What Tina Fey Learned on 'Saturday Night Live'

The NBC star takes to The New Yorker to dole out a few lessons

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If we've gleaned anything from watching Tina Fey's fictional alibi on 30 Rock, it's that she's painfully (and humorously) self-aware. So when we saw that she disclosed a few of the "nuggets" she learned as a writer during her SNL heyday in a New Yorker essay, we had to see what she shared and how she conveyed her thoughts. Suffice to say, those same trademark quirks that grace her comedy sketches also appear in "Lessons from Late Night" (subscription required). Here's what we learned about the NBC star:

  • On Her First Job Interview With Lorne Michaels (It Was Terrible) - One of the first pieces of advice given to Fey about Michaels was this: "Whatever you do, don't finish his sentences." Naturally, during her first interview with the Saturday Night Live legend for a writing position she makes this exact mistake. "I was sure I'd blown it," she writes. "I don't remember anything else that happened in the meeting, because I just kept staring at the nameplate that said 'Lorne Michaels' and thinking, This is the guy with the Beatles check! I couldn't believe I was in his office."
  • On Her Take on the Difference Between Male and Female Comedy Writers - Male comedy writers piss in cups, because they're too lazy to find the restroom. That's the main difference. According to Fey, she reckoned that four or five of the twenty men on staff practiced this ritual. She generalizes: "Pissing in cups may show that men go into comedy to break rules. Conversely, the women I know in comedy are all dutiful daughters, good citizens, mild-mannered college graduates. Maybe we women gravitate toward comedy because it is a socially acceptable way to break rules."
  • 'Producing Is About Discouraging Creativity' - Fey owns up to one of the hard facts that she's observed over the years (and, again, endlessly satirizes on 30 Rock with Lemon): "You would think that in your capacity as a producer your job would be to churn up creativity, but mostly your job is to police enthusiasm," she concedes. And most of the time it occurs when actors come to you, she notes, with things called "ideas."
  • Why It's Good to Have a Balance Between Harvard Nerds and Chicago Improv Writers on Staff - "When hiring, mix Harvard nerds with Chicago improvisers and stir," she observes. A line of thought which presumably lead to the casting of "Twofer" and Frank as regular characters on 30 Rock. "To generalize with abandon, if you had nothing but Harvard guys the show would be made up of commercial parodies about people wearing barrels after the 1929 stock market crash...If you had nothing but improvisers, the whole show would be made up of loud drag characters named Vicki and Staci screaming their catchphrase over and over: YOU KISS YOUR MUTHA WITH THAT FACE?" Fey writes.
  • Her Writing Style: It's the Same Way She Talks - At the end of many of her conversation-style paragraphs, Fey takes pains to poke fun at her own logic and acknowledges when she writes something stilted or aligning with conventional wisdom. Case in point: right after she mentions mild mannered women breaking rules in comedy, she goes right back into Liz Lemon mode. "Have you left me for the cheese tray yet?" she quips.
  • The Takeaway Quote - "The show doesn't go on because it's ready, it goes on because it's 11:30...You have to let people see what you wrote. It will never be perfect, but perfect is overrated. Perfect is boring on live television.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.