You’ll Grow Out of It
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