Alum waxes lyrical about quirks of post-modern life

by Rebecca Leffler | 3/8/04 6:00am

"Aisha Tyler has a degree in government from Dartmouth College, which she blithely chucked for a career as an actress and stand-up comedian," reads the jacket of Tyler's latest book.

I beg to differ. After guest stints on "Friends" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and an impressive run as host of "E! Talk Soup," Tyler '92 manifests her literary prowess and does her Dartmouth education proud in "Swerve: Reckless Observations of a Postmodern Girl." The book is fresh, funny and intelligent, and I highly recommend it for anyone who has time for pleasure reading (yes, I realize that the term "pleasure reading" may sound like an oxymoron what with all those govy readings and econ problem sets piling up, but instead of reaching for your TV remote control, you could pick up -- gasp! -- a book).

Once I started this 237-page piece of ingenious creation, I could not put it down (bathroom breaks and Food Court trips excluded). Tyler provides a personal tour of the workings of her inner postmodern girlhood -- though, to be honest, after 237 pages, I still am not quite sure to what that refers -- and running commentary on the state of affairs in the young life of a rising starlet.

When asked about her inspiration for writing this book, Tyler told The Dartmouth, "I missed Dartmouth so I wanted to get myself a massive homework assignment that wouldn't go away. Actually, I love doing stand-up, but was frustrated at its limitations. It's like, you can't get up there and tell a story about the hypersexualization of pop culture and how it's affecting self-image. No matter how funny you are, people would still be like, 'Boo! Tell a poop joke! Booo!' I wanted a book that was fun, funny, a great read, with some ideas and social commentary buried inside. Like a Tootsie Pop. Or a land mine."

Tyler also cites her Dartmouth experience as an influence on her book. "The chapter called 'The Ballad of Osh Kosh B'Gosh' all happened during a dark and icy Winter term not so many years ago. It is a warning to all gullible young sophomores who think that a couple of beers on a Wednesday night and a sweaty makeout session in the stacks constitutes a love affair. News flash: it doesn't. Trust me. If it can't weather an FSP apart, it ain't love. I learned that the hard way," Tyler told The Dartmouth.

Tyler added, "Oh, and I've got one killer of a bruise from an awesome February upender in front of Webster that involved a stack of Chemistry books, an extra-large Collis coffee, and an ill-advised pair of high-heeled boots."

In "Swerve," Tyler explores everything from casual sex to karaoke, from yogurt to Sun Tzu's dogma. Despite her success, the book remains down-to-earth and humorous due to Tyler's ability to balance her unabashed confidence and tacit humility. Tyler takes a stand-up comedy approach to popular culture, guys and personal hygiene. Although she possesses a degree in government from Dartmouth , her writing comes right out of her mouth, clearly targeted toward the everygirl. The book, though dripping with sarcasm and caustic criticism, sends a positive message to all "postmodern" women, namely: eat, drink, exercise and be merry. She writes: "Every time I leave the house to go to the gym, I feel like crap. And every time I leave the gym to go home I feel like the Pink Power Ranger." The Dartmouth recently asked Tyler what exactly being the Pink Power ranger feels like and Tyler responded in her witty fashion, "Bouncy. Smiley. Full of marshmallow fluff."

While I find it hard to criticize this book, I do have one qualm: it is supposed to be meant for postmodern girls and guys alike, but I honestly don't see how a guy can relate to all the chapters about bikini waxes, dealing with the media obsession to be supermodel-thin and wanting to look like Gisele. But I certainly can relate. In fact, while reading this, I found myself scared that perhaps Tyler had a way to get into my brain, hear my inner thoughts and then write them down onto the page in a wittier, more intelligent way than I ever could. But then friends of mine who read the book told me the same thing, so I held off on the restraining order. Every experience could just as easily have happened to any girl and every character could be anyone we know.

Take yogurt girl, for instance. In "The Ballad of Yogurt Girl," Tyler devotes an entire chapter to a co-worker who survived only on lunches of yogurt. She writes of yogurt girl, "I finally had to admit that yogurt girl was some kind of machine, an automaton who could go for miles on one tiny sip of transmission fluid, which, in her case, was yogurt." When The Dartmouth questioned Tyler about the current status of yogurt girl post-publication, Tyler responded, "I haven't actually made contact with yogurt girl, so I'm not sure, but I think she's been swept up by the Atkins madness and now lives on those cottage cheese 'doubles' that come with a side of fruit topping. A dairy product in a carton that has two compartments? Come on. That's a party."

In addition to witty commentary, "Swerve" also touches upon more serious and contemporary topics such as the double standards applied to women and men. In light of the recent Jackson-Timberlake Superbowl scandal, Tyler told The Dartmouth, "Obviously a double standard was applied in Breastgate. The ripper got to bound on stage in a bespoke suit and jaunty hat and accept his Grammy. The rippee, whose only crime is that she has breasts (and who doesn't? There are a couple of guys I know that are just as stacked as Miss-Jackson-If-You're-Nasty) had to sit home and watch the show on TV over a Hungry Man Salisbury Steak. I don't think Justin's nipple would have rocked the nation so, but a couple of the aforementioned stacked guys owe me an apology, that's for sure."

And though Tyler has spent the last six weeks promoting "Swerve," she is involved with many different projects. Tyler will soon shoot a pilot for a sitcom produced by Lisa Kudrow and partner Dan Bucatinsky, which, if picked up by CBS, will air on that network in the fall. Tyler is also going to be gracing the big screen in March with a part in "Never Die Alone" starring DMX and David Arquette. She also confided to The Dartmouth, "I'm at work on a second book, because I'm a sucker for punishment."

Yes, Tyler certainly has a way with words. She herself writes, "My mouth had a mind of its own. It could not be stopped." Here's to hoping it never is.

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