Amy Poehler's Yes Please is the latest in my theme of listening to books by comedians, narrated by their authors. To date: Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance, B.J. Novak's One More Thing, Tina Fey's Bossypants, Nick Offerman's Paddle Your Own Canoe and Rainn Wilson's The Bassoon King.
First things first: Poehler is perhaps the least talented book writer of the bunch I've read so far, though it's tough to tell with Ansari since his book had a cowriter attached to it. Whatever shortcomings Yes Please has in terms of form or function -- which I'll get to -- are actually made up for a bit by the structure of the audiobook itself.
Poehler speaks directly to the listener at times and has special guests come into the booth to read portions of her book; in most cases, these were portions that were actually written by the special guests. Seth Meyers, Mike Schur (creator of Parks & Recreation) and Poehler's mother and father are guests that have extended portions, and Meyers reads an entire chapter that he wrote for the book. It's fun to hear Meyers and Schur with Poehler, cracking jokes and running through a list of alternative names that Schur considered for the Parks & Rec character Leslie Knope. The result is a feeling that you benefitted from choosing the audiobook medium, like you got a little something extra, which is nice.
"Nice" is a good word to describe the way I felt about this book. While it is definitively a memoir in my eyes, Poehler acknowledges that she doesn't feel like she should be in a position to write about her own life yet. She says, "I haven't lived a full enough life to look back on, but I'm too old to get by on being pithy and cute." This up-front admission is part of Poehler's early strategy of managing the reader-listener's expectations: She confides that she's probably too busy to pen a book, with wrapping up the final season of Parks & Rec and raising two kids during the time of her writing. She says that all books written by parents with small children should have a "sleep-deprived" sticker on them.
That said, Poehler is such a likable personality and has enough good stories and nuggets of wisdom to easily clear her self-lowered bar. One story that sticks out to me most is about how her OB-GYN passed away the day before she gave birth. This is fucking TERRIFYING to think about! Poehler remembers that she was at work prepping for an airing of Saturday Night Live and shared the news with her coworkers as she received it. Jon Hamm was the guest for this show, and he had a unique way of reassuring Poehler:
"I felt so terrible about the fact that all I was thinking was 'What about meeeeeee!' I cried and cried in my Mad Men dress.
Jon Hamm held me by the shoulders and looked at me and said, 'I know this is very sad, but this is a really important show for me, so I’m going to need you to get your shit together.'
This made me laugh so hard I think I peed. Going from crying to laughing that fast and hard happens maybe five times in your life and that extreme right turn is the reason why we are alive, and I believe it extends our life by many years."
This is just one example of several engrossing and enjoyable stories Poehler tells. A good chunk of these stories are about falling in love with improv and the hard work she put in standing up the Upright Citizens Brigade in Chicago and toiling away waitressing there and in New York City before getting hired onto Saturday Night Live. Her hard work came to fruition during her first episode of SNL -- which was the famous first show after the attacks of September 11, 2001. What a first day of work.
Another one of my favorite pieces from Yes Please is Poehler's description of time travel. She believes that people, places and things can help move you from time to time and moment to moment in your life. By remaining in the moment as much as possible, you can experience time travel in your own head; she gives the example of a bench that her grandfather used to sit at to play an organ, which she now sits on with her own children. Another example is a vintage bathing suit that she purchased when she wasn't feeling confident enough to wear it, and when she finally does feel good enough to wear it, it brings her a unique joy.
Poehler is at her best when writing in these truisms she creates herself, and when writing about the good things (her friendship with Tina Fey is a broad topic that is heartwarming to read about). The bad things are too much for her to write about, at the moment -- she doesn't get into the details of her divorce with Will Arnett, though she does mention it directly: "It is too sad,” she says, “and too personal.” I'm not here to complain about that by any means: What a person does and does not share with the world is their own choice. But it goes back to Poehler's own admission of perhaps writing this book at an inopportune age: If she were older, more removed from her divorce, would she be able to write about it more freely? And would those experiences make for a richer book? This is more of a thought experiment than a critique; the details of her divorce are nobody's business but her own.
She does shine in writing about a few negative things, though. She writes about the demon that appears suddenly in your mind, telling you that you're fat or ugly, and offers personal experience on how she's managed to slap it away or slow it down. She advises that we shouldn't care about awards and recognition, but focus instead on doing the thing -- doing the thing is the thing, not talking about the thing or worrying about the thing. The book even steers into self-help territory at times, but Poehler regularly returns to optimism and positivity, lending to the "nice"-ness of overall sentiment in this read. She routinely advises the reader-listener to love yourself, never take yourself too seriously, and get as much sleep as you can (and mentions some of her own terrible-sleeper stories). Her recollections of how she deals with difficult people -- and the whole premise behind her "yes please" and "sorrysorrysorry" catch phrases -- are easy rules of thumb to bookmark.
The requisite Parks & Rec set stories are as wonderful as you would expect, and much like Rainn Wilson in his The Bassoon King, Poehler saves them for near the end. She knows why we're here, after all. Alongside her stories about the success of UCB and her time spent at SNL, it's safe to say that Poehler has accomplished more than enough to be worthy of the mid-career memoir.
Yes Please is available as an IRL book and an e-book on Amazon. It's also available on Audible; if you click this link, you can get a free trial of Audible that includes two free audiobooks. Even if you cancel your trial, you'll get to keep these two books. Also: clicking on any of the Amazon links in this post, and purchasing something from them, provides a small percentage kickback to the author of the blog you just read.