Tina Fey was (quite literally) infectious last Friday night while signing copies of her book, Bossypants. Despite feeling under-the-weather, Fey signed books for the 1,100 people (including 30 Rock’s Grizz Chapman) who showed up to see her at the Barnes and Noble in Union Square. Some fans arrived as early as 10am for the 7pm Q&A and signing. It seems everyone has caught the Tina Fey virus and it's spreading like wildfire. By the event’s start time, the crowd was squeezed into chairs, standing packed along the rear of the room like sardines, or watching Fey’s Q&A with New Yorker magazine editor David Remnick, on closed-circuit TV on one of the store’s lower levels.
The Q&A was brief, with Remnick using his 15-20 minutes to ask questions which focused on Fey’s comedy roots at Second City in Chicago, then moved on to a quick tour through Saturday Night Live, and finally landed at 30 Rock. But first, David posed essential comedy question: “When did you know you were funny?” To which Tina responded, “I don’t think you know you’re funny. I think you just try to find people’s humor and try to make them laugh. Everyone has a different type of humor.”
Fey’s humor took her the improv route, where she got her start in the touring company of Second City. To help set the scene for those not familiar with this form of comedy, Tina shared the first rule of improvisation:
The first rule, always agree. Say yes. Say, “yes, and” to things. For example, if I enter a scene and say, “I have a gun.’ And you say, “No, you don’t. That’s your finger.’ That’s terrible. Now we’re done. Saying “yes” means you’re basically agreeing to honor what the other person is creating. The next part is “yes, AND …” which means to contribute something on your own, like, ‘I have a gun’ and you say, ‘but you’ll never get the gold because I put it in my butt.’ I wouldn’t recommend THAT … but that’s the end, you’re contributing. It’s an exercise in being in the present. To follow your partner, to ask questions.
During the course of the interview (and throughout the book) it became clear Fey has taken these rules of improv to heart. She said yes to Saturday Night Live; to a development deal with NBC, which lead to her creating/writing 30 Rock, and even to her guest-stint on SNL playing Sarah Palin. In Bossypants, Tina Fey uses a chapter to directly honor the writing of her show’s staff by reprinting their “M.V.P.” script moments. However, when it comes to how she always manages to stay present, that answer was wrapped in a “How does she do it?” question, which Remnick prefaced with, “I know you hate this question, but it is a real question ‘How do you pull all of this off?’” Tina answered honestly and matter-of-factly: “You need a lot of help. If you’re lucky, you have a truly helpful and giving spouse, which I’m blessed enough to have. You need to hire a lot of people to help you do everything. And you don’t do anything else. You go to work and then you come home.”
Though most of the work/comedy-related questions were gender-blind, David did ask if, during Fey’s first days at SNL, it still felt like a “boy’s club”:
It [the writer’s room] had me, Paula Pell, Lori Nasso and Cindy Caponera,” said Fey. “…It was the tail end of a very masculine era. People were still kind of urinating in cups … they would hock a loogie into carpet. It definitely had a different vibe in ’97 than it did in 2005 … the ratio of men to women was a little different. The women in the [earlier] cast were really funny, but they were the ‘women’ in the cast, as opposed to the dominant figures in the cast. The first show I was there for was Sylvester Stallone … and they did some Rocky monologue and they needed someone to play Adrian from Rocky and Cheri Oteri said, ‘I want to do it’ and she was little and looked like her and could sound like her. But someone, and I don’t know who it was the time said, ‘We’ll put [Chris] Kattan in a dress.’ I love Kattan, but I think Cheri would have been funnier. But it was that old school, ‘well a guy in a dress would be funnier’ thought. By the time we left, with Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler, and Rachel Dratch, no one would have thought it would have been funnier to have a guy in a dress. It wouldn’t have happened.
Remnick also questioned her about the recent news that next season might be 30 Rock’s last. Tina’s take on it was a little different from Alec Baldwin’s recent quotes. “Alec saying that he’s officially done is, to me, my first indication that he’s staying,” said Fey. “We all have next year and then we’ll see. We want to keep going for as long as we feel the show is good.”
In honor of the show’s upcoming 100th show, the writers looked back on some earlier episodes to create what Fey called (half-jokingly), “a really weird 100th show.” She also expressed her thoughts on what it was like to re-watch the pilot: “It’s just so different from what the show became,” she said. “It’s much slower; visually, a lot different. It’s like the difference between looking at a sonogram verses a real picture of your kid. There’s a lot of creepy goo.”
The Q&A ended with Fey talking about where most of her best lines for Tracey Jordan come from:
For short run of time, between ages of three and four, Alice [Fey’s daughter] was inadvertently writing a lot for Tracey Jordan. She’s the one who said, “I want to go to there.” She also said, “touch my knees-butt.” There’s another one I tried to get in this season that I couldn’t, but I’ll try again next year. [Alice] does this thing where she plays Barbie and she’ll pull their pants down and she’ll have the Cinderella Barbie say to the prince, ‘You know the most romantic part of the human body is the butt.’ I mean how has Tracey not said that?! They [Alice and Tracey Jordan] have a similar world view.
Like mother, like daughter.
Ashley Van Buren has contributed writing to TDF STAGES, The Huffington Post, Mediaite, Supernanny, The Rachael Ray Show, JamieOliver.com, and several other outfits. If you read quickly, you can catch her name in the credits of seven feature films. Find her at: thebrow.org or follow her in 140-characters: @avb
Photo credit: Krissie Fullerton