents. Amy talks a lot in the book about how her parents, while not super wealthy, raised her to be the woman and mom she is today.
  • I remember taking an improv comedy class when I was in middle school and I remember struggling through it because I was very quiet and took things very seriously. Everyone else was super chatty and extroverted, and all I wanted to do was read my book. Poehler says that even though she struggled with body image most of her life, doing stand-up comedy allowed her to be comfortable in her own skin and just be herself. I’ve noticed that a lot of female stand-up comedians use comedy as a way of getting past those awful insecurities that society conditions women to internalize. I myself have found that watching comedy or even being funnier in my writing lets me push past those fears of not being perfect enough or pretty enough because I learn that sometimes in life you just have to laugh.

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