Audiobook read by the author (with guests Kathleen Turner, Patrick Stewart, Carol Burnett, Seth Meyers, Michael Schur, and Bill and Eileen Poehler)
Dey Street Books (October 2014), Hardcover (ISBN 0062268341 / 9780062268341)
Nonfiction: memoir/essays, 352 pages
Source: Purchased audiobook (Harper Audio, October 2014, ISBN 9780062350886; Audible ASIN B00MP22QRQ)
The past few years have produced a bumper crop of notable memoir/essay collections by women already known for writing and performing comedy, and while it’s tempting to lump all of their books together, it’s not exactly fair. They may share some common traits, but Tina Fey’s book is not Mindy Kaling’s book is not Rachel Dratch’s book, and none of them is Amy Poehler’s book. However, Amy Poehler does make appearances in each of their books, and while she in was in the process of writing her own memoir/essay collection, Yes Please, she read all of their books.
“I like to say ‘yes,’ and I like to say ‘please’,” Poehler says, in explaining her book’s title. “Yes” is the governing principle of improv comedy, and each of Yes Please’s three sections opens with a chapter titled “How I Fell in Love With Improv” in a specific place and time. Poehler discovered improv while in college in Boston, and moved to Chicago after graduation intending to develop her writing and performing skills in that city’s comedy community. Years of classes and practice got her as far as Second City’s touring company, but it was her work as a founding member of the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) that took her to New York and, ultimately, eight years on Saturday Night Live. And SNL took her to Pawnee, Indiana.
Poehler likes to say “please” because she values people treating each other decently, and that decency is one of the hallmarks of Parks and Recreation, which will begin its final season in January, and which is one of the most genuinely good-hearted comedies on television. I admit to liking my snarky fun as much as anyone, and probably more than some, but I’ve always loved the way Parks achieves sharp humor without being mean-spirited. Even when it takes digs—and it does take them—there’s a sense of real affection underneath it all, and Poehler’s ever-optimistic go-getter Leslie Knope is at its center, simultaneously irritating and endearing (or endearingly irritating, or irritatingly endearing, depending on how you look at it).
Poehler comes across a lot like Leslie in Yes Please, but her personal scale is weighted much more heavily on the “endearing” side. She is forthcoming about many things: her career struggles and successes, her experiences with recreational drug use, her joy in motherhood and in reaching a midlife comfort zone. She is also forthcoming about the fact she has no intention of being forthcoming about her divorce from her sons’ father, Will Arnett, but when she does speak about her ex, she is generous. Poehler’s generosity and appreciation extends to those who have been her closest friends and colleagues—it goes along with valuing consideration and decent treatment of other people. Some of them—her BFF Tina Fey, her Parks and Recreation costars—get chapters of Poehler singing their praises; others—Parks and Rec showrunner Mike Schur, SNL “Weekend Update” co-anchor Seth Meyers, and Eileen and Bill Poehler, Amy’s mom and dad—were invited to collaborate with Poehler in writing chapters of the book themselves.
Poehler’s co-writers also read with her on the audio version of Yes Please, which also features cameos from Carol Burnett, Patrick Stewart, and Poehler’s dream narrator, Kathleen Turner. This cast, and a final chapter recorded in a live reading at the UCB Theatre in Los Angeles, make for an audio extravaganza rather than than a mere audiobook, and I found it thoroughly delightful from beginning to end. The performance brings so much to the material I really can’t imagine reading Yes Please any other way than by ear. Given Poehler’s remarks about how hard it was to write a book, she may not do this again, so this could be your only opportunity to read her at all; if you’re inclined to do so, I urge you to listen to her.
Do you want to get to know the woman we first came to love on Comedy Central’s Upright Citizens Brigade? Do you want to spend some time with the lady who made you howl with laughter on Saturday Night Live, and in movies like Baby Mama, Blades of Glory, and They Came Together? Do you find yourself daydreaming about hanging out with the actor behind the brilliant Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation? Did you wish you were in the audience at the last two Golden Globes ceremonies, so you could bask in the hilarity of Amy’s one-liners?
If your answer to these questions is “Yes Please!” then you are in luck. In her first book, one of our most beloved funny folk delivers a smart, pointed, and ultimately inspirational read. Full of the comedic skill that makes us all love Amy, Yes Please is a rich and varied collection of stories, lists, poetry (Plastic Surgery Haiku, to be specific), photographs, mantras and advice. With chapters like “Treat Your Career Like a Bad Boyfriend,” “Plain Girl Versus the Demon” and “The Robots Will Kill Us All” Yes Please will make you think as much as it will make you laugh. Honest, personal, real, and righteous, Yes Please is full of words to live by.
From the Introduction, “How to Use This Book”:
“This book is a missive from the middle. It’s a street-level view of my life so far. It’s an attempt to speak to that feeling of being young and old at the same time. I cannot change the fact that I am an American White Woman who grew up Lower-Middle-Class and had Children after spending most of her life Acting and Doing Comedy, so if you hate any of those buzzwords you may want to bail now. Sometimes this book stays in the present, other times I try to cut myself in half and count the rings. Occasionally I think about the future, but I try to do that sparingly because it usually makes me anxious. Yes Please is an attempt to present an open scrapbook that includes a sense of what I am thinking and feeling right now. But mostly, let’s call this book what it is: an obvious money grab to support my notorious online shopping addiction. I have already spent the advance on fancy washcloths from Amazon, so I need this book to really sell a lot of copies or else I am in trouble. Chop-chop, people.”