Reading Martin Short and Tina Fey

I recently read biographies written by what must be two of Hollywood’s most likable talents, Martin Short and Tina Fey. Short’s “I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend” was published last year; Fey’s “Bossypants” in 2011. The books are similar to some degree, but also differ from one another. However, both are great reads.

The best one of the two is Short’s. In the clip above, he tells Jimmy Fallon about those times when he met Al Pacino and Frank Sinatra for the first time, funny incidents that are described in the book as well. There were times when I almost laughed out loud reading this book, as Short gets into hilarious encounters with celebrities and all the fun he’s had with one of his best buddies, Steve Martin. I loved reading about how the Christmas parties he and his wife Nancy arranged would spiral out of control over the years as one Hollywood icon after another felt a pressure to outdo each other with elaborate performances. As we follow Short’s rise to fame, several of his characters amusingly appear in separate “interludes”; obese and obtuse celebrity interviewer Jiminy Glick is my favorite.

But the book almost made me cry at other times as the comedian describes all the suffering of his life, especially how he lost his beloved wife to cancer; I had no idea how much that experience informed his serious performance on Damages in 2010. His writing isn’t sentimental; he’s not looking for cheap thrills in that department. But the simple and earnest way he describes his grief after Nancy’s death and how he deals with it makes me want to hug him badly.

Tina Fey’s book also made me laugh. Both comedians are great at writing about their lives with a self-deprecating sense of humor. Fey obviously isn’t writing from the same situation in life as Short; she’s much younger and in the middle of her career. The book traces her upbringing and early experiences from improv comedy at Second City and subsequent move to Saturday Night Live (which she has in common with Short) and later 30 Rock. One of the most interesting parts of her book is the journey she had from awkward college life (and her first terrible jobs) to the moment where she’s basically an executive, running 30 Rock; there’s a terrific chapter where Fey gets into the specific leadership lessons she’s learned from SNL chief Lorne Michaels.

The serious side of the book is that Tina Fey gets into feminist issues time and again, but in a relaxed way that makes any typically male resistance look idiotic. She’s obviously right about the problems in the business and our society that she brings up, and she sympathizes to some degree with Sarah Palin, even though the former Alaska Governor disingenuously tried to stab her in the back later on. In an engrossing way, Fey describes how she was dragged into imitating the then-vice presidential candidate on SNL, displaying a very sober attitude to that whole experience.

The clip above is interesting. Fey talks about “Bossypants”, and is being interviewed by the then-CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, who seems uncomfortable and uptight whenever Fey strays from what might be described as a “script”. But it’s still an interesting talk.

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