WASHINGTON, D.C. – From Steve Martin and Martin Short to Cheech and Chong to Waldorf and Statler, famed comedy duos lean on at least a little bit of shtick.
They’re also predominantly male.
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler – Emmys winners, authors, actors and, above all, comedians – are a joint unicorn. Friends for 30 years, partners in film (“Mean Girls,” “Sisters”) and TV (“Saturday Night Live”), theirs is a relationship built on shared scrappiness that led both to significant success.
They’re also very funny sans the shtick. Sort of a Gen-X Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda – two cool women whose banter ping-pongs naturally and who can read each other from a mile away.
On Friday, the spitfire duo kicked off their Restless Leg tour at D.A.R. Constitution Hall in Washington. Tickets for their outings – their first live comedy shows together – sold out so quickly that what was initially a handful of dates expanded to a 12-show run scattered between April and June.
To maneuver their collective history through a 100-minute performance might seem daunting. But these two pros brought fans on a fulfilling journey that included video montages of their greatest hits (Mom Jeans! Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin impersonations! “30 Rock”! “Parks & Recreation”!); a few costume changes instituted for purpose, not vanity; improv; stand-up; and, most rewarding, a Q&A session staged on two sofa chairs with Fey and Poehler in their pajamas.
Actually, the most satisfying moment was their closing song – yes, they sing, charmingly – with new lyrics set to “For Good,” the tender ode to friendship from Broadway’s “Wicked” (“Knowing you has made me slightly better…we are work friends and we see each other…at work”).
What will make this tour so enjoyable – especially for those able to catch more than one show – is its malleability.
An opening segment with the pair in glittery gowns as a self-effacing nod to their four-time stint as Golden Globes hosts includes a slot for local-market jokes (“I haven’t been to Washington since Jan. 6…1988. It was a school trip,” Fey mused).
A quick change into throwback clothes and wigs to showcase how the duo met in the ‘90s becomes funnier when Fey, 52, and Poehler, 51, disclose that they can’t specifically recall when they became friends, other than while performing with Second City in Chicago.
And thus, a re-enactment is born via improv (Philadelphia, barber shop, a sex toy, the Mafia and rom-coms factored in the scenario on this night) until Poehler summarizes their burgeoning friendship: “You had brown hair and I had blond hair and we all know that’s the only way women can be friends.”
The sold-out crowd whooped appreciatively when a functional “Weekend Update” set was erected onstage. Fey, wearing her trademark glasses, and Poehler scooted in their desk chairs from opposite sides of the stage to tackle headlines in their matching dark blazers. (The pair hosted the “Saturday Night Live” segment in 2004-2005.)
Current stories about King Charles, rules changes in MLB, Twitter blue checks and the upcoming “Barbie” movie were skewered with scalpel-like precision.
But the humorous instincts of the pair were most noticeable in the little things. When Fey accidentally stepped on a Poehler joke, the latter retorted in a millisecond, “Just like old times.” And when Poehler broke character and unsuccessfully stifled her laughter with a “downer” of a guest during the “Weekend Update” segment, Fey wordlessly spun her chair backward to leave her friend to struggle through her own recovery – and likely hide her own giggles.
The Q&A portion of the show – with the women reading pre-approved questions – will probably feature different questions at each date to keep the repartee fresh. But one of the more telling exchanges came when they were asked which member of the Golden Girls they identified with the most.
Poehler chose Rose Nyland (Betty White) because, “She tells long stories that don’t go anywhere,” while Fey picked Dorothy Zbornak. “I’m Bea Arthur energy all the way,” she quipped.
Appropriately, another duo worth celebrating.