Tina Fey is a hard woman to hate. And yet, some people manage it.
The cover blurb for her new book, Bossypants, reads "Tina Fey is an ugly, pear-shaped, overrated troll." It is attributed to "the Internet," that topsy-turvy bastion of anonymous cranks everywhere.
But never mind the haters. The rest of us adore Fey. She's smart, funny and, just like her character, Liz Lemon, on 30 Rock, manages to be both endearingly human and unapologetically in charge.
Being openly bossy is something a lot of women – particularly women in show business – have trouble with, and I fully understand why. I was once an executive producer on an ill-fated TV pilot and it took some getting used to. For the first three days of production, I kept marvelling at how nice everyone was.
"Why do they keep bringing us snacks?" I finally asked one of the other, more experienced, producers.
"Because you're the boss," she whispered, like it was a big secret.
I fought the urge to point out that I was pretty sure no one – not even the bosses – got free snacks when I worked at a newspaper, but decided against it, since it was not a very boss-like thing to say. I spent the next three weeks eating bagels and second-guessing myself.
I knew it was important to be authoritative, but on the other hand I desperately wanted everyone to like me. How could I effect an air of confidence without actually allowing a production assistant to move my chair between set-ups? Where was the line between leadership and princessdom? I'd go round and round in this internal debate until my feminist conscience would kick in and shout, "Stop being so pathetic – get a hold of yourself already!" Then I'd eat another bagel out of self-disgust.
Luckily, the show wasn't picked up and that was the end of my career as a boss. But some women have to be bosses all the time, and one of those women is Tina Fey.
In the introduction to Bossypants, she explains why she chose the title. "One, because the name Two and Half Men was already taken. And two, because ever since I became an executive producer of 30 Rock, people have asked me, 'Is it uncomfortable for you to be the person in charge?' You know, in the same way they say, 'Gosh Mr. Trump, is it uncomfortable for you to be the boss of all those people?' I can't answer for Mr. Trump, but in my case, it is not."
Fey's book is not so much a memoir as a series of tangential comic riffs on her childhood and career in TV. In one essay, she writes about the difference between men and women in comedy. (Her verdict: Men sometimes pee in jars.) In another, she reflects on hitting puberty ("At 10, I asked my mother if I could start shaving my legs. My Mom said it was too soon and that I would regret it. But she must have looked at my increasingly sweaty and hairy frame and known that something was brewing").
But Fey is at her best when comically dissecting the everyday dilemmas of modern working-womanhood. The essay Confessions of a Juggler, which was excerpted in The New Yorker, provides a refreshing take on the issue of work-life balance. Just as Fey is not afraid to be the boss, she shows in that essay, once again, that she's not afraid to be prickly with people who ask her questions they would never dare ask a man.
"A background actor on the set of 30 Rock will ask, 'You want more kids?' " writes Fey (who this week, by the way, announced she's pregnant with her second child.) " 'No, no,' I want to say. 'Why would I have more kids when I could be here with you having an awkward conversation over a tray of old Danishes?' "
See, I told you. Free snacks.
This week, 30 Rock co-star Alec Baldwin blurted out at a New York fundraiser that next year will be the last for the show. Actually, his exact words were, "Our contracts are expired [in 2012] and Tina is going to have a big career directing films and writing. She's going to be the next Elaine May. She'll be great."
Reading his words, my heart sank – not only because I'll miss the show, but because Baldwin seems to have learned nothing from his feminist boss. I mean, "big career"? Come on. We're talking about Tina Fey. She already has a big career!
But then I remembered that, on the show, Baldwin plays Liz Lemon's boss – a charming, mercurial and often patronizing one at that. So maybe he was tipsy at a party, I thought, and forgot for a moment who was in charge.
At least he doesn't hate her, right? But then who, apart from an anonymous crank on the Internet, could possibly hate Tina Fey?