Review: Amy Poehler’s “Yes Please” Lets the Visuals Do the Talking

By Hollyn Scott

The name Amy Poehler probably triggers different reactions for different people. Some may think of Poehler as a young, energetic comedian and co-anchor for “Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live” in the early 2000s, some may remember her from the movie “Baby Mama,” where she co-stars along Tina Fey, and some may know her from her role as Leslie Knope on the hit television show “Parks and Recreation”. Whatever the case, Poehler has edged out a space for herself within popular culture and, like many other women of her stature (think Tina Fey’s “Bossy Pants” and Lena Dunham’s “Not That Kind of Girl”), she has decided to take on the task of writing her own book.

“Yes Please,” which is just another way of saying, “Bring it on,” is a conglomerate of self-explanation, memoir, and advice. The book is broken up into three parts: Say Whatever You Want, Do Whatever You Like and Be Whoever You Are, each of which contain short essays related to their categorical titles. Poehler’s writing style is straightforward and not at all colorful. Show knows what she wants to say, says it bluntly and, unfortunately, with little humor. Amy’s memoir works more like a scrapbook, with images placed beside various chapters to help tell her stories visually. Because the images all relate to the subject matter and content of each essay, they are not simply filler. They add a much-needed visual element to Amy’s less than thrilling writing style and convey her messages with more authority.

On the page just before Poehler’s preface entitled “Writing is Hard: A Preface” is an image of her kindergarten report card from Burlington, MA dated June 1977. All of the boxes in the “Always” column are checked off with the exception of the “Completes Work” category, which is checked off as “Usually.” This supporting image works perfectly in conjunction with the subject of the essay, which was Amy explaining that writing a book is a “small, slow crawl to the finish line” (1). She carries out this theme of her being the kind of person who usually, but not always finishes her work with a concession of short, choppy sentences, almost second guessing herself that the book really is really done, writing “If you are reading this, it means I have ‘finished.’ More likely, it means my editors have told me I can’t keep tinkering anymore (2).” The inclusion of her report card added a nice touch for proof that she has always been the type not to complete every assignment, but also adds an “I’ll show you” sort of element since the book, obviously, was completed.

The essay “Plain Girl Vs. The Demon” uses two headshots of Poehler to help illustrate the message of the chapter. In the top photograph, Amy is pictured looking vibrant and youthful in 1989 and in the second she intentionally wore the same outfit and 80s style hair but she looks aged (not badly) in the year 2014. This chapter was pretty shocking in that Poehler openly bashes her appearance and boldly admits that she, “Made a decision early on that she would be a plain girl with tons of personality” (20). She explains that improvisation and sketch comedy helped her find her “currency” and silenced the “demon” (her mind) that kept telling her to hate the way she looked. This is the premise of the entire chapter, her coming to terms with her plainness and silencing the demons, which was at times self-indulgent but Poehler is keenly self-aware, constantly throwing out lines like, “Bored yet? Because I can stop” and “I’m not underestimating the access I get as a blond, white lady in America,” both of which were thoughts I had while reading the essay (20). Whether you enjoy the chapter or not, the two images placed before the essay, one of a youthful and one of a modern day Poehler, work in communicating the point of the chapter, which is that she has defeated the demon she’s had about her looks since high school and advises her reader to, “Let go of what you’ll never have” (21).

The first chapter of part two (Do What You Like) is an essay titled, “How I Fell In Love With Improv: Chicago” and just to the left is a black and white photo of six 20 something men and two women standing fully clothed in what looks like a pond. The women, hardly recognizable yet totally familiar, are Poehler and Tina Fey. Below the Polaroid style photograph is a caption that reads, “Inside Vladimir.” This essay, unlike the previous two I’ve discussed, was more memoir than advice and deviated from Poehler’s expressive style to a purely descriptive one, giving us a glimpse into Poehler’s life before she became Amy Poehler. She explains that Inside Vladimir was her improvisation comedy team, which they’d named, “After a gay porn title we saw at JJ Peppers” (113). The chapter is filled with personal nostalgia about her time in Chicago spent with her improvisational team and buddings of her now infamous best friend relationship with fellow comedian Tina Fey. She says she smoked a lot of pot, rode her bike while listening to the Beastie Boys and drank warm Diet Cokes with Tina while they watched a woman lazily whip a guy at a Dallas S&M club. When the chapter concludes, we feel a more personal connection with the people photographed at the start of the essay, the members of Poehler’s first improvisational team that supported her, contributed to her fond memories as a 22-year-old in Chicago and helped her become a better comic.

In the same way that Poehler began her essay about her improvisational team in Chicago with a picture of the members of Inside Vladimir, she begins her essay about her time working on “Parks and Recreation” with a picture of the show’s cast. In the photograph, they all look like long-time friends, smiling proudly to be part of not just a great show, but also a great team. Poehler uses the picture to suggest that the content of the chapter will focus on the relationships she made with the people on the show, and she does not disappoint. This chapter was my favorite because of my love of the now off the air show, but would not be as interesting to people that never watched the show. She dedicates a small paragraph to each person in the picture at the beginning of the chapter, writing things like Rashida Jones, “Is my wife for life,” and Aziz Ansari, “Has the stride and work ethic of a long distance runner” (263). The appreciation she has for her cast mates shines through this whole essay and adds authenticity to the smiling faces in the photograph.

Poehler’s inclusion of her kindergarten report card, then and now head shots, Inside Vladimir photograph and Parks and Recreation cast photograph all help to visually tell the stories in “Yes Please.” Because Poehler’s less than colorful writing style detracts from our ability to imagine certain situations in the book, the addition of related visuals give us concrete images that help us dive into Poehler’s memoir with more excitement and honesty. Her scrapbook take on the classic memoir is a must-read for anyone who has appreciated Poehler’s work in television and movies, but would be a boring read for anyone unfamiliar with the comedian. The writing style lacks creativity but the visuals redeem this letdown, earning “Yes Please” 4 out of 5 Yes Pleases.

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