Columns > Published on December 22nd, 2011

Book Brawl: Tina Fey’s 'Bossypants' Vs. Mindy Kaling’s 'Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)'

Every month, I throw two books, somehow related, into the readers’ ring to fight it out for the honor of literary champion. This month we’ve got memoirs from two sassy, hilarious leading ladies on the NBC Thursday night comedy lineup: Tina Fey’s Bossypants and Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Who will take the title? Let’s find out!

Round One: By Any Other Name

Bossypants lets us know right off the bat who’s in charge. We’re in Tina Fey’s house now! The title is simple, direct and strong while still maintaining some humor.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) is a cute title clueing the reader in to Mindy Kaling’s personal neuroses. It’s funny but a little cumbersome, and the title loses some of its oomph by adding the parenthetical phrase.

Round One goes to…Bossypants!

Round Two: A Book By Its Cover

I do not like the Bossypants cover. I get it: Tina Fey’s a woman working in a man’s field, kicking ass and taking names despite the industry gender disadvantages. It’s clever and well-designed and I should like it, but her giant, hairy man arms give me the serious wiggins. Blurgh!

The Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? cover is charming. I love the wallpaper, the font, the concept, Mindy’s dress, the adorably awkward expression on her face. It’s a really great cover.

Round Two goes to…Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me!

Round Three: Leading Lady

Tina Fey grew up as a nerdy, anxious, theater-obsessed teen in Pennsylvania. She was an honor student, drama nerd, tennis player and editor of the school newspaper. She attended college at the University of Virginia and then moved to Chicago to join the Second City Improv troupe, before moving to New York City to begin writing for Saturday Night Live. Fey remained chubby and unstylish until she was placed on camera at SNL, at which point she became the gorgeous, glam superstar we all love today.

Mindy Kaling grew up as a nerdy, anxious, comedy-obsessed teen in Massachusetts. She was an honor student, and a quiet, observant kid who was fantastically terrible at all forms of athletics. Kaling attended Dartmouth University where she participated in an improv comedy troupe, an a cappella group, was the comic strip artist for the college newspaper, and a writer for the college humor magazine. She began working on staff at The Office as a writer before joining the cast, as well. Kaling also discusses feeling chubby her whole life and suffering from a tragic sense of aesthetic style before becoming a totally stunning Hollywood fashion plate. Essentially, these women are equally, delightfully neurotic, nerdy and brilliant.

Round Three…Is A Draw!

Round Four: Laugh It Up

Fey really starts to take the lead in Round Four. I kept a tally of times I laughed out loud while reading both Bossypants and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? These include guffaws, giggles, and the occasional chuckle. For Bossypants, I laughed aloud a total of nineteen times. That book is hilarious! Fey includes embarrassing personal photos, pathetic accounts of past humiliations, and appealingly absurd advice. Here’s a great example of a joke from Bossypants:

“I feel about Photoshop the way some people feel about abortion. It is appalling and a tragic reflection on the moral decay of our society…unless I need it, in which case, everybody be cool.”

I laughed audibly a total of three times for Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? It’s a witty book with plenty of good jokes, just very few that can rip a spontaneous laugh out of the reader. Kaling’s jokes are more of the “Huh. That’s funny” variety. Here’s one of the lines that got a chuckle from me:

“It’s a small point of pride that I was a six-pound baby, because from my limited understanding of baby weights, that’s on the skinnier side. I flaunt my low baby weight the way really obese people must flaunt their dainty, small feet. It’s my sole claim to skinny fame.”

Round Four goes to…Bossypants!

Round Five: Anecdotal Evidence

I adored the anecdotes in Fey’s memoir. She talks about the rad white denim suit she bought at the Springfield Mall for her Senior Awards Night in 1988, where she won the Sunday School Scholarship. (She includes an awkward photo of her wearing this, naturally.) She tells juicy, meticulous stories about the theater summer camp she joined in high school, an emotional carnival where she made dozens of gay friends and discovered her love of performance. (“All names in this story have been changed, to protect the fabulous.”) She recounts adorable carpet cleaning mishaps with her ruggedly handsome, totally bad-ass and somewhat terrifying father, Don Fey. She goes into excruciating detail about her experiences with romantic rejection in high school and college and talks about her first depressing post-college job at the YMCA. Fey’s anecdotes begin in childhood and run right through the present, and each one is intimate, charmingly captured and absolutely hysterical.

Kaling’s anecdotes are cute. She recalls trying to learn how to ride a bike from her dad and the time that she almost died on a diving board. She has a great story about having a “secret” friend named Mavis with whom she never hung out at school until the day Kaling realized that she liked Mavis better than her popular friends. She tells fun stories about college antics and professional rejection. But Kaling’s stories never do more than scratch the surface. She has three full chapters—in a row—about feeling chubby as a kid. Her chapters are very short—never more than several paragraphs—and the book meanders from topic to topic without ever giving one story enough time and context to make it matter.

Round Five goes to…Bossypants!

Round Six: Hot Hollywood Gossip

Let’s be frank. These are memoirs from two women who have become successful in Hollywood on popular television shows. That should lend itself to great Hollywood gossip, and that’s at least partially why we’re here.

In Bossypants, Fey gives great scoop. She talks about what it’s like to work as a woman on SNL. She gives several detailed instances of Lorne Michaels’ wonderful managerial style, and she tells a deeply compelling story of the anxiety inherent in working at 30 Rockefeller Center in September 2001.  She talks about working with Oprah and gives all the juicy details about meeting Sarah Palin. She gives a “love letter” to Amy Poehler, recalling the time that Poehler was fooling around in an unladylike manner and Jimmy Fallon jokingly told her she wasn’t being cute, and he didn’t like it. “Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. ‘I don’t fucking care if you like it.’[…] With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place. Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute.” I love that story. I love Amy Poehler. And I love Bossypants.

Mindy Kaling gives some fun tidbits about working on The Office in Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, but like with her anecdotes, she never goes quite deep enough. “People are always asking me what my castmates on The Office are really like: Is Steve Carrell really as nice as he seems? Is John Krasinski as cool as Jim in real life? What about Rainn Wilson; is he as big an egomaniac as Dwight? The answers are: yes, yes, and much, much worse.” She tells some good stories, but nothing truly memorable. I think Kaling’s scoop only suffers from having been in the business a much shorter amount of time and only having worked on one long-term job; unlike Fey who has worked with big, volatile personalities at Second City, SNL and 30 Rock.

Round Six goes to…Bossypants!

Round Seven: Lessons Learned

When I think of everything I loved in Bossypants—which is to say every word, photo, chapter title and punctuation choice (everything except the cover)—my favorite part is the advice. Tina Fey gives legitimate suggestions garnered from her years of becoming the top dog in a somewhat hostile environment. Some of her recommendations are profound, some are silly, but they’re all authentic.

“Let’s review the cost-free techniques that we’ve learned so far for raising an achievement-oriented, obedient, drug-free, virgin adult: Calamity, Praise, Local Theater, and flat feet. Another key element is ‘Strong Father Figure/ Fear Thereof.’”

“This is what I tell young people who ask me for career advice. People are going to try to trick you. To make you feel that you are in competition with one another.[…] Don’t be fooled. You’re not in competition with other women. You’re in competition with everyone.”

“Don’t ever feel inadequate when you look at magazines. Just remember that every person you see on a cover has a bra and underwear hanging out a gaping hole in the back. Everyone. Heidi Klum, the Olsen Twins, David Beckham, everybody.”

Kaling also offers some great advice in Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? In fact, that’s probably the strongest part of the book. She has a chapter titled “Don’t Peak In High School,” which is truly great encouragement for any teenager.

“Teenage girls, please don’t worry about being super popular in high school, or being the best actress in high school, or the best athlete. Not only do people not care about any of that the second you graduate, but when you get older, if you reference your successes in high school too much, it actually makes you look kind of pitiful, like some babbling old Tennessee Williams character with nothing else going on in her current life.”

“Forgive me, but being a guy is so easy. A little Kiehl’s, a little Bumble and Bumble, a peacoat and Chuck Taylors, and you’re hot.”

Heed her advice, gentlemen! But still Fey, with her longer years of experience and general amazingness, slightly edges out Kaling in this department.

Round Seven goes to…Bossypants!

And the Book Brawl champion is…Bossypants! The crowd goes wild! Having never read either of these books before deciding to write this post, I honestly thought the competition would be much closer. I think Kaling’s book suffered from being read second. I know I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t read it on the tail end of finishing Bossypants, with which I had what one might call a life-changing revelation. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is a fun book, but Bossypants is a true champion.

What do you guys think? Any other books you’d like to see duke it out in the ring? Chime in in the comments!

About the author

Meredith is a writer, editor and brewpub owner living in Houston, Texas. Her four most commonly used words are, "The book was better."

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