Tina Fey at The Richmond Forum’s Funny You Should Ask Conversation
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Tina Fey at The Richmond Forum’s Funny You Should Ask Conversation

Tina attended the Funny You Should Ask program at The Richmond Forum in Richmond, VA. She had a conversation with Linda Holmes. Our gallery has been updated with photos from the event & you can read more about it below!

You could feel the buzz in the air Saturday night as a full auditorium at Richmond’s Altria Theater took their seats for a night with comedian Tina Fey. The Richmond Forum program, “Funny You Should Ask,” featured Fey in conversation with NPR’s Linda Holmes.

It was the type of evening that could only be held in Virginia. More specifically, it could only happen in Richmond—at The Richmond Forum.

For 33 seasons, The Forum has brought in both big names and big thinkers for inspiring and entertaining evenings at the subscription speaker series. On Saturday, it also had the added benefit of being a sort of homecoming.

Tina Fey is an alumna of the University of Virginia, as were many in the audience that offered roaring applause as she took the stage with Ms. Holmes. It probably didn’t hurt that Fey was also one of the most-requested speakers of the last ten years by Forum subscribers, according to Jennifer Hunter, who had the enviable task of introducing Ms. Fey. (She did so with a tribute to one of Fey’s idols, David Letterman, with a “Top 5 List of Things People Say to You When They Hear You’re Going to Introduce Tina Fey.”)

Fey wasn’t the only star of the evening to come out of Charlottesville, as Executive Director Bill Chapman pointed out. The evening’s musical act, Love Canon, is a popular bluegrass cover group that plays the pop hits of the ’80s and ’90s. They even performed a rendition of the theme from Fey’s 30 Rock.

Those in attendance on Saturday night were promised an evening of humor and of insights into Fey’s multifaceted, award-winning career in comedy, and Fey delivered on both counts.

“I knew I wanted to be funny around 8th grade,” Fey told the audience. “I think I was more sarcastic than funny. I was never a class clown…I was more muttering cutting remarks.”

Those early muttering remarks were eventually shaped into a sharp comedic voice, through Fey’s training in the UVA drama program, at Chicago’s Second City improv troupe, and during her time at Saturday Night Live.

At Second City, Fey learned the “Yes, and…” rules of positive collaboration in improvisation, and she learned how to navigate the “competitive energy” and one-upmanship of the SNL writers’ room.

After she described the environment of the SNL room full of mostly male comedians, moderator Linda Holmes admitted with exasperation that she once had dated an improviser.

“It’s ok, we’ve all been there,” Fey replied.

“Do they not exhaust you, if you are one of them?”

“What you are experiencing, Linda, is called ‘bits.’ It’s the strutting and preening of the male improviser.”

Fey explained that developing the skill of handling, encouraging, and shaping that creative energy is necessary as a head writer. She said that the head writer role is more of a managerial position, where the goal is to run the table and to help take whatever ideas the writers have and create the best material for the show.

“The best producing training you can have on TV,” Fey explained, “is working as a writer on SNL.”

Her time on SNL resulted in some of the most beloved material of the show: “Weekend Update,” when she co-hosted with Jimmy Fallon and later Amy Poehler, “Mom Jeans,” “Kotex Classic,” and her run as vice presidential candidate Governor Sarah Palin.

Sooner or later, Fey said, one has to leave the comfort of Saturday Night Live, as she said while answering a question submitted by an audience member.

SNL is like high school. If you stay longer than four years, it means you’re stupid,” she quipped.

Fey, in fact, stayed on the show for nine years, including seven as head writer. Then, she took her SNL lessons and went on to produce, write, and star in the seven-year run of her hit show 30 Rock.

In the 30 Rock writers’ room, Fey and her staff would all pitch their ideas and jokes, an assistant projected them onto a screen, and they would pick through the best ones that then made it onto the show. It was the “Yes, and…” principle showing up again—Fey’s ideal environment of positive collaboration.

After 30 Rock, she worked on developing her beloved film Mean Girls into a Broadway musical. A self-identified musical theatre geek, she thought that the story “sang” in the way a Broadway show needs to: “The stakes are small, but the emotional stakes are very high.”

It was also another venue for collaboration, this time, with her husband, the composer Jeff Richmond, and lyricist Nell Benjamin. The three of them shaped the story, using parts of Fey’s unused material from the screenplay, and decided where Fey’s book (or the spoken dialogue for a musical) would end and the songs would begin.

The night of conversation and improvisation concluded with perhaps the most apt question to wrap up the comedian’s experiences: “Looking back at the past 24 hours, what ideas could you turn into a comedy sketch?”

Fey thought for a moment, and then shared that she had struggled with the iron in her hotel room while trying to get the wrinkles out of her suit.

That could be it, she joked, “I’m too rich, Linda, to figure out how an iron works!”

She and Holmes bantered the budding idea back and forth: Fey could be an inept, wealthy lady. All her clothes were wrinkled. She couldn’t figure out the shower, so she stayed dirty.

“I think it’s destined to become a classic. Too Rich Dirty Lady,” Holmes added.

“The Filthy Rich Lady,” Fey answered.

“The Filthy Rich Lady!” Holmes agreed.

With that, 4,500 Richmonders got a taste of the creative process and quick wit that turned a young, aspiring comedian into the award-winning Tina Fey.

Written by Thomas Breeden for The Richmond Forum

Source: The Richmond Forum

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