Even with the recent wave of not-quite-pulled together sitcom heroines, none touch the comic genius of Liz Lemon. Tina Fey talks to us about the Real Housewives, Lorne Michaels, and her favorite channels
Who else but Tina Fey can we credit for network TV’s recent wave of not-quite-pulled-together sitcom heroines (Up All Night‘s Christina Applegate, New Girl‘s Zooey Deschanel, Two Broke Girls‘ Kat Dennings)? Yet none can touch the comic genius of Liz Lemon, for whom the word lovers “bums me out, unless it’s between the words meat and pizza.” After a short hiatus (during which Fey gave birth to her second daughter, Penelope), the multi-Emmy-winning 30 Rock has returned to NBC. Fey talks to us about the Real Housewives and taking notes from Lorne Michaels.
You were Saturday Night Live‘s first female head writer. Did you have your sights set on that job from the start?
Not at all. I was kind of overwhelmed to be there; to be in a supervisor position was not on my radar. I think, if anything, people are there [as writers], and they’re like, “Do you think I could get on the show from there?” Anyone who says that’s not their secret wish is a liar.
I think so. I mean, it’s just so exciting when you’re around it. On a live show, you have that impulse: What if I just ran out in front of the camera?
Can you recall sketches you wrote that didn’t make it on air?
Oh my gosh, more than I can count. In the dress rehearsal they do more sketches than they do on air, and you have to go sit next to Lorne Michaels and get notes. Sometimes it’s a good sketch, and the notes will be like, “Change that lamp.” And then other times we’ve probably all had at least one where Lorne is sitting there with the headphones on, and the worst it can go is for him to take the headphones off and drop them to the side and look at you and go: “I hope you’re proud.” And literally walk away.
Though he no doubt agreed with the rest of us about your killer Sarah Palin. Will that association ever die?
I think the swelling has certainly gone down. Last night, we were shooting [30 Rock] on location at Madison Square Garden, and somebody went by on a bike and was like, “Sarah Fey!” I was like, “Oh! That’s an awesome joke! No one’s ever….” They think it’s the most amazing joke that no one’s ever done before. So probably not all the way, no. It will be like when you have a really low-level infection that you can never quite get rid of with antibiotics. But it doesn’t make you sick or anything.
What is your workday routine like on the 30 Rock set?
I read [pop-culture blog] Dlisted.com every day—anyone can say rude things, but I find his writing to actually be very funny. He probably thinks I’m nuts because I say this constantly. He’s probably like, “She’s going to kill me and wear my skin!” But um, what else do I do every day? So much of it is repetitive—you sit in the same chair, wear the same makeup, the same clogs….
Clogs? Every day?
Yeah, because you have to stand for 16 hours, and they make me a little taller. Jane Krakowski wears Frank-N-Furter-size heels all the time.
Why do you think people relate so strongly to Liz Lemon?
I did a book tour last spring, and so many of the women who came looked exactly like me: glasses, brown hair, horizontal-striped shirts. A lot of them saying, “People in my office call me Liz Lemon.” She certainly looks normal, and her life is not romanticized too much. I really like Sex and the City, but I view it as a different genre of fantasy fulfillment, like, What if I was awesome and I wore heels and went out at night?!
You took a mini maternity leave after the birth of your second daughter. See anything good on TV?
The main thing I was watching that I hadn’t seen in years was the Today show—it’s very long!
It is. But it’s worth the wait for Kathie Lee & Hoda.
That hour is delightful. It’s just what live TV should be, which is people getting drunk and sitting there.
I hear you’re also a fan of the Real Housewives of New York City. Have you met any of the women?
I was in a restaurant, and my cousin said, “There’s Countess LuAnn,” and I was like, “What?” I ran out of the restaurant. I said, “Um, I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m kind of a coworker of yours because NBC and Bravo….” She was like, “Well, I have a single coming out, maybe I could….” I was like, “You will be on 30 Rock. I will make it happen.”
Have you checked out OWN yet?
I keep forgetting to put it on my four-channel jump-around. You know when you have your four channels that you check? I go Food, TLC, HGTV, and then last resort is Style. You’re like, “Oh, maybe I’ll get Supernanny!”
What would you say to all the kids taking improv classes wanting to be you?
Do it! When I was in Chicago and got to work at Second City and earn a living wage off that, I would ride my bike over in the morning, have a quick swim in Lake Michigan, go to rehearsal all day, and then go back to do the show. And I would think, This is the greatest life I’ll ever have.