If Jessi Klein’s new book, You’ll Grow Out of It, were a wine made from the grapes of humorists, it would have a base of Nora Ephron (barrel-aged so long that it’s become the new Now), with a splash of self-effacement à la Lena Dunham, a tannic tinge of tartness from Joan Rivers, and a smoky puff of literary finesse, which tastes like Pam Houston in certain chapters with fine notes of Meghan Daum coming through in others. This isn’t to say that Klein’s book is in any way derivative, but rather the exact opposite—she writes with a singularity so amusing and compelling that I feel the urge to connect her in my mind to other funny writers I’ve read, so I can imagine the whole lot of them, her contemporaries and predecessors, silently squinting at one another and chuckling to themselves while comedic quips fly through the ethers amid the clatter of keyboards.
A stand-up comic, storyteller, and writer for shows including Inside Amy Schumer, Saturday Night Live, and Transparent, Jessi Klein’s adventure into the literary is as successful as her other forays. Her witty, conversational prose is sharp-eyed and loud with a feminist emphasis that feels fresh and, can I say, correct? Catching cultural stereotypes by the tail and swinging them around a bit, Klein handles image (how to work ‘eccentric’ when you are not classically pretty or a supermodel), the male gaze on aging (“In entertainment, if you are a day over thirty, you are seen as being a viable great-great-grandmother to Elle Fanning”), busybodies up in your pregnancy (You might have read a shortened version of ‘Get the Epidural’ in the New York Times, but you are in luck, because the full version in print is even more genius and hilarious), the gender complexity of being a straight girl tomboy (growing up into what Klein terms an unpleasant “Tom Man”), and a slew of other double-standards held to women in today’s pop-culture and entertainment industry, and just overall in everywhere.
Her weirdness shines through in the contradictions she admits in this parenthetical, along with her quirky comparisons and polyvocal play:
I’m not sure how or when my knuckles got thicker, but now my hands look like wizard hands, like they should be clutching a crystal ball. And my fingers, always long and a tad askew, seem to have become even more crooked, like the branch fingers on a wise old tree in an animated children’s move, who occasionally beckons to little kids and dispenses nuggets of truth like “Just be yourself, Toby.” The tree is voiced by Morgan Freeman.
In many moments her comedy blooms within what I think of as the special zone of humanist humor, in which the reader is both laughing-and-feeling and in various stages of yeah-what-she-said. Poking around in the memories of her most vulnerable moments with the advantage of her now-early-forties wisdom, and wisecracking through her personal archive of faceplants, Klein effects an intimacy on topics like boyfriend management (is it ethical to smear birthday cake on his walls when he cheats?), straight female gazing (missing pertinent medical information while mesmerized by beautiful doctors’ glowing curtains of hair, and going to Anthropologie to be within “the manger in which Zooey Deschanel was born”), and body image: how the coveted big boobs of the 1980s strangely came to pale in comparison to the value placed on today’s butts—and just when one realized she was better stocked up top than down below! Lucky for us, we get to watch and empathize with the physical rigor and emotional pain Klein endures in an attempt to jack up her trunk, and delight in her observations on the topic: “Little did I know, our butts were in the back so men could talk about them without us knowing, until it was too late and we’d already spent our whole lives eating balls of mozzarella as if they were apples.”
Throughout this collection of 24 essays, Klein, in the manner of a well-trained therapy-advanced gen-x New York Jew, determinedly investigates her own vulnerabilities and reflections. Deep and scrutinizing, she twists her way through her psyche like she might endlessly twirl a lock of spitty hair.
On pitching her first TV show:
I’d just finished my first meeting and was starting to spiral out about how it went. Hearing myself speaking my ideas out loud had suddenly felt embarrassing. And now I was stewing in my hotel room, forecasting my rejection. But then I thought about Joan [Rivers], who’d just died a few days before. I thought about how she refused to die before she was dead. I thought about how often throughout my life I’d gone into a deep depression about my imagined immanent death. And it occurred to me that imagining death must have been to me on some level less frightening than imagining living—i.e., going forward into this risky, terrifying unknown despite the possibility of failure.
I thought about Joan, and thought about my fear of telling my story and having no one care, and then I thought, Fuck it. I care. I don’t care if they care. It’s my story. I relaxed and ordered an unnecessary amount of room service before driving to my next meeting.
And in her essay The Infertility Chapters:
I have always hated the phrase We’re trying, which couples generally use to describe their attempts at conceiving a child. I used to think it was because of the slightly prissy quality of it, the substitution of the wan trying for fucking; but when I thought harder about it, I realized maybe it’s the opposite of a euphemism. Maybe it’s all too accurate, and what I don’t like about it is how graphically it paints a portrait of two people joylessly having intercourse in an attempt to breed.
It’s not all so heady. Most of the book is laugh-out-loud and highly relatable. One of the things that stands out in Jessi Klein’s writing is her ability to land the silliest of similes. On the topic of aging out of the ‘honorific’ “miss” and into the ugliness of “ma’am,” Klein writes: “Ma’am is the onomatopoeia of drowning in a lake-size bowl of borscht. Ma’am sounds like a species of frog that just watches reality television all day. Ma’am sounds like a woman whose body is mostly cheese whiz.”
No matter how self-effacing she is about her feminine cluelessness and or how much she makes us visualize her tattered drugstore underwear, Jessi Klein—like her colleagues who’ve also written books, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler—proves in this book that she is a badass feminist adamant about calling out injustice and smacking it upside the head. Klein is the yang to Sara Barron’s yin (which is to say, ‘manlier’), the sweaty godchild of Nora Ephron, the “Somewhere Out There” city mouse to Sarah Silverman; she is a gal who could teach a thing or two to a generation of GIRLS. This book, from the woman who brought you Brownie Husband (if you haven’t seen this sketch from 2010 SNL, google it now!) and Amy Schumer’s “Last Fuckable Day” (‘Sally Field wuz here’) is a gift that keeps on giving, which is to say: it makes a great gift. Reading it makes you feel less alone in your own particular stew of ideas and reflections, and, plus, laughing is good for your abs, right? And your skin. (Probably?) And your ass, surely.