Amy Poehler’s sincere new memoir offers humor, inspiration

"Yes Please" explores many of Poehler's professional relationships as she traces her rise to comedic prominence. David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons

Amy Poehler’s new book, “Yes Please,” is refreshingly honest, raw, hilarious and even inspirational. Hitting shelves on Oct. 28, “Yes Please” is not a traditional memoir, but rather a hodge-podge collection of personal essays, stories about her career and the people with whom she has worked and snippets of life advice. While the pages are sleek and shiny, stuffed with photographs from Poehler’s own life, the messages she gives the reader are genuine and down-to-earth. In “Yes Please” Poehler reminds both fans and critics that she’s just a middle-class Boston — OK, technically Newton — girl who worked very hard for many years and used her strengths to succeed. In doing so, the book attempts to convince readers that Poehler is just an ordinary woman. But while her humanity and her struggles are highlighted, the pithy and creative ways with which Poehler talks about adversity are nothing short of extraordinary.

David Shankbone via Flickr Creative Commons

David Shankbone via Flickr Creative Commons

Upon completing “Yes Please,” readers will feel as if they have just finished a heartfelt conversation with a close friend, one full of laughter but also full of real emotion. Poehler’s sensitivity and comedic timing, which shine so brightly onscreen, translate just as well and even more intimately on the page. Her divorce from her husband of 10 years, actor Will Arnett, is not discussed in detail, but is a specter that hovers over much of the book. This bit of personal history brings pathos to Poehler’s stories as she discusses the difficulties she has dealt with over the past few years and the emotions she has experienced. Yet on a different note, her recollections of her two sons, Archie and Abel, provide a gentle warmth and humor. Poehler neither looks for pity in this book nor begs for praise. She is just telling her story and grounding it in the facts of her life.

If readers are picking up “Yes Please” to read about Poehler’s experiences in the world of improv, her years on “Saturday Night Live” (1975 – present) or “Parks and Recreation” (2009 – present), they will not be disappointed. The author devotes pages to discussing the ups and downs of her career, and the people she has met along the way. Poehler recollects stories about different SNL hosts in one chapter, and completely dedicates another to describing her brilliant “Parks” co-stars and her relationships with them. These hilarious tell-alls are filled with positivity, and it’s comforting to know that the casts of her shows are just as close and familial as the characters they play.

Occasionally there are guest writers in “Yes Please,” including a chapter written by Seth Meyers and several footnotes by “Parks” co-creator and head writer Mike Schur. These literary cameos are hugely entertaining, and also a testament to Poehler’s warmth and humanity, as they expound upon their relationships with her. Meyers’ chapter, which appears early on in the book, is particularly touching. It describes a friendship between the two that is heartwarming and real, and the reader feels fortunate to have insight into such a positive relationship between these two masters of comedy.

In “Yes Please,” Poehler offers advice based on her own life experience. This advice is sometimes dark and edgy, almost bitter, particularly when it deals with divorce. Other times her wisdom is simple and whimsical, such as in the chapter where she writes as a 90-year-old version of herself giving advice to her younger incarnation. There are many little inspirational phrases scattered throughout the book, written in bold lettering on colored pages. “Nobody looks stupid when they’re having fun,” encourages one phrase on a yellow background. “Figure out what you want. Say it loud. Then shut up,” advises another on a red background.

Even the title is a form of both advice and inspiration. Poehler writes early in the book that “Saying ‘yes’ doesn’t mean I don’t know how to say no, and saying ‘please’ doesn’t mean I am waiting for permission … it is not about being a good girl; it is about being a real woman.” By writing this book, Poehler is encouraging her readers to take a stand, to fight to achieve their goals, and to say “yes please” to every opportunity. It’s a message not easily forgotten. This book informs and inspires, and reminds readers that — as role models go — Amy Poehler is one of the greats.