Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

I fell in love with Curtis Sittenfeld’s writing when I read The Thirteenth Tale. Although I told everone to read it, now I can’t remember what is was about and I still struggle spelling her name. In her latest book, a Reese Witherspoon book club pick, Romantic Comedy starts as a primer on the popular live weekly comedy variety show, Saturday Night Live.

If you have watched SNL, you will recognize the format, and appreciate the behind the scenes tutorial. Sally Milz is a ten year veteran comedy writer for the show, who provides the insider information about fellow writers and staff. The target episode has Noah, a thirty-something handsome singer who is both hosting the show and providing the musical numbers for the show. As handsome as he is, he may be wearing a wig, but this does not stop Sally from making a connection as preparation for the week’s show progresses. Sadly, Sally inadvertently insults him – in a not so funny way – and the burgeoning romance fizzles.

Two years later, enter Covid and Part 2, with Sally and Noah emailing each other. Mel Brooks could not have written better dialogue, and sometimes I felt I was reading one of his parodies, or maybe it was a farce? At any rate, the laughs are subtle and the romance intensifies. With Noah secluded in Los Angeles, with a housekeeper, chef, and trainer, and Sally in Kansas City with her eighty year old step father and his dog, their emails are long and comfortable, revealing past relationships, attitudes, and secrets (most times funny) about themselves. I have been in both LA and Kansas City, and I doubt I would have wanted to spend Covid isolation in either place, but maybe the chef would have helped. They decide to actually talk on the phone, and eventually set up a meeting.

As Part 3 begins, Covid is still in the air, so Sally drives to LA, supplied with protein bars, hand sanitizer, masks, and water. Secluded in the bubble of Noah’s beautiful estate, they finally provide the love scenes – until, predictably, the paparazzi invade their privacy and Sally’s step father’s bout with Covid prompts her return to Kansas.

All ends well, and as with any good romantic comedy, they live happily ever after. A fun romp and timely. This may be the first novel written during Covid that not just acknowledged its impact on lives but also had the characters emerging better for it.

Advice for Graduates

The May, 2010 cover of The New Yorker had a graduate hanging his degree (Ph.D.) in his old room back home, with his parents looking on.  Not much has changed in two years – even for undergraduates, with the unemployment rate for those with a bachelor’s degree at 4 percent.  Graduation speeches haven’t changed much either; Richard Perez-Pena in his article for the New York Times suggests they are following a standard template, including well-worn references to:

  • Do what moves you.
  • Much in the world needs fixing.
  • Have a little humility.
  • Be willing to make mistakes.
  • You can make the world better.

Many of this year’s graduation speakers hail from the media, rather than the august halls of academic learning.  A few used humor – maybe that’s the best way to face the world.

From Adam Samberg of Saturday Night Live fame for Harvard grads…

“The following majors are apparently useless…history, literature, all things related to art, social studies, East Asian studies, pretty much anything that ends with studies, Romance languages, and, finally, folklore and mythology.  Unless, you can somehow turn them into an iPhone app…”


Tina Fey’s introduction fools you into believing Bossypants will be a laugh a minute…

“If you are a woman and bought this book for practical tips on how to make it in a male-dominated workplace, here they are….no pigtails, no tube tops…If you bought the book to laugh and be entertained…Two peanuts were walking down the street, and one was a salted.”

But it’s more like a long-running Saturday Night Live monologue; sometimes it’s funny, sometimes not so much, and you want to turn it off.  With a stream of consciousness approach to her life, Fey sprinkles her memories with funny incidents – if you can wait for them.

But, if you keep reading, you’ll find those irreverent gems – those critiques of politicians, movie stars, racists, homophobics –  and everything else – nothing is off limits.  Fey’s tone is straight-man serious, goading you to wonder – did she really mean that?  Of course; if she doesn’t, she provides an asterisk to let you know.

Her comments on domestic life will sound familiar to some…

“I’m a working parent and I understand that sometimes you want to have a very productive Saturday to feel that you are in control of your life, which of course you are not.”

The book warms up as it progresses, almost like a comedy routine.  After getting past the essential groundwork, the comedian gets to the real stuff.  Her lists are the funniest:

  • the secrets of Mommy Beauty
  • remembrances of being skinny
  • remembrances of being fat

If you are an SNL fan, you will appreciate the insider jokes and backstage humor, with the best being the skits with Tina Fey as Sarah Palin.  If you missed the first one, she provides the script, and it is just as funny read as watched.  It would seem a good place for her to end the book, but she doesn’t – going on to the birth of her child and plans for the second.

Tina Fey is funny; more importantly, she is smart.  You can read her book for its humor, but it has more if you can insert the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert affinity for telling the truth with a laugh.