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Fey, Tina

Fey, Tina

May 18, 1970 Upper Darby, Pennsylvania

Television writer, screenwriter, actress

Tina Fey might have single-handedly made it hip to wear glasses in the mid-2000s, but there is more to the writer-actress-comedian than her trademark black-rimmed specs. In 1999 she broke into the boys' club by becoming the first female head writer on the long-running television comedy Saturday Night Live (SNL). In 2000 she proved she could deliver lines with the same dry wit after she stepped in front of the cameras to coanchor the popular SNL segment "Weekend Update." In 2004 Fey combined both talents when she wrote the screenplay and costarred in the teen comedy Mean Girls. Along the way, Fey also showed the world that smart is sexy: she was named one of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People of 2003.

A happy-go-lucky nerd

Tina Fey came from a family that appreciated humor. Born on May 18, 1970, in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, she admitted to Associated Press writer Douglas Rowe that her ultra dry wit comes from her mother, Jeanne. Fey also gives credit to her father, Don, and big brother, Peter, for introducing her to classic comedy. Some of her early memories are of watching comedies on television with her family, especially episodes of the British series, Monty Python's Flying Circus. Peter, who is eight years older, also gave Fey her first glimpse into the world of Saturday Night Live. SNL aired at 11:30 at night, and since Fey was too young to stay up and watch it, Peter would act out the skits for her the next day.

By the eighth grade, Fey was writing reports on comedy. She also carved out a role for herself as the class comedian. As Fey told Donna Freydkin of USA Today, she started to crack jokes in middle school, and when people laughed, she decided then and there, "this is going to be my thing. I'm going to try to be that person at the party." However, there was also a quiet side to the budding comedian. At Upper Darby High School, Fey was a serious student; she was very studious, and was involved in such activities as tennis, newspaper, choir, and drama. She was not particularly popular. In Fey's own words to Rowe, she was a "happy-go-lucky nerd who operated in my own little social situations outside of the cool people."

"Women tend toward more character-based, subtle observations. Men are more amused by fighting bears, sharks, and robots."

After high school Fey enrolled at the University of Virginia, intending to study English. She soon switched her major to drama, and when she graduated, Fey and a college friend took off to study acting in Chicago. Chicago was Fey's destination because it was the home of Second City, a famous training center for actors and comedians. The star-struck girl from Pennsylvania had grown up idolizing those actors on Saturday Night Live who had gotten their start at Second Cityactors such as Gilda Radner (19461989), John Belushi (19491982), and Dan Aykroyd (1952).

Moves to Saturday Night

By day Fey worked the front desk at the local YMCA; at night she took classes at Second City, where as she told William Booth of the Washington Post, she became "completely addicted" to improv. Improv, short for improvisation, is a type of comedy in which actors perform together without a script. They spontaneously make up (or improvise) material as they go along, usually focusing on a particular theme or subject. According to Fey, improv made her a far better actor than her classical training in college, and everything clicked into place. As she explained to Booth, improv "tapped into the writer part of my brain and the actor part all at the same time."

Queen Bees and Wannabees

Rosalind Wiseman's book Queen Bees and Wannabees: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence has become a best seller and is being recommended as an important book that gives parents a very realistic look at the world of teenage girls. As Wiseman tells parents, the social cliques of high school have become more complicated, and teenagers are so influenced by these groups that it can lead to extremely harmful behavior. Bullying can lead to violence; peer pressure can push kids into taking drugs or becoming sexually active.

Wiseman creates a navigation guide for parents, explaining the various kinds of social roles young girls take on. For example, there is the Queen Bee (the leader), the Sidekick, the Banker (a girl who uses secrets to move up in the group), and of course, the Target (the person who is singled out for harassment). She also outlines parenting techniques, offering advice on how to talk to teens and always suggesting that parents remember what it was like to be young and facing so many pressures. Taking the lid off "girl world" is often not pretty (the girls are, as the movie title says, mean), but Wiseman does try to inject some humor into her survival manual.

By the time she wrote the book, Wiseman was an expert on teens. She had spent more than a decade talking to thousands of young girls about cliques, problems with boys, issues with school, and, in general, how they felt about themselves. In 1992 she founded a nonprofit organization, called The Empower Program, to teach girls self-defense as a way of protecting themselves against violence. Since then the program has grown, and the organization offers strategies for use in schools that will help both girls and boys understand how to be more compassionate and how to become empowered enough to take a stand and stop violence.

After two years at Second City, Fey was asked to join the company's touring group, and in 1994 she was promoted to the Second City main stage in Chicago. The dedicated comedian appeared in eight shows a week for over two years. Although it was an exhausting period in Fey's life, it was also productive, and she managed to hone her skills as a writer, as well as a performer. In 1997 she took a chance and sent a few of her scripts to a Second City colleague who had gotten a job at Saturday Night Live. The producers liked what they read, and offered Fey a position on the writing staff. Fey jumped at the offer and moved to New York. Within a few weeks, her first sketch aired. Just two years later, in 1999, Fey was promoted to head writerthe first woman to hold the position in the twenty-seven-year history of SNL.

Saturday Night Live premiered on NBC on October 11, 1975, as an experiment. The concept was to showcase up-and-coming young comedians who might be too outrageous or too sophisticated for regular prime-time television. Hence, the cast became known as the Not Ready for Prime-Time Players. The ninety-minute live show aired at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday night and quickly developed a dedicated audience. In the 1970s millions of people stopped everything on Saturday night and gathered around the TV to watch their favorite skits and performers. In addition, the show gained such an important reputation, that to appear on SNL was an honor. The coolest music groups, the hottest stars, and the hippest comedians vied to take the SNL stage.

Injects some girl power

Over the years, however, SNL suffered from ups and downs as producers and writers changed, and cast members left to pursue Hollywood careers. By the time Fey took over the head writer's chair, the show was, as Booth put it, "faintly mildewy." From 1999 until the mid-2000s, SNL's ratings began to steadily rise, and in 2002 the writing staff took home an Emmy (the highest award given for excellence in television) for the first time in several years. Many people, including critics and fellow cast members, chalked up the show's comeback to Fey. As comedian Janeane Garofalo (1964) explained to People magazine, "SNL has risen from the ashes again to be a very good showin no small part thanks to Tina Fey."

Fey was also credited with bringing some major girl power back to the show. When she joined SNL, she was one of only three women on the twenty-two-member writing staff. As a result, one of the complaints was that female SNL players were not featured as regularly as the male performers. Fey changed all that. She created sketches that featured women and made it a point to showcase some of her old friends from Second City who had joined the cast, including Rachel Dratch and Amy Poehler.

In 2000 Fey became a featured player herself when she paired with fellow SNL-cast mate Jimmy Fallon (1974) to cohost "Weekend Update," the one segment of the show that remained constant since the show's early days. Although the anchors changed from season to season, the point of the segment remained the sameto take current news and add a special bite of SNL commentary. Fey, the first woman to host the segment since 1982, added her own brand of wit and soon became known for her scathing observations, her low-key delivery, and of course, her trademark blue jacket and black glasses. She was a darling of the critics, and gained even more power on the show.

The Queen Bee of Mean Girls

By 2002, just five years after joining the show, Fey was helping Saturday Night Live's longtime producer Lorne Michaels (1944) decide which sketches to put on the air and what players to feature. When Fey approached Michaels with an idea that could expand into a screenplay, he was all ears. While flipping through the New York Times Magazine, Fey was intrigued by a review of a book by Rosalind Wiseman, called Queen Bees and Wannabees: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence (2002). The book was a guide to help parents understand the potentially difficult world that teen girls find themselves coping with on a daily basis.

Fey believed that the book, although a work of nonfiction, had real movie potential. "What struck me the most," Fey said on the Mean Girls Web site, "were the anecdotes of the girls that were interviewed for the book. Rosalind, rightfully, takes them very seriously, but in my opinion, they're also very funny. I mean the way girls mess with each other is very clever and intricate." When she got the green light from Michaels, Fey started her research. The thirty-two-year-old pored through teen magazines and Web sites, and watched one teen movie after another. Of course, she also worked with Wiseman, promising her that she would not, as Fey told Booth, "turn it into a ... stupid, cheesy teen comedy." Fey worked on the script for almost two years, sandwiching it in during her breaks from SNL. The result was the 2004 comedy Mean Girls.

Mean Girls focuses on seventeen-year-old Cady Heron, who grew up in the wilds of Africa and was homeschooled by her research scientist parents. When the family moves back to the United States, Cady finds out that life is harder in the high school jungle, where kids run in packs, and every day is a struggle to survive. She is caught between such cliques as the social outcast Mathletes and the ultra-popular, but ultra-malicious and much-feared leaders of North Shore High School, the Plastics. When Cady falls for hunky jock Aaron Samuels, who just happens to be the ex-boyfriend of the school's Queen Bee, Regina George, the Plastics go after the new girl with a vengeance. To retaliate, Cady, along with "art freaks" Janis and Damian, do some plotting of their own.

Fey handled every rewrite of the script, which is unusual for a first-time screenwriter. She was also given a lot of control over the movie by director Mark Waters, who immediately signed on to the project after reading Fey's screenplay. As he explained on the Mean Girls Web site, "It was witty and funny and full of humor yet still had a kind of humanity to it that you could connect to." Moviegoers of all ages flocked to the May 2004 premiere, and it was numberone at the box office after its opening weekend. Critics praised Fey's "wickedly funny" writing and her ability to create characters and dialogue that rang true to life. As Cady might put it, Fey really tapped into "girl world."

A look behind the glasses

So, just how much of Tina Fey is in Mean Girls ? According to the screenwriter, there is a little bit of her in several of the characters. She was boy-crazy like Cady, and although Fey told Freydkin, "Regina is an amalgam of girls I was intimidated by in high school," there is also a smidge of Fey in Regina as well. As she admitted to Booth, "I was a really snarky girl." Fey also appeared in the movie. She plays math teacher Mrs. Norbury, who at the movie's end, lectures the school's female student population that "Calling somebody else fat will not make you any thinner. Calling somebody stupid will not make you any smarter."

At home, the comedian is much more of an introvert and not at all like the characters she plays each week on Saturday Night Live. As her husband, Jeff Richmond, told Freydkin, "Her persona is so caustic, but she's very shy and she doesn't like confrontation in real life." Richmond is the musical director of SNL, and on Sunday, the couple's one day off from work, they enjoy lounging at home and baking desserts. The rest of the time, Fey is busy. She told Entertainment Weekly that she plans to stay with SNL "as long as they will have me," but she is also at work developing a sitcom for NBC. Will she star in it? Maybe. As Fey explained to Freydkin, "I like being a writer who performs."

For More Information

Books

Wiseman, Rosalind. Queen Bees and Wannabees: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence. New York: Crown, 2002.

Periodicals

Booth, William. "Tina Fey, Specs Symbol." Washington Post (April 25, 2004): p. N01.

"Girls' Night? With Tina Fey at SNL's Helm, a Former Player Sees Improvement." People Weekly (December 10, 2001): p. 19.

Meadows, Susannah. "Ladies of the Night." Newsweek (April 8, 2002): p. 54.

Schwartz, Missy. "The Smartest Girl in the Class." Entertainment Weekly (May 7, 2004): p. 32.

Schwarzbaum, Lisa. "Clique Magnet: Lindsay Lohan Is the Prey in the High School Jungle of Tina Fey's Sharp, Sassy Mean Girls. " Entertainment Weekly (May 7, 2004): p. 57.

Smith, Kyle, and Brenda Rodriguez. "Leap of Fey: Saturday Night Live's Tina Fey Brings Her Specs Appeal to the Big Screen in Mean Girls. " People Weekly (May 3, 2004): p. 75.

Web Sites

The Empower Program Web site. http://www.empowered.org (accessed on June 27, 2004).

Freydkin, Donna. "Fey Gets Her Skewers Out." USA Today (April 22, 2004) http://www.usatoday.com/life/movies/news/2004-04-22-fey-main_x.htm (accessed on June 27, 2004).

Mean Girls Web site. http://www.meangirlsmovie.com/indexflash.html (accessed on June 27, 2004).

Rowe, Douglas J. "SNL's Tina Fey Makes Screenwriting Debut." FoxNews. com: Foxlife (April 29, 2004) http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,118710,00.html (accessed on June 27, 2004).

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Fey, Tina 1970–

FEY, Tina 1970–

(Tina Faye, Elizabeth Fey)

PERSONAL

Full name, Elizabeth Tina Fey; born May 18, 1970, in Upper Darby, PA; daughter of Donald (a university grant writer) and Jeanne (a brokerage employee) Fey; sister of Peter Fey (a writer); married Jeff Richmond (a director and composer), June 3, 2001. Education: University of Virginia, graduated, 1992; attended DePaul University; trained at Second City, Chicago, IL.

Addresses:

Agent—Endeavor, 9601 Wilshire Blvd., Third Floor, Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Manager—David Miner, 3 Arts Entertainment, 9460 Wilshire Blvd., Seventh Floor, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.

Career:

Writer, actress, comedian, and producer. Second City, Chicago, IL, performer and writer for several years; teacher of improvisation workshops. Worked as a desk clerk. Also known as Elizabeth Fey.

Awards, Honors:

Writers Guild of America Award (with others), outstanding comedy, variety, or music special, award show, or tribute, 2001, for Saturday Night Live: 25th Anniversary Primetime Special; named one of the top entertainers of the year, Entertainment Weekly, 2001; Writers Guild of America Award nominations (with others), outstanding comedy or variety series, 2001, 2002, and 2003, Emmy Award nominations (with others), 2001 and 2003, and Emmy Award (with others), 2002, all outstanding writing for a variety, music, or comedy program, all for Saturday Night Live; Writers Guild of America Award nomination (with others), outstanding comedy, variety, or music special, award show, or tribute, 2003, for NBC 75th Anniversary Special; Teen Choice Award nomination, choice comedian, 2004.

CREDITS

Television Appearances; Series:

(Uncredited) Audience member, Saturday Night Live (also known as NBC's Saturday Night, Saturday Night Live '80, SNL, and SNL 25), NBC, multiple appearances, 1998, 1999.

Member of ensemble and host of Weekend Update segment, Saturday Night Live (also known as NBC's Saturday Night, Saturday Night Live '80, SNL, and SNL 25), NBC, 2000—.

Television Appearances; Specials:

Bjork, VH1 Divas Live: The One and Only Aretha Franklin, VH1, 2001.

Multiple characters, Saturday Night Live: Mother's Day Special, NBC, 2001.

Herself, Second to None, PBS, 2001.

Saturday Night Live Primetime Extra, NBC, 2001.

Host, Saturday Night Live Christmas Special, NBC, 2002.

Host, SNL Remembers John Belushi, NBC, 2002.

The 54th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, NBC, 2002.

NBC 75th Anniversary Special (also known as NBC 75th Anniversary Celebration), NBC, 2002.

(In archive footage) Saturday Night Live: The Best of Will Ferrell, NBC, 2002.

Herself, Night of Too Many Stars, NBC, 2003.

(In archive footage) Herself, 101 Most Unforgettable SNL Moments, E! Entertainment Television, 2004.

(In archive footage) Mouthing Off: 51 Greatest Smart-asses, Comedy Central, 2004.

(In archive footage) Saturday Night Live: The Best of Tom Hanks, NBC, 2004.

Television Appearances; Episodic:

(Uncredited) Kathleen Willey, Saturday Night Live (also known as NBC's Saturday Night, Saturday Night Live '80, SNL, and SNL 25), NBC, 1998.

Kerri Downey, "Mogomra vs. the Fart Monster," Upright Citizens Brigade, Comedy Central, 1999.

Herself, The Real World/Road Rules Extreme Challenge, MTV, 2001.

Guest, The Late Show with David Letterman, CBS, 2001, 2003, 2004.

Guest, "Women Who Want It All" (also known as "Can Women Have It All?"), Dennis Miller Live, HBO, 2002.

"Saturday Night Live," TV Tales, E! Entertainment Television, 2002.

Guest, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, NBC, 2002, 2004.

Guest, Film '04, BBC, 2004.

Guest, Last Call with Carson Daly, NBC, 2004.

Guest, On–Air with Ryan Seacrest, syndicated, 2004.

Guest, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, NBC, 2004.

Guest, The View, ABC, 2004.

Herself, 60 Minutes, CBS, 2004.

Television Work; Series:

Creator, The Colin Quinn Show, NBC, 2002.

Film Appearances:

Southern lady, Martin & Orloff, Spit & Glue Distribution/Harlem Films, 2002.

Sharon Norbury, Mean Girls, Paramount, 2004.

Curly Oxide and Vic Thrill, Paramount, 2005.

Film Work:

Producer, Mean Girls, Paramount, 2004.

Stage Appearances:

Dratch & Fey (two–woman show with Rachel Dratch), Second City, Chicago, IL, 1999, then Upright Citizen's Brigade Theatre, New York City, beginning 2000 also produced at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, Aspen, CO, 2001.

RECORDINGS

Videos:

"Mean Girls" : Only the Strong Survive, Paramount Home Video, 2004.

Video Games:

(As Tina Faye) Additional voices, Deer Avenger 2: Deer in the City, Simon & Schuster Interactive, 1999.

WRITINGS

Teleplays; Series:

Writer, Saturday Night Live (also known as NBC's Saturday Night, Saturday Night Live '80, SNL, and SNL 25), NBC, 1997–99.

Head writer, Saturday Night Live (also known as NBC's Saturday Night, Saturday Night Live '80, SNL, and SNL 25), NBC, 1999—.

(With others) The Colin Quinn Show, NBC, 2002.

Teleplays; Specials:

Head writer, Saturday Night Live: 25th Anniversary Primetime Special, NBC, 1999.

Head writer, Saturday Night Live Primetime Extra II, NBC, 2001.

NBC 75th Anniversary Special (also known as NBC 75th Anniversary Celebration), NBC, 2002.

Screenplays:

(And song "The Mathlete Rap") Mean Girls (based on Queen Bees and Wannabees: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence, by Rosalind Wiseman), Paramount, 2004.

Curly Oxide and Vic Thrill, Paramount, 2005.

Nonfiction:

Contributor, The Second City Almanac of Improvisation, edited by Anne Libera, Northwestern University Press, 2004.

OTHER SOURCES

Periodicals:

Entertainment Weekly, December 21, 2001; May 7, 2004, p. 32.

Interview, April, 2004, pp. 166–69.

New Yorker, November 3, 2003.

New York Times Upfront, January 21, 2002, p. 23.

People Weekly, May 3, 2004.

Time Out New York, 4, 2001.

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Fey, Tina

Tina Fey

Writer, comedian, and actress

Born May 18, 1970, in Pennsylvania; daughter of Donald (a grant writer) and Jeanne (a brokerage firm worker) Fey; married Jeff Richmond (a director), June, 2001. Education: University of Virginia, B.A. (drama), 1992; studied at Second City Training Center, Chicago, IL, and ImprovOlympics, Chicago, IL.

Addresses: Office—c/o NBC, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112.

Career

Performer, ImprovOlympics; performer and writer, Second City, Chicago, IL, 1994-97; member of company, Inside Vladimir, c. 1990s; childcare registrator at a Chicago-area Y.M.C.A.; Saturday Night Live, writer, 1997-99, then head writer, 1999—; wrote and performed show (with Rachel Dratch), Dratch & Fey, 1999; "Weekend Update" segment anchor, Saturday Night Live, 2000—; screenwriter and actress, Mean Girls, 2004.

Awards: Writers Guild of America Award (with others), comedy/variety—music, awards, tribute—special any length, for Saturday Night Live: The 25th Anniversary Special, 2001; Emmy Award (with others), outstanding writing for a variety, music or comedy program, for Saturday Night Live, 2002.

Sidelights

ASecond City alum, Tina Fey became the first female head writer in the history of the longtime sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live. After writing with the show for several years, Fey also became a performer on Saturday Night Live. She primarily appeared on the show's "Weekend Update" segment as a news anchor, but also appeared occasionally in sketches. In 2004, Fey moved to a new medium, film, when she wrote and had a small part in the hit teen comedy, Mean Girls.

Fey was born on May 18, 1970, in Pennsylvania, the daughter of Donald and Jeanne Fey. Her father worked as a grant writer at the University of Pennsylvania, and was also employed as a mystery novelist and paramedic. Her mother was of Greek descent and worked at a brokerage firm. Fey and her older brother, Peter, were raised in Pennsylvania. (He also had a career as a writer, working primarily for QVC's website.) As a child, Fey and her brother did comedy routines together. However, she was primarily a shy child, who was very smart and involved in a number of school activities. Fey participated in choir and earned straight A's. By the time she was in middle school, she decided that she wanted to be a comedic performer of some kind.

By the time Fey was in high school at Upper Darby High School, in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, the honor student was participating in school plays and singing. She also wrote for both the yearbook and the school paper, the Acorn, and had a column for the latter. While in high school, Fey was also involved in the local dramatic community by doing publicity and box office work for the Summer Stage in Upper Darby. She graduated from Upper Darby High School in 1988.

After high school, Fey entered the University of Virginia, where she intended to study English. Because she did not like the people in the department, she transferred to the drama department. While a college student, Fey returned to Upper Darby to direct productions at Summer Stage. She also appeared in college stage productions. In 1992, she played Sally Bowles in Cabaret. Fey graduated with her degree in drama in 1992.

By the time Fey graduated, she was certain she wanted to be a performer. After graduation, she moved to Chicago, Illinois. Fey intended to do graduate work in drama at De Paul University, but never entered the school. Instead, she trained in comedy at the Second City Training Center and at Chicago's ImprovOlympics. In the early 1990s, she also performed as part of an improvisational group called Inside Vladimir. Fey supported herself by working at a local Y.M.C.A., registering child care customers.

Fey grew to enjoy the improv method she learned at Second City and ImprovOlympics. She told William Booth of the Washington Post, "[Improv] tapped into the writer part of my brain and the actor part all at the same time. For me, studying improv was the greatest thing that ever happened to me, and the people I studied with all felt the same way.... It really changed my life."

In 1994, Fey joined Chicago's Second City comedy troupe as both a writer and performer. She wrote and performed in many types of sketches, including one-act works, monologues, and sketches. As a performer, Fey was well-respected for her wide range, but she particularly excelled in satire. While a member of Second City, she worked with Rachel Dratch, a performer who also worked for Saturday Night Live (SNL).

At the suggestion of a former Second City writer, Adam McKay, who was working at SNL in 1997, Fey sent in some sketches to the television show.

This led to a meeting with others at SNL, including producer Lorne Michaels, and a job offer. Fey was initially hesitant to take the job because she had achieved a goal by performing and writing with Second City, but soon decided to take the position.

In 1997, Fey joined SNL as a writer, but not a regular performer. The move took some adjustment as turnaround was much faster on the television show and sketches were performed differently for television. Among her recurring sketches for SNL were a parody of the ABC daytime talk show The View and the sketches featuring Boston teens Sully and Denise. The latter started out quite differently than what eventually aired. Fey's original concept was a mother and daughter at dinner, but it became a boyfriend and girlfriend with a mutual friend videotaping them so they could talk to the camera.

After two years on the writing staff, Fey was promoted to head writer. This marked the first time a woman had that role; Saturday Night Live had a reputation of being a boy's club. Fey told Ellen Grey in the San Diego Union-Tribune, "I think I've been very lucky to get a lot of places at the right time. I don't deny that it probably was harder here at one time. When I got to Second City, everyone said 'Oh, it's a terrible boys' club. It's horrible.' But my experience there was very good ... and when I got here, people were saying, 'Oh, it's really hard there for women.' I think I had pretty lucky timing."

As head writer, Fey continued to write sketches, but also oversaw the other writers and their sketches. Throughout the week before the live show aired, Fey also worked with the show's director to make sure the sketches worked and were funny enough. Discussing the process, Virginia Heffernan of the New Yorker wrote, "Fey herself tinkers with a line's inflections and implications in a way that befits a Second City alumna. The details of human behavior—minor notes of pomposity, say, in apparently self-effacing speech—make her laugh, and she knows how to introduce those notes into sketches."

While working as a writer on Saturday Night Live, Fey also wrote and performed other comedic works. With Dratch, she wrote and performed a show for Second City called Dratch & Fey in 1999. It was later performed at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theater in New York City. This production led to Fey finally performing on SNL, beginning in 2000.

Though Fey had been an extra on occasion, as all writers were, she lost 30 pounds by following the Weight Watchers diet system and was soon given a regular on-camera role on the show. She took over as co-anchor of "Weekend Update" in 2000, replacing Colin Quinn. Fey's first co-anchor was Jimmy Fallon. The pair sat on a set not unlike a network news desk, and commented on news and contemporary events. Many of her pithy one-liners were directed at Hollywood types. For the segment, Fey wore a blue suit and glasses, and allowed her personality to come through. Because she rarely wore glasses off-camera, she often went unrecognized outside the studio. Fey's personal life also changed. She married Jeff Richmond in June of 2001, whom she met while part of Second City's touring company. He later became the music director of SNL.

With Fey at the helm, SNL's ratings began to rise beginning in 1999. In 2000, Fey and her writing staff were nominated for an Emmy Award. Proving that SNL was no longer a "boy's club," five of the show's 18 writers were women. In 2001, three years into her tenure, Fey was still not a demanding person off camera though she had to deal with writing jokes in a more sensitive environment in the post-9-11 landscape. Alex Witchel wrote in the New York Times in November of that year, "Comediennes have traditionally been a noisy bunch . But Ms. Fey, 31, off camera at least, has an unexpected lack of bravado. She is shy, skinny, and seemingly unsure of herself. Maybe it's just her personality and maybe it's the times we're living in, but reconciling life with comedy has been one tough assignment since Sept. 11."

In 2001, Fey was given a co-head writer, Dennis McNicholas, to help with her duties. The following year, SNL's writing staff won an Emmy, the show's first since 1989. NBC and SNL wanted to keep Fey under contract. In May of 2003, she signed a deal with the network to ensure that she would continue working on the show. It was a two-year deal for her work on SNL, a developmental deal with NBC to develop prime-time programming, and an agreement to option the book that would be her first feature film. The deal was worth about $4 million.

By 2003, Fey was writing an average of two sketches per week for SNL. She also ran one of the re-write tables in which everyone's sketches were re-worked. This table helped decide which sketches would air. Fey also had a hand in deciding who would be joining SNL's writing staff. Fey continued to break ground on the show after Fallon left at the end of the 2003-04 season. He was replaced on "Weekend Update" by cast member Amy Poehler. This marked the first time two women served as anchors of the sketch.

Fey moved into a whole new creative venture in 2004 when her first film was released. Called Mean Girls, the script Fey wrote was based on a nonfiction book by Rosalind Wiseman called Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends & Other Realities of Adolescents. Fey also based it on her own experiences in high school. She claimed she had been mean in high school.

Starring popular teen actress Lindsay Lohan as Cady, Mean Girls explored the cliques girls form in high school. Cady had been home schooled in Africa where her parents had been working as zoologists. When her family returns to the United States so Cady can attend high school, she learns how mean high school girls can be toward each other and their parents. In addition to writing the screenplay, Fey also had a small role in the film. She played a math teacher with her own problems, including an ongoing divorce. Mean Girls received much critical praise. Released in April of 2004, it was the number-one box office draw its first weekend of release. The film proved to be a financial success.

Though Fey acted in Mean Girls and on SNL, she had no long term plans to work as a performer. However, she did plan to write for SNL for some time and work on situation comedy ideas. Of her stamp on SNL, Michaels, the show's producer, told Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Sun-Times, "She has a first-rate mind, radiant beauty, and she's very tough-minded, but she's also a worker. She puts in an enormous amount of hours and focus and is uncompromising in her standard, both in what she's writing and what she's supervising or rewriting. That doesn't mean everything she writes gets on the show, but she's always in there."

Sources

Books

Celebrity Biographies, Baseline II, 2005.

Periodicals

Chicago Sun-Times, December 14, 2001, p. 56; May 7, 2003, p. 69; April 29, 2004, p. 49.

Entertainment Weekly, May 7, 2004, pp. 32-34.

Houston Chronicle, May 2, 2004, p. 10.

Newsweek, April 8, 2002, p. 54.

New Yorker, November 3, 2003, p. 42.

New York Times, November 25, 2001, sec. 9, p. 1; April 30, 2004, p. E13; October 12, 2004, p. E1.

People, May 12, 2003, p. 156; May 3, 2004, pp. 75-76.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 3, 2004, p. D5.

San Diego Union-Tribune, December 31, 2000, p. F2; August 25, 2002, p. TV6; April 25, 2004, p. F1.

Time, April 26, 2004, p. 139.

Toronto Sun, April 25, 2004, p. S10.

USA Today, April 23, 2004, p. 1E.

Washington Post, April 25, 2004, p. N1.

—A. Petruso

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