So, you’re looking for a book of confessional essays by a successful woman in comedy. Congratulations, my friend, we are living in the golden age of this genre.
You’ve already read the books Tina Fey, Chelsea Handler, Mindy Kaling, Amy Poehler, Lena Dunham and Judy Greer have written. You’re trying to decide what to read while you wait for Anna Kendrick’s Scrappy Little Nobody. Should you pick up Amy Schumer’s The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo or Jessi Klein’s You’ll Grow Out of It? Let’s talk it through…
Since Schumer and Klein both work on Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer (Klein is the head writer and executive producer, Schumer is the “Amy Schumer” alluded to in the show’s name), you know going in that there will be a degree of similarity between the two books. Both collections of essays look at specific events or moments that influenced the women’s development as individuals and comedians. Honestly, they’re more alike than different: Jewish (Schumer is half-Jewish) comedians in New York who have succeeded share their stories.
Where these books diverge is perhaps more in the eye of the beholder. To me, Klein was more relatable. I felt like she was passing me a note in class that invited me to be her friend. (Doubt this? I tweeted her an invitation to be friends while I was reading her book, not realizing until later that she is way out of my league.) I’m having a hard time determining whether that’s because she and I are closer in age than Amy Schumer and I are or if it’s because the experiences she shared mirrored my own.
Case in point: Klein likens Victoria’s Secret’s stores to “walking into someone else’s vagina.” I have always thought that VS stores look like vaginas! Their old carpet looked like it just had vulvas printed all over it. Furthermore, I believe this to be something that we uniquely share because I Googled “Victoria’s Secret Store Carpet Vulva” and nothing came up.
That said, there may actually be a difference in tone. Klein’s writing voice is conversational, and Schumer’s felt more presentational. This might be subjective, but I spent the duration of Klein’s book feeling compelled to chime in, and Schumer’s book felt like one-way communication from her to me. Is that bad? Only if you discover that you are unconsciously vetting your future friends by reading books written by strangers.
Perhaps the biggest difference between these two books is that Amy Schumer is more famous than Jessi Klein, so Schumer’s voice is very familiar and there are few surprises in her content. Schumer’s fame means that if you haven’t read her book yet, you’ve likely had most of the things that would have surprised you spoiled in interviews or reviews. Because Klein hasn’t been the entertainment industry’s “it girl” for the last year-plus, everything except her relationship with Amy Schumer was a surprise to me.
I was talking to my brother about where Amy Schumer’s book missed the mark for me—and please bear in mind that this is not an objective criticism of her book, but rather one reader trying to find words for why she liked one thing more than another—and in addition to feeling like I was listening to her instead of engaging with her, I couldn’t relate to her.
I’m still struggling to fully express where the disconnect is for me. It was the same way I felt after watching Trainwreck —like I’d expected to really click with her, but discovered that we don’t have that much in common. Finding it difficult to articulate why something doesn’t work for you is a problem when you’re writing a book review, but the best I can do is to share what my brother said after I rambled about it to him for a half hour: She is a comedian first and a feminist second.
I think his assessment gets to the heart of some of the things she does that feel regressive to me. She does so well using her platform for good, dedicating portions of the book to talking about gun safety, sexual assault, abusive relationships and her father’s MS, but she also goes too far for my taste with self-deprecating comments about her appearance and hygiene. The scene in which she talks AT LENGTH about what her vagina smells/looks/tastes like if it hasn’t been freshly groomed felt like a hop backwards for the women’s movement, because we certainly don’t need to perpetuate the idea that the “not so fresh feeling” is an actual problem.
So which should you read? If you like “Inside Amy Schumer,” read both. If you like the episodes where the comedy is overtly feminist or topical the best, start with You’ll Grow Out of It. If you like the episodes where Amy is in uncomfortable sexual situations best, start with The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo. And if you think you can help me articulate my feeling about the latter, please do so in the comments. (Or tell me why I’m definitely wrong.)