Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Book Review: So Close to Being the Sh*t, Y’all Don’t Even Know by Retta

Like an awful lot of celebrities, especially ones in the performing arts, Retta didn't start out fabulous. But I was surprised by her background. Her parents are immigrants from Africa, and she's a first-generation American. She grew up in Northern New Jersey, not far from where I live now. And she worked very hard in school, and despite things being strict at home (and despite there being at times a LOT of relatives there), she was pretty well-liked, well-rounded (she was a cheerleader and did shot-put), and she was certain she was going to be a surgeon one day. Many people were skeptical of her choosing to go to Duke, as it was far away and in the South, but she was pretty happy there. So happy in fact, that she decided to try stand-up one night. After all, everyone said she was funny. And it went great. And she did it again. And eventually she was hosting the open-mic night at the comedy club. And she never went to medical school.

She took risks, she moved away with pretty much just what she had in her car (which was then repossessed!), she pursued a career that no one in her family understood, and she is a bigger African-American woman, so there were a lot of obstacles in her path. At one point, an HBO developer wrote a role for her on a series, but then she had to audition for it which was weird, and then SHE DIDN'T GET IT AND THEY WANTED TO STILL KEEP THE CHARACTER'S NAME "RETTA." (eventually they did change it and the show never got picked up anyway.) But seriously, not getting a role that is written for you and based on you, is a real blow. So when she got the part of Donna on Parks and Recreation, everything seemed pretty hunky-dory. And it pretty much was, although more than once Amy Poehler had to go to bat for her and Jim O'Heir (Jerry), who weren't considered "regulars" until Season 3. Even then, Amy really had to pull weight to get them included on an Entertainment Weekly cover with all the rest of the cast (and Jim was obscured by the title). Still, it was a great thing overall. But you get the feeling that great things are still very much in Retta's future. While it was awesome portraying an African-American woman who flew in the face of many stereotypes, Donna was still a minor character. Retta is a leading lady. You can feel it radiating off every page. Her confidence and insouciance and her just plain old hilarity are screaming for their own sitcom. C'mon Hollywood, you can do it. In the meantime, we can read her quite funny book including amusing footnotes and lists (which she says her publisher insisted she had to include) about her purse addiction and how she's clawed her way up, but never forgot who she is or where she's from.

This book is published by St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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