Commentary on Yes Please by Amy Poehler (Why It Matters to You)

If you’ve visited a bookstore recently, you’ve seen Amy Poehler’s autobiography Yes Please emblazoned in pink neon somewhere near the front. The reason it’s up there is that Amy Poehler has something to say to all of us – not just her lifetime fans, not just women, and not just comedians.

Though Amy (after reading the book, you’ll feel you are on a first name basis) probably doesn’t spend much time in cubicles or boardrooms, her insights on improv and self-confidence, while at times dark and filterless, transcend the stage. Here are some teaser quotes and why they matter to you, the office worker.

“Decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier.”

Amy admits that she’s been told she’s “better in the room,” that her looks aren’t model-like, that her charisma wins. She advocates that we try to know our strengths and accept our weaknesses with the same clarity.

With so many outlets for positive feedback (Facebook likes, blog shares, coffee-pot compliments), it’s easy to lose sight of what we’re just not that good at. On the other hand, live comedy is a raw forum for public feedback. It’s trial and error with laughter as metrics. If no one laughs at my slapstick jokes, but they laugh at my dry, straight-faced one liners, this should give me an idea of my strengths that I need to play to.

For non-comedians, we need to create unique metrics. We need to look for patterns in our performance evals. Even tougher, we need to put ourselves in more informal situations to receive real feedback. Learning about a weakness is never fun, it’s the worse, it gives you a fleeting urge to punch someone in the nose, but the earlier we catch one, the more time we have to deal with it, accept it, and turn it into a strength.

“Nobody looks stupid when they are having fun.”

Our mistakes are magnified when we reveal our discomfort…mistakes are awkward when taken too seriously…no matter how I say it, the takeaway is simple: smiles are disarming.

When the most vulnerable person in the room is smiling and laughing, they are sending a clear message to the rest of the room, “I’m OK, so you should be too.” We get permission to laugh along with him, that he knows he’s the brunt of the joke, and that everyone is on the same page.

If you laugh your way through uncomfortable situations, you will win. If you’ve ever seen Amy’s comedy, you know that her charisma overpowers any awkward moment.

“Great people do things before they’re ready. They do things before they know they can do it.”

A general theme in Yes Please is the willingness to fail. Amy’s career is lined with great successes and a few periods of consistent failures (her first TV show with Upright Citizens Brigade was cancelled after a season, the first live UCB shows had just a handful of attendees).

Comfort with failure is a theme in almost any successful person’s memoir, but Amy’s take is a little different. She makes failure seem fun. As if by failing, she knew she was on the forefront of herself, trailblazing a path to a better performer and stronger person. The potential to fail invigorated her.

I want to put myself in more situations where I can fail big. The risk of failure makes for more excitement, better stories to tell my twelve future kids, and no time for boredom. And if I set myself up for big opportunities to fail, there’s always a slim chance for big success (like what if Donald Trump is in the audience randomly and just digs me?).

Yes Please is a good, quick read for anyone with aspirations. While a chunk of the writing does target women, there’s plenty of substance for all of us, especially fans of comedy. You can buy it literally anywhere right now.


Chris Severn delivers corporate trainings through improv comedy techniques for organizations in the Bay Area. Visit improvbridge.com to schedule a class. 

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