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Book Review: Girl Walks Into a Bar or What Happened to Rachel Dratch?

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Brave. This is the word that best describes comedienne Rachel Dratch's memoir Girl Walks Into a Bar...Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle. For a comedienne, "funny" typically trumps all descriptors and is what all comedic performers aggressively pursue as if their existence depends on it because, let's face it, it usually does. Dratch's book is definitely funny, but it is her courage to speak openly about her struggle with dating, romance and the Holy Grail of feminine culture -- motherhood -- that makes this work as unconventional as her path to both television stardom and maternity.

Just as young girls all over the world croon Adele into their hairbrushes in front of their mirrors, Dratch cops to geeking out for comedy the way a generation of future Feys, Silvermans and Poehlers are doing right now: religiously watching Saturday Night Live, throwing impromptu shows in their living rooms and back yards and cracking up their friends in math class. For fans of Dratch's work as a cast member for seven years on SNL and briefly 30 Rock, she gives up plenty of inside goodies about her journey into television celebreality, otherwise known as show biz. After graduating college, Dratch moved to Chicago and eventually began performing at the famed comedy theater Second City where she joined the ranks of fellow comedy virtuosos Steve Carell, Amy Poehler, and Amy Sedaris, to name a few. Ten years and two auditions later, Dratch moved on to SNL where, in the course of her tenure, she brought to life such memorable recurring characters as Debbie Downer, Denise "Zazu" McDenna and Virginia Klarvin, Will Ferrell's "love-ahhh."

The behind-the-scenes insights into Dratch's television career and Hollywood's increasingly fickle temperament are engaging and worth a bookmark or two. Of learning about gender politics from Amy Sedaris at Second City, Dratch writes

She wasn't content to be the girly-girl who would play the 'Honey!' parts... as in 'Honeeeyyy! I told you to take out the trash!' All of the really good women improvisers I knew avoided the 'Honey!' parts because it meant they would be relegated to the sidelines of a scene.

However, it is in the second half of her book, when she talks about her time out of the spotlight and under the bar lights on the dating scene, that the memoir becomes particularly compelling.

Dratch's foray into dating and relationships is refreshingly relatable. In an all-too-familiar scenario, what begins as a potentially promising romance sputters out in a series of missed connections and poor behaviors otherwise known as red flags. These are the kinds of markers all women carry with them as proof of having survived the dating battlefield. You know the type: drinking too much, failing to call or text or ruminating over what it would be like to eat horse or human meat. In her search for a tolerable, non-horrifying, regular meat-eating boyfriend, Dratch is every woman. And we love her for wearing that mantle proudly so that our collective romantic humiliations remain in good company. She writes with self-deprecation that is neither needy nor parodic, but simply authentic.

Even with the "midlife miracle" spoiler alert in the title, the eventual relationship that leads Dratch to motherhood in her early forties is its own kind of surprise. Dratch deals with her unexpected pregnancy and the complexities (and joys) it causes in every aspect of her life with candor and thoughtfulness. She admits to the anxiety and wonder that accompanies the impending birth of her child. Like millions of women, Dratch picks up the iconic What to Expect When You're Expecting and thinks:

Where's the book that starts out, 'So you're forty-three and think you can't have kids but unexpectedly got pregnant on a trip to Hawaii with a guy you've known for six months who you think is a good guy but the two of you aren't even close to any sort of commitment?' Where is that book?

The answer: It is in your hands, Rachel! You've already written it!

What ultimately makes Girl Walks Into a Bar pertinent is Dratch's willingness to dwell in and accept messy ambiguity. Where other women might miss out on an experience because it fails to fit a proscribed definition or within determined ideals, Dratch leans into this moment in her life; she draws on her wits as an improviser that required her step out on stage with little more than her smarts and willingness to say "Yes" to her scene partners. At Second City this was called "comedy." In life, it's called "bravery."