Tina Fey: Funny Girl

Tina Fey talks about Laverne and Shirley, her favorite Stooge, and the fine line between mean and mellow.

By Jancee Dunn from Reader's Digest | April 2008

RD: Your husband works with you. Does that present any challenges? Fey: For 30 Rock, he does all the music and he’s also a producer. I think that we complement each other nicely because we’re not in the same room all day. There’ll be whole days we’ll be at work and not see each other until the ride home. And we’ve been working at the same place for a long time — Second City, then SNL. We have a nice shorthand.

RD: Do you have any rules, like no work talk at home? Fey: Oh, that’s out the window.

RD: He described you as shy. Can it be? Fey: I think I finally, in my late 30s, am getting over this teenage shyness.

RD: Do you crave being that nutty older woman who just yells out whatever she wants? Fey: I dread it, but I see it coming. It’s inevitable. You get to a certain age and no matter what you’re saying, people younger than you are going to look at you like you’re crazy. RD: What’s the best advice you ever got? Fey: The rules of improvisation are about taking risks, saying yes and jumping in. One of my teachers at Second City was a lovely man named Martin de Maat. He said that learning to be an improviser is like doing the Hokey Pokey: “You put your whole self in and you shake it all about.” You just jump in.

RD: When you got the SNL job, how did you react? Fey: I called Amy [Poehler] and started crying. She was like, “What will you get paid, again?” I told her. At the time it was certainly the most we’d ever made. She just started laughing. “You’ve got to take the job,” she said. Then the ladies from Second City took me out to dinner at this awesome restaurant in Chicago called Wishbone. I got up from the table because I had to vomit from pure nerves. I’ve never had that before in my life.

RD: Where did you get your drive? Fey: My parents were extremely supportive and always made it seem like we could achieve anything we wanted. They were generous with their praise and their time but also good, strict parents. The first time one of my friends met them, my mom came in and gave me a million kisses. My friend was like, “I don’t even know what that is. I don’t understand parents like that.” It always just felt like there was a real safety net there. It made it okay to try.

RD: How do you deal with it if you must write some comedy material and you’re just not feeling funny? Fey: I put on an I Love Lucy costume [laughs].

RD: Have you inspired any younger women to become writers? Fey: At SNL, when you come downstairs to leave after the show, there are people waiting for autographs. A lot of the young women I talked to there told me they wanted to be writers. I always tried to encourage them. I think the world has too many actresses. RD: Today’s comics seem a little more type A, a little less self-destructive, than the previous generation. Why do you think that is? Fey: There have always been different types of people if you look at great comedians. You have John Belushi and Richard Pryor, who lived dangerously. Then you have Jerry Seinfeld and Bob Newhart, who are happily married, mild-mannered guys. And their humor doesn’t come from a place where they need to almost die to make comedy. RD: It seems like you fit in the latter category, that you’re well-adjusted. Fey: Yeah, I think so. Jerry Seinfeld once said you don’t have to be crazy to make comedy. To make comedy, maybe you just have to work hard and be funny.

Time-Out with Tina

Which of the Three Stooges do you like best? Larry. I like the middleman. You can’t really like Moe because he’s always poking people in the eyes.

What’s the most embarrassing song on your iPod? “Outrageous” by Britney Spears. And Annie. I have the sound track. And it’s in high rotation, yeah.

An item you refuse to spend money on? T-shirts that cost $120. I hear my mother’s voice: “Are you crazy?” But you can give me one if you’re a costume designer, and I’ll wear it.

Any tricks you use to help you sleep? I try to do work, knowing that it will immediately make me sleepy. I think I’m descended from opossums. If I really stress out, I start yawning.