Tina Fey took to the pop-up stage in Matthews Arena last Thursday in an event sponsored by the Council of University Programs to share her experiences and advice with Northeastern students as this year’s Homecoming Headliner.
Fey talked about her life as a writer, actress and comedian through a question and answer session moderated by producer Josh Horowitz. Fey greeted the large audience, which filled the entirety of the floor and bowl sections of the arena, by laughing about how she had never performed on an ice rink before.
“This is making all of my Disney On Ice dreams come true,” Fey said.
Fey is well-known for many different reasons, including writing the film “Mean Girls,” writing and starring in the NBC sitcom “30 Rock,” writing bestselling memoir “Bossypants” and being the Weekend Update anchor and first female head writer on “Saturday Night Live,” or “SNL.”
Northeastern graduate school alumni Rachel Spero was familiar with many of Fey’s different projects and came back to her alma mater to hear her speak.
“I’ve loved everything about Tina Fey since I was in high school. I watched ‘30 Rock,’ loved ‘Mean Girls,’ loved ‘SNL,’ all that,” Spero said before the performance. “She has done so much, so I’m excited to hear about her experiences on ‘SNL.’ I know she was the first female head writer and she was there for a long time and I feel like she probably has a lot of good stories about that.”
While Fey is now well-known on the New York comedy circuit, she began her rise to fame on the Chicago comedy scene at a popular improv performance venue, Second City.
“After I went to UVA, I moved to Chicago with one of my roommates, fully with the intention of studying at Second City,” Fey said. “I knew I wanted to go there so I just moved there and got a day job and started taking classes.”
Second City was often referred to as the pipeline to “SNL” and produced comedians such as Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Mike Meyers and Fey’s close friend Amy Poehler.
“Amy and I clicked from the start,” Fey said. “We were the only two women on a team of seven guys on an improv team.”
Fey discussed how she and Poehler moved onto “SNL” together and credited their time in Chicago as a major influence for their close friendship in an industry where writers, especially women, are often pitted against one another.
“Everything we did in Chicago led us to that moment to keep our integrity and to keep our feminism intact,” Fey said.
Fey did not shy away from calling out “SNL” for their gap between male and female comedians and the competitive nature of working on the show.
“The writers at ‘SNL’ are given so much power they are all monsters when they leave,” Fey said. “They’re all unemployable when they leave. They just breed monsters over there. It’s just Doctor Frankenstein’s lab.”
Being the first female head writer, Fey had a lot of barriers to overcome in the workplace. Horowitz asked about the male to female ratio at “SNL” when Fey took over.
“It was getting better,” she answered. After a few seconds of consideration, however, her mind was changed. “No, actually it wasn’t great,” she said. “There were only four of us and a lot of women performing on the show had to write for themselves.”
After leaving “SNL,” Fey began her work writing and playing the main character Liz Lemon on NBC’s “30 Rock.” During a time when the hottest show on television was “Sex and the City,” Fey was inspired to create a different kind of female-focused show.
“[I wanted to] have a heroine where her life was work and she never has sex,” Fey said. “Liz Lemon was so close to the bone for me, I love her so much.”
Fourth-year biology major Sofia Horan was familiar with Fey’s work through “30 Rock” and brought her brother, Brian Horan, to the event.
“We’re big Tina Fey fans,” Horan said. “We used to always watch ‘30 Rock’ together as a family. It was so fun and entertaining.”
The evening turned political when Horowitz asked Fey what she thinks about the role of “SNL” and comedy, in general, in today’s political climate.
“We definitely approached it, at least during the Sarah Palin times, we always felt like it was very important for us that we weren’t trying to actively sway anyone. All you could do was find something that was true and point to that,” Fey said.
“The thing with comedy people is we hate bullies. We’re in comedy because at some point we were bullied or our friend was bullied so a lot of people see Trump as a bully and they want to punch the [expletive] out of him,” she continued. “We see him bullying immigrants and bullying people of color and so that’s when we’re at our most fired up. On behalf of someone else. And it makes it a little too hot. And he lives on it, because he’s a troll.”
Horowitz’s last question to Fey was directed towards college students, asking her what type of wisdom she would impart on the listeners in the audience. Her advice was simple.
“Don’t dink around,” Fey said. “If you want to do something or you want to live somewhere, just go.”
Maura Intemann, a second-year English and communications combined major, found Fey’s advice, and her groundbreaking work as a woman in the comedy industry as a whole, inspiring.
“Tina has been a big inspiration in my life and I loved her,” Intemann said. “I’m so glad she came to Northeastern.”
The last question of the night, which came as a relief to a show filled with surprisingly heavy topics for a comedian, came from a tweet submitted by a Northeastern student. The question read: “Describe your high school self in three words.”
Fey spent some time thinking before giving her answer.
“Two of the words would be virgin,” Fey said. “And the third word would be eyebrow. Singular.”