Book notes: Bossypants by Tina Fey

Bossypants by Tina Fey book summary review and key ideas.

Bossypants by Tina Fey


“Before Liz Lemon, before “Weekend Update”, before “Sarah Palin”, Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV.

She has seen both of those dreams come true.

At last, Tina Fey’s story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon – from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence.

Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we’ve all suspected: you’re no one until someone calls you bossy.” -Audible

Opening thoughts:

As usual, I picked up this book because it had a high volume of reviews and a high average rating. I’ve also had such a good experience so far with biographies and autobiographies a comedian so hopefully this will be just as good.

Key notes:

  • Her dad was a badass. Enough said.
  • In her front desk job she learned how to be a considerate coworker
    • She’s the kind of person that likes to feel part of a community
  • You get a certain type of trouble when diverse groups of people actually cross paths with each other
    • That’s why many of the worst things in the world happen in and around Starbucks bathrooms
  • She loved improv because she loved the idea of two actors going onstage with nothing who make up something together that is then completely real to everyone in the room 
  • The rules of improv appealed to her not only as a way of creating comedy but as a worldview
  • Rules of improv:
    1. Agree. Always agree and say yes.
      • The rule of agreement reminds you to respect what your partner has created and to at least start from an open minded place
      • Start with a yes and see where that takes you
    2. Not only say yes, but “yes, and…”
      • You’re supposed to agree and add something of your own
      • Yes and” means don’t be afraid to contribute
        • It’s your responsibility to contribute
        • Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion
        • Your initiations are worthwhile
    3. Make statements. Positive way of saying, don’t ask questions all the time 
      • Whatever the problem, be part of the solution
      • Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles
    4. (The best rule) There are no mistakes, only opportunities
      • In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful, happy accidents
      • Many of the worlds greatest discoveries have been by accident 
  • Bossypants lesson 183: You can’t boss people around if they don’t really care
  • Career advice for young women: People are going to try to trick you to make you feel you’re in competition with one another
    • Don’t be fooled, you’re not. You’re in competition with everyone
  • Things she learned from Lorne Michaels:
    1. Producing is about discouraging creativity
    2. The show does not go on because it’s ready, it goes on because it’s 11:30
      • Don’t worry about perfection
      • Bombing is painful but it doesn’t kill you
      • As a writer, you can’t be too worried about your permanent record
    3. When hiring, mix Harvard nerds with Chicago improvisers and stir
    4. Television is a visual medium. Aesthetics and looks so matter
    5. Don’t make any big decisions right after the season ends
      • After a grueling period of work, you will crave some kind of reward
      • Don’t let this cause you to rush into a big decision like a new house or marriage
    6. Never cut to a closed door
      • Comedy is all about confidence, and the moment the audience notices a slip, they’re nervous for you and they can’t laugh 
      • Don’t forget about showmanship
    7. Don’t hire anyone you wouldn’t want to see in the hallway at 3 in the morning
    8. Never tell a crazy person he’s crazy
  • Don’t waste your time trying to educate or change opinions
    • Go over, under, through, and opinions will change organically when you’re the boss
    • Or they won’t. Who cares
      • Do your thing, don’t care if they like it
  • What she learned about film acting is that it’s all about:
    • Not standing in other peoples light
    • Remembering what hand you had your papers in
    • When you do your off-camera lines for someone, you put your head real close to the camera
  • Anything she learned about real acting she learned from Alec Baldwin
    • By real acting she means an imitation of human behavior that is both emotionally natural and mechanically precise enough as to elicit tears or laughter from humans
  • She believes that everyone being hot is not necessary for a successful show
    • She needs the faces of real people whom she can tell apart
  • What she learned from Lorne Michaels:
    • Sometimes when you have a difficult decision to make, just stall until the answer presents itself
  • She believes it’s more powerful for comedians and news anchors to be impartial
  • The definition of “crazy” in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore 
    • To her, the fastest remedy to this “women are crazy” situation is for more women to become producers and hire diverse women various ages
    • That is why she feels obligated to stay in business and try hard to get to a place where she can create opportunities for others

Main ideas / Themes:

  • Rules of improv:
    1. Agree. Always agree and say yes.
    2. Not only say yes, but “yes, and…
    3. Make statements
    4. There are no mistakes, only opportunities
  • You can’t boss people around if they don’t really care
  • Career advice for young women: You’re in competition with everyone
  • Producing is about discouraging creativity
  • Don’t worry about perfection
  • The best team comes from a diverse mix of people
  • Comedy is about confidence
  • Don’t waste your time trying to change opinions
  • When presented with a difficult decision, sometimes just stall until the answer presents itself
  • More representation in show business is necessary to remedy the “women are crazy” situation

Closing thoughts:

Such a hilarious and insightful book. I really didn’t know much about Tina Fey except that she was like a comedian and actress, but I didn’t know she had a strong improv background, was a writer for SNL, or produced 30 Rock. I really didn’t even know what 30 Rock was, but I’ve definitely heard the name, haha.

While Tina’s insights were far and few between, they were really good when she did get around to them. I get that this book’s focus was more of a memoir of her journey to where she was when she wrote it. Don’t get me wrong, her stories and commentaries were hilarious! I now have a huge appreciation for Tina.

However, I was looking for a bit more insight. But this was my own fault for comparing all of the autobiographical books I’ve read to Kevin Hart’s or Trevor Noah’s books. Still, a lot of great nuggets in this book.

One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

For my takeaway, I choose to lump together the Rules of Improv/Life into one:

  • Agree, say “yes, and…”, make statements, and see opportunities not mistakes

I think the heart of this takeaway is just to go with the flow but also take ownership of what’s put in front of you. You can’t always control the situation, and in most cases, you won’t be able to. You can however control how you react and respond to each situation. That’s the true key to success, at least in this sense.


Tina Fey tells her story of how she became the Hollywood icon she is today along with some insights on what she’s learned on the way.



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