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Poehler’s book is entertaining, but less than forthcoming

Yes, Please

By Amy Poehler

Dey St.

329 pages, $28.99

By Bruce Andriatch


In her autobiographical book “Yes Please,” the immensely talented actress/comedian Amy Poehler immediately goes to great lengths to lower expectations, explaining in the preface all the reasons why she should not have written this book.

“I have a job that keeps me shooting 12 hours a day, plus two children under 6. I am going through a divorce and producing many projects and falling in love and trying to make appointments for cranial massage … I haven’t lived a full enough life to look back on, but I am too old to get by on pithy and cute. I know enough now to know I know nothing. I am slugging away every day, just like you. But nonetheless, here we are. I’ve written a book. You have it.”

She is very funny. Unfortunately, in one paragraph, she also laid out many of the reasons she is very right.

Yes, please? No, thank you.

This is a book – and maybe a life – that needed to be worked on for a few more years. It’s not quite a memoir because it’s thin on details and less than forthcoming on anything bad that ever happened to her. It’s not exactly an advice book, but it does include tons of advice from a person whose life bears no resemblance to yours. It’s not a show business or behind-the-scenes tell all, unless she actually does adore every single celebrity with whom she has ever had contact, mostly from her years on “Saturday Night Live,” including Bono, Alec Baldwin, Jon Hamm, Tina Fey, Hillary Clinton, Jessica Simpson, Derek Jeter, John McCain and many more. (On the plus side, it is excellent at name-dropping.)

By the time you finish, you will have wished you had instead binge-watched her portrayal of Leslie Knope in “Parks and Recreation” or maybe “The Best of Amy Poehler on SNL.”

This is not to say that comedians or actors who specialize in comedy should not write books. In fact, there are plenty of examples of good, even very good ones. Recent books by Jim Gaffigan (“Dad is Fat”) and Fey (“Bossypants”) are both the latter.

But far too many fall into the “not very good” category. This is one of them. It feels like someone convinced Poehler that this would be a good idea and she reluctantly agreed.

Poehler is one of the most likable people in the entertainment industry today. (Watch her and Fey kill when they host the Golden Globes next month, just as they did earlier this year.) In the book, she seems to be going out of her way to not offend, to not say anything that would make someone like her less. The closest she comes is admitting to some moderate drug use in her 20s, but is anyone the least bit surprised to learn that a person trying to make it in show business and living alone at a very young age dabbles in drugs?

The book is divided into three sections: “Say Whatever You Want,” “Do Whatever You Like” and “Be Whoever You Are.” So if you had any doubt that she was a child of the ’70s, there you go. Indeed, her youth in a Massachusetts suburb is idyllic in her retelling.

“I roller-skated in my driveway and walked home from the bus stop on my own. We never locked our door. I had a younger brother whom I loved and also liked. I thought my mother was the most beautiful mother in the world and my father was a superhero who would always protect me.”

Not exactly “Angela’s Ashes,” but that’s OK. You don’t have to experience starvation, trauma and abandonment as a prerequisite to writing a book. Sometimes all you have to do is let people in to the dark corners, to share your journey and your travails. How about that?

“I don’t want to talk about my divorce because it is too sad and too personal,” she writes of her marriage to fellow actor/comedian Will Arnett. “I also don’t like people knowing my (expletive).”

To borrow a bit she and Seth Myers made popular on Weekend Update: Really? You write a book about yourself and announce in the book that you don’t want people knowing your (expletive). Isn’t that kind of like running for president and telling people you don’t want them asking you a bunch of questions about politics? What kind of (expletive) is that? I mean really.

(Note: There are a lot of expletives in the book. Really.)

Poehler must have figured she didn’t have enough readable material from her seven years on “SNL” or six years as a the star of “Parks and Recreation” to fill a book. (Hard to believe, but again, she made it clear there are some stories she doesn’t want to share.)

She does manage to work in some other stuff, such as report card snippets, school papers, family snapshots, handwritten notes, contributions from Myers and “Parks and Recreation” creator Michael Schur, her mom, her dad. It all starts to feel like she didn’t have enough material to pull this off, just as she promised.

Poehler lives in a world that operates under the theory that you should always leave the audience wanting more. But if she plans to write another book about herself, she needs to leave her audience feeling like she gave them more.

Bruce Andriatch is the assistant managing editor for Features at The Buffalo News.