Book Review: Girl Walks into a Bar, Rachel Dratch
A word about my reviews (if you’ve read this before, skip to the review!):
My reviews are intended for those specifically who have read the novel and are looking for a place to read another’s take on the book and to also share their own thoughts. I don’t particularly like to read a recap of the story’s premise and who is who, etc, in reviews so you won’t find anything like that here. Unless I must explain a bit of premise detail in my review to give context to a thought or idea, I keep recaps to a bare minimum, if at all.
My thoughts on the books I read are by no means meant to be objective. I try to give an accurate portrait of what I experienced from reading this novel, what themes came to surface, in addition to what I liked and disliked about the book.
If you are curious about the book without having read it and would like to read my review- by all means! But please be forewarned that my reviews may contain spoilers.
“Girl Walks into a Bar” by Rachel Dratch
What I’ve enjoyed about reading this type of memoir, as well as “Bossypants” by Tina Fey (and I hope Amy Poehler and other SNL ladies will write their memoirs too), is that these are female comediennes who get it. They worked hard to get where they are, they’ve sacrificed personal lives, and they did it all because they needed to be in show business. This wasn’t luck of the draw per se, no, this was absolute blood, sweat, and tears WORK, and there is absolute appreciation for where they are in life. Not to mention, but I will because they deserve it, both ladies are EXTREMELY gifted at what they do. And for all their success, both Tina Fey and Rachel Dratch recognize that well-earned and deserved success for females in the show biz is never easy and there is still a wide discrepancy between male and female comedians in terms of respect, pay, and star power. The women still have to work hard and prove themselves, no matter that they’ve already “made it”.
The success in show biz aspect of Rachel’s life, or how one should define success, is what takes up the first third of the novel. And I have to say success in one form or another is really at the heart of this novel and it’s what makes it a delightful, if not necessarily riveting, memoir. A casting director once said during a workshop that an actor should ask him or herself every morning “What is success for you?” and go about his or her day with this in mind. I think what he meant was that we actors should not face our careers everyday with “I’m going to get cast on a TV show today and win an Emmy!” Sure, that could be a longtime goal, but what about taking care of yourself as an actor on a daily basis? What can you do each day that equals a success? It’s easy to look at other people who have successful careers and think of yourself as unsuccessful, but that isn’t necessarily true.
Rachel Dratch faces this very dilemma when her career after SNL is at a standstill. And the next 2/3 of the novel is dealt with her unsuccessful attempts with dating and how she came to redefine success- as a woman, actress, and finally mother- in her life.
“I had to face the facts – I’d had the good fortune of working almost fifteen years straight with a steady gig, but now, for whatever reason, my career was at a standstill. I was no longer Rachel the successful television actor, Rachel the cast member of SNL…I was just me, and how did I feel about being pared down like that? I had to see all the other facets of myself and not hold my identity in acting or comedy…So to fill the day, I began doing all the stuff I’d always wanted to do but never had the time…I was going to find Love. So for starters, I took on the biggest challenge of my life. I tried dating in New York”.
I’ve noticed on other reviews of this book some disappointment over the fact that Dratch only devotes a chapter or two to her actual time on SNL. There were similar complaints about “Bossypants” as well. All I can say is, unless the title of the novel says “[insert actor name here]: My life on Saturday Night Live” (and I think we should hold out for Lorne Michaels to finish SNL and release his memoirs because I’ll bet it’ll be a doozy), it is safe to assume that the book will be dealing with other matters. I will say that “Girl Walks into a Bar” tells more of a linear story than “Bossypants” does, and while “Bossypants” for all intended purposes is probably the more funny and cleverly written book, “Girl Walks into a Bar” is earnest, poignant, and at times, laugh-out-loud funny.
If it appears that I mention “Bossypants” quite a bit, especially since this is a review about a different book, it’s not by accident. Both novels are VERY similar in tone and structure: both Fey and Dratch talk about their forays into comedy as children, stints at Second City, late-in-life motherhood, and even have similar views on their love of Improv and the theory behind “Yes, And…” for improvisational comedy. What strikes me most about these two women – and what I find inspiring- is that they have points of view on “shaky” topics about women in showbiz that never come off as self-righteous or pitying, but come across as honest and intelligent laments on not only being a woman in Hollywood and trying to succeed, but also being the not so conventionally beautiful woman in Hollywood and trying to succeed.
I love this quote by Dratch after she learns of the rumored reason she might have been let go from “30 Rock” because it’s similar to what almost every actress fears in her career:
“I was starting to feel like the ten years of training and performing and sweating it out pre-SNL, plus the seven years at SNL, all went out the window because I didn’t have a symmetrical face…I grew up watching perfectly lovely female performers whom I don’t think you would call ‘hotties’: Gilda Radner Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett. Those were my comedy idols…I had always been pretty sure that comedy was about producing a laugh and not a boner. Now I had to produce laughs AND boners? When did the rules change?”.
Where “Bossypants” and “Girl Walks into a Bar” differ and where the latter novel becomes my favorite over the former, is that Dratch really has a story to tell about finding love and motherhood very late in life, even if in certain points of the novel she says A LOT without really saying anything at all. Her thoughts on becoming a mother and how it happened so unexpectedly are refreshing. I wish more women would talk about this stuff openly. Women tend to be in a Catch-22 when it comes to being a mother: you’re damned if you don’t want to be one, you’re damned if you want to be one but can’t, you’re damned if you do become one but are working, and you are also damned if you try to do it alone. The perfect scenario is to be married, stay-at-home, and have your baby early on in life. Rachel Dratch did none of these things, and her commentary of what it’s like to find yourself an unmarried pregnant person at 44 with a dwindling career after you have given up all hope and are in a relationship with someone you barely know who lives across the country, is heartwarming, telling, and very real. Dratch excels at finding the comedy to match the heart in her story, and you find yourself absolutely rooting for her at the end of the book.
As I mentioned before, although it’s an inspiring novel and a funny read, it’s not very riveting. Dratch gets carried away with some of her rather long anecdotes that seem only to provide support to an argument, but are otherwise not very pertinent to the overall story. For example, I don’t think her side-bar on how she got crabs without having sex, how she babysat a dog to determine if she could be a mother, and a few of her dating disaster stories needed to be as long or drawn out as they were. This is where the novel really plods along. After she gets into the story of her meeting baby-daddy John and finding out she’s pregnant, the pace picks up dramatically, and I was actually sad when the novel ended because I wanted to find out more about her life as a new mom.
She does, however, end the novel on the perfect note. “Ol’ two-time Dratch” as she used to call herself in the early days of her comedy career, got the second chance she needed to redefine herself as the successful person she always longed to be in a way she never expected. She realizes she may not ever have the same level of success she once had, but what she learned is that there are always new opportunities and beginnings at any age. As the Rolling Stones song says, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need”.