You’ll Grow Out of It

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - by Jessi Klein

by Jessi Klein, Grand Cen­tral Pub­lish­ing, 291 pages Mem­oirs writ­ten by fe­male co­me­di­ans have be­come a most vis­i­ble — and pop­u­lar — class of bi­og­ra­phy. Lena Dun­ham, Mindy Kal­ing, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Sarah Sil­ver­man, Sa­man­tha Bee (years be­fore her TBS show Full Frontal), and most re­cently, Amy Schumer, have all pub­lished hu­mor­ous, gen­der-con­scious per­sonal his­to­ries — some more se­ri­ous than oth­ers. They’re part of a tra­di­tion that stretches back past Roseanne Barr’s My Life as a Woman and Gilda Rad­ner’s It’s Al­ways

Some­thing, both from 1989. Decades be­fore Joan Rivers’ 1986 bi­og­ra­phy En­ter Talk­ing — an ac­count of “dy­ing on more stages than Ham­let,” com­plete with dish on the sex­ist bi­ases she faced pur­su­ing work in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try — lady comics knew their place. In the 1960s, Phyllis Diller wrote tongue-in-cheek “how-tos” on house­keep­ing, moth­er­ing, and mar­riage — but this new run of bios ad­dress women’s lives more di­rectly. They’re in­ti­mate and so­phis­ti­cated, tack­ling larger so­cial and gen­der is­sues. Yet they’re still about the laughs: These women are all comic writ­ers as well as per­form­ers — though the laughs to­day of­ten come more from a sense of irony than from a joke-book punch line.

Jessi Klein, a writer for In­side Amy Schumer, doesn’t have quite the vis­i­bil­ity of the other con­tem­po­rary comedic mem­oirists. She does stand-up and has made a num­ber of screen ap­pear­ances, in­clud­ing a spe­cial of her own for Com­edy Cen­tral. You can get an idea of her de­liv­ery on a pod­cast for The Moth, where she ex­plains how she got a job as a writer for Satur­day

Night Live. Her rep­u­ta­tion, one that earned her a fea­ture last year in Vogue, is built on her writ­ing for Schumer, SNL, and a host of oth­ers — and it’s the writ­ing that sets You’ll Grow

Out of It apart from other con­tem­po­rary fe­male co­me­di­ans’ mem­oirs.

Klein is able to cre­ate a space, nei­ther too comic nor too se­ri­ous, where larger is­sues can be in­tro­duced as she re­lates her some­what unique ex­pe­ri­ences. Her voice is less jokey than Fey’s in Bossy­pants and not as preachy as Dun­ham’s in Not

That Kind of Girl. It’s not as self-con­sciously in­spi­ra­tional as Kal­ing’s or as dis­turbingly re­veal­ing as Schumer’s. It suc­ceeds on story and sto­ry­telling, which may make it the most in­ter­est­ing of the lot. It’s also more lit­er­ate than any of the lot — Ray­mond Carver gets a men­tion — though not pre­ten­tiously so. And even at its deep­est, it’s funny: “Lots of peo­ple talk about the sex­ual un­der­tones of girls’ in­ter­est in horses, but ... I didn’t have some se­cret de­sire to date the Black Stal­lion. I lit­er­ally wanted to be a horse. A male horse.”

A few pages into You’ll Grow Out of It you’ll re­al­ize that the ti­tle is some­thing of a spoiler. The first chap­ter, “Tom Man,” opens with this dec­la­ra­tion: “A tom man [a term she in­vented] is what hap­pens when a tomboy just never grows out of it.” But that’s ex­actly the process Klein re­counts over the next 23 chap­ters, even as she clings to a cer­tain tomboy­ish­ness that says more about her per­son­al­ity than it does about stereo­types. She dis­cusses boyfriends, lin­gerie, and wed­ding dresses; epidu­rals, in­fer­til­ity, and a flir­ta­tion with watch­ing porn. Gen­der is­sues as well as chuck­les arise when she ad­dresses the “the thong-in­dus­trial com­plex.”

Much of the book, like Rivers’ En­ter Talk­ing, is about a life pur­su­ing a com­edy ca­reer. Both books chron­i­cle the breaks and dis­ap­point­ments the writ­ers en­coun­tered along the way, but Klein’s chap­ter, “How I Be­came a Co­me­dian,” does in 27 pages what Rivers’

En­ter Talk­ing takes over 350 to do. Klein’s chap­ter opens with a dis­cus­sion of Rivers’ fear­less­ness as it’s re­vealed in A Piece of Work, the 2010 doc­u­men­tary made when Rivers was seventy-five.

Klein’s as­cen­sion seems more charmed. Her first job at Com­edy Cen­tral, scored through a temp agency, was in hu­man re­sources work­ing for the woman re­spon­si­ble for hir­ing tem­po­rary em­ploy­ees, some­thing Klein says is “sim­i­lar to when you see a dog hold­ing its leash in its own mouth, so as to walk it­self.” She doesn’t have much to say about her rise at the net­work: “Even­tu­ally, I was pro­moted and then pro­moted again.” It’s dis­ap­point­ing that some­one as ob­ser­vant and self-aware as Klein couldn’t flesh this sec­tion out more — which is another way of say­ing she leaves you want­ing more. The best parts of the book are the most per­sonal. Her ac­count of her mother’s in­struc­tions for ap­ply­ing per­fume, “Walk­ing Through the Cloud,” is as touch­ing and sin­cere as any thanks-mom piece you’ll read.

Klein’s evolv­ing at­ti­tude to­ward boys and men, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing her per­sona as a for­mer tomboy, should be of in­ter­est to males. Like Dun­ham’s 2014 mem­oir, whose sub­ti­tle is A Young Woman Tells

You What She’s Learned, Klein’s book tells us not just how the sexes dif­fer, but also what the they share: anx­i­ety (though of­ten about dif­fer­ent things); a ten­dency to be triv­ial, shal­low, and self-in­ter­ested, not to men­tion self-con­scious; and a cu­rios­ity about the forms love can take. On a less philo­soph­i­cal level, this guy was com­forted to know that women’s un­der­wear can bunch “way up,” the way ours can. That made him laugh. — Bill Kohlhaase

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