photo & text by nacrowe
i first became aware of AMY POEHLER via her short-lived cable show UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE (COMEDY CENTRAL, 1998-2000). in essence i was such a big fan of MR. SHOW (HBO, 1995-1998) after the fact that i went back in search anything similar from that period which led me to shows like THE STATE (MTV, 1993-1995) and KIDS IN THE HALL (CBC, 1989-1995). i was made aware of her again when i discovered the UCB THEATER in NYC when a friend from graduate school and his improv group did a show there in the late 2000s.
her memoir YES PLEASE (HARPERCOLLINS, 2018) is a playfully sarcastic take on being a woman in COMEDY. she tackles everything from WRITING, DIVORCE, MOTHERHOOD, CHILDHOOD, THE ART OF IMPROVISATION, CREATIVITY, DOUBLE STANDARDS, WRITING ROOMS, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, SECOND CITY, TOXIC MASCULINITY, FORGIVENESS, OWNING YOUR MISTAKES, WHITE PRIVILEGE and the like with poise, dignity and more than a little self-flagellation. she comes across as someone cognizant of greater forces that affect her psychological and emotional well-being and seems somewhat on top of combating such with humor and grace.
for me the most interesting aspects of this book revolve less around her career and more around her personal and professional relationships. reading about how she interacts with COLLABORATORS, FAMILY and even her EX-HUSBAND really gives you a sense of the impossible complexity of maintaining the balance of a career and family life. you also get the sense that while she seeks outside affirmation and the "pudding" of winning awards, she similarly gets equal gratification from devising up some group hijinks among the nominees to combat the misogynistic trope and bad optics of woman battling each other. awards are dumb and ultimately meaningless compared to the work itself and the collaboration between partners and ultimately the shared communication with an audience. that interaction seems to be the heart of this book, POEHLER's efforts to communicate the COMMON HUMANITY of her characters, whether on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (NBC, cast member, 2001-2008) or PARKS AND RECREATION (NBC, 2009-2015) among her previously mentioned projects.
my only gripe with this book is how she seems to routinely quote and lionize LOUIS C.K. as some sort of zen master who has a pithy quote for every difficult life situation. obviously that didn't age so well and is a little awkward to read, yet entirely understandable given their past collaborations pre-scandal.
what did age well is everything related to frequent collaborator and "wifey" TINA FEY, who as a writer and producer seems to utilize her platform(s) to promote women (and men) that she feels deserving of the opportunity. i think ultimately that is the model that POEHLER wants for her legacy as evidenced by her grassroots involvement with IMPROVISATIONAL COMEDY and the UCB THEATERS in both NYC and LOS ANGELES (along with their associated training centers). IMPROVISATION by definition is the giving of oneself to the premise of an absurd collective identity that only works with total commitment. seems as fitting a metaphor as any other for her efforts.
its funny how that concept of "paying it forward" never gets brought up with all the biographies i've read concerning male artists and musicians. must be a guy thing, i guess?
photo manipulation by nacrowe
man i still miss CHRIS FARLEY. watching his stuff still makes me laugh.
its between him and NORM MACDONALD for my favorite comedians of all-time. i can't choose.
this might come off as tone deaf or unsympathetic, but normally when a celebrity passes on i am not that affected by it on a personal level. don't get me wrong, i have compassion for the family of the deceased and the suffering they must be going through. but i don't usually take the next step and feel personally affected. i didn't know them personally. i can't think of another celebrity i had such a strong reaction to upon learning of their demise. not even KURT COBAIN or later PHIL HARTMAN and OL' DIRTY BASTARD. FARLEY still stands out to me as uniquely american tragedy, as our culture promotes narcissism through empty capitalism, but never checks the dark underbelly of consumer culture that defines our self-image.
to me FARLEY's passing was different. his death from a speedball overdose in 1997 happened during my middle school years and it bummed me out. sounds selfish, i felt like something was taken from me when he died. like we were all deprived of his brilliance. dude was so vivacious and full of life, he just seemed like a force of nature in his performances which were so intense it had an almost kinetic energy that just sucked you in from its sheer force of will.
it is so tragic to know now that his performances were fueled by pain and insecurity. being overweight and seeing his father ridiculed growing up for his weight issues in rural WISCONSIN just breaks my heart. what really gets me is the idea that the gift for which he was celebrated for, his humor and larger-than-life personality, was born out of a desperation for feeling like a social outcast due to his stature. his acting out a way of gaining attention and notoriety and at its base, love and adoration. the feeling that his frame made him unlovable.
that idea still makes me sad. that his gift was his curse. being celebrated for your sublimated creative expression of deep unbridled pain and social anxiety.
i love the guy 20+ years later and i still miss him even though i never knew him. dude was a legend.
R.I.P. CHRIS FARLEY.