Thursday, July 21, 2011

Read these celebrity memoirs, not those other ones

As you may have noticed lately, celebrity memoirs are the newest rage in the publishing world. It seems as though everyone from Bill Clinton to Kanye West has published a memoir lately, which makes it hard to want to read any of them at all. I myself had a hard time believing that any of the newly minted “authors” would be able to turn out a good read. However, being a former dancer, film student and production assistant, as well as a current theater geek, I found that all I need for a good celebrity memoir is lots of backstage shenanigans, some Hollywood gossip, and a well spoken comedienne. These three were my recent favorites from the crop.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

I had heard about Bossypants through all of the various media channels, but dismissed it as just another celebrity memoir. I finally picked it up in an airport, waiting for my four hour flight delay. I read almost the entire book while waiting for my flight, and then finished it on the plane. Knowing that Fey is indeed a writer and has come up with some of the most creative stuff on recent television, I should not have been surprised at how much I enjoyed her book, yet I was. Through mock-instruction, silly diagrams, and just the right amount of comedic hyperbole, Fey tells us about her childhood, how she got her start in showbiz, her rise to writing fame, and her relationship with her husband and daughter.

Backstage shenanigans from SNL and 30 Rock abound, and fans of hers will be thrilled to learn about all of the famed SNL sketches she wrote, many of them springing from her time as a Second City cast member. One of my favorite stories involves Fey’s first job as a receptionist at the Y in Chicago, where she also met Amy Poehler. Another details Fey’s theory on why male writers are different from female writers, and the reason is hilarious (and true). She also talks a lot about being a working mom, balancing her work life and home life, and how she manages to do that while still working 16 hour days with the mostly male writing staff on 30 Rock.

I read the old fashioned paper version, but fair warning about the audio book: Fey herself reads it, which is entertaining, but if you’re listening in the car, for instance, you are not privy to the illustrations, photos and diagrams which enhance the content.

Official Book Club Selection by Kathy Griffin

Catapulting off the success of her wildly popular reality show My Life on the D List, Kathy Griffin writes about her childhood, how she got her start in Hollywood, where she learned how to save all that money, where she learned how to make fun of celebrities, and other juicy tidbits from her life. As her comedy suggests, she writes with a witty and sardonic sense of humor, but also captures the not so nice parts of life with a wisdom and wit that endears her to readers.

Comedic highlights include tales of her early days with the Groundlings comedy troupe, where she met the likes of Andy Dick and Lisa Kudrow, one of whom stayed her friend and other who found fame on a popular TV show; Backstage shenanigans involving Brooke Shields, from her time on Suddenly Susan; and bloopers from filming her reality show.

Griffin also gets serious at some points, recounting her experiences with her now deceased brother, her husband who stole large amounts of money from her, and her botched liposuction procedure. These serious moments serve to enrich the narrative, and by the end of the book, I wanted Kathy Griffin to be my best friend. She had interesting stories to tell, and you could tell there were a lot more where those came from. Unfortunately, her stand up specials on Bravo and the occasional live show I can afford will have to do, especially since she has decided to end her reality show, probably due to exhaustion – the woman never stops working, which is another thing we learn about her in the book.

A Little Bit Wicked by Kristin Chenoweth

In Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth’s memoir, readers learn that before she was the fabulous Cheno, she was Kristie, multiple times runner up at the Miss Oklahoma pageant. Although at first it seems like just another celebrity memoir, and one that includes God to boot, Chenoweth has some interesting and funny things to say about the depths of Broadway and Hollywood. Among other things, she describes her relationship with faith – she often wonders how a faith which has helped her so much in life can create such cruel people, and she also wonders how she sometimes gets lumped in with the extremists. Her story about her experience as a guest on the 700 Club is priceless, as she recounts how she disappointed thousands of her gay fans by appearing on a very right-wing Christian television show, unbeknownst to her.

There are also lots of backstage shenanigans in Chenoweth’s book, including her time as master’s student in Opera at the University of Oklahoma; her stint as a performer at the now defunct theme park Opryland; Her turn as Galinda in Wicked, opposite Idina Menzel, a relationship which was tabloid fodder; her role on the critically acclaimed but cancelled Pushing Daisies, and her on again-off again relationship with Aaron Sorkin, which inspired an entire character on one of his TV shows.

My only warning to readers is that it’s written by a (credited) ghost writer, and you can sometimes tell that the stories are not exclusively in Kristin’s voice. I listened to the audiobook version, and while it was entertaining to listen to Kristin read it in her own voice, I could tell that she herself hadn’t written it, as words were mispronounced and she often sounded as though she were reading fiction.

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