Beauty with a wicked sense of humor: SNL’s Tina Fey is in a new film she wrote, called Mean Girls.
Tina Fey began writing humor for her high school paper. After college, she headed for Chicago, where she met her husband, Jeff Richmond, who composes music for SNL. While working with the Second City comedy troupe, Tina submitted some scripts to SNL creator Lorne Michaels and was summoned to New York. That was six years ago, and she has never looked back. For all her caustic wit, Ms. Fey is thoughtful and serious. “I worry about literate America,” she said. “There was a time when to be literate was hip and cool. Now, there’s a pride in dumbness. In the old Playboy, there was good writing. Now those magazines are only naked ladies with salad dressing all over them. Hand it to Oprah, pushing books on her audience.” What makes Fey laugh? “Al Franken’s recent book,” she answered. “Movies like Election. Old Carol Burnett shows.” And New Yorker cartoons? “Yes,” she said, “but not out loud.”
In the marbled lobby of the University Club on Fifth Avenue, I was waiting for Saturday Night Live’s Tina Fey—the coolest, most cutting woman on network TV—when this kid in jeans, a parka and a backpack came in.It was Tina herself, bereft of her trademark severe horn-rimmed glasses. The hilarious comedy writer and performer has been creating a whole new young SNL following and becoming something of a cult figure to hip Americans. She’s also the first woman ever to become head writer for that NBC show. We were meeting for coffee to discuss Tina’s new film, Mean Girls, scheduled to open in April. It’s about a schoolgirl who pays for falling for the wrong guy. It’s Fey’s first screenplay. “I’d read the book and said, ‘I think there’s a movie in this,’” Tina recalled. “I read all the beginner texts on how to write a screenplay. It’s a comedy front-to-back but with a certain amount of heart.” Fey also said she has a small role as a teacher. “With my glasses,” she added. When we had finished our coffee, we walked over to Rockefeller Center, where Fey talked about her SNL job there. “Tuesday nights, we write—until morning,” she told me. “I write fast, and sometimes really slow. What comes out fastest comes out best. Wednesdays, the script department will clean it up—about 40 sketches. Lorne [Michaels, SNL’s creator] and the producers whittle them down to 10 or 12. Saturdays, we run through every sketch—then, at 10, we whittle down again.”The exciting thing about Fey is that she’s making it in the fiercely competitive field of comedy writing, which traditionally has been a male preserve (Woody Allen, Chevy Chase, Steve Martin). I have no idea if Mean Girls will succeed. But I’m quite sure about Tina.
Born May 18, 1970, in Upper Darby, Pa. Married to Jeff Richmond since 2001.
Includes Saturday Night Live, 1997–.
Include Martin & Orloff, 2002; Mean Girls, 2004.