Saturday Night's Children: Tina Fey (2000-2006)

tina_fey_2After three and a half years and over 120 SNL cast member profiles, it’s time to end this column the way it began—by highlighting one of my favorite women to ever call SNL home. She’s best known for her time on SNL and 30 Rock, but for America’s many young women who consider themselves awkward, frumpy comedy nerds, Tina Fey’s impact and inspiration as a trailblazing creator extends far beyond her TV and movie credits.

Born in 1970, Elizabeth Stamatina Fey grew up in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania just outside of Philadelphia. She developed an early interest in comedy staying up late on Saturdays to watch episodes of SNL and SCTV, and during her middle and high school years, Fey—an honor student and self-described “supernerd”—was in the drama club, tennis team, singing groups, and the school newspaper, where she served as a co-editor and anonymously wrote a recurring satirical column. Speaking in an interview with The Believer, Fey explained her high school yearbook prediction that she’d be “very, very fat” in ten years: “I was just trying to cover my bases. If I did turn out to be a pudgy loser, I’d be able to say, ‘See, I told you.'”

With a comedy career in mind, Fey graduated from the University of Virginia in 1992 with a degree in drama and moved to Chicago, where she worked a day job at the Evanston YMCA while taking improv classes at night at The Second City under legendary teacher Del Close. Through the esteemed Chicago theatre she also first met talents like Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, Adam McKay, and Scott Adsit, and she eventually earned a spot on the SC touring company. Fey’s quick wit and improv skills soon caught the attention of SNL’s Lorne Michaels, and Fey was officially hired as a writer in 1997. While SC alum Adam McKay was co-head writer at the time (alongside Tim Herlihy), Fey would take over the job herself just two years later for SNL’s landmark 25th season, making her the first female head writer in the show’s history.

“The trouble with being a window washer is that the better you do your job, the less you have to show for it: It’s painful to do a job where only your mistakes are visible.”#

A Poem by Jerome Murphy

Code Red



I did not shoot a boy for his flaming red hair.
Not a witness was there who would tell you I did.

The agitators are ready to amplify everything
except for the fear I had for my life,


how in one second when his hands
blurred before me, a bright scarlet sear

leapt 

from his scalp and nearly caught on my own.
How in that moment, I was all dry leaf.


How my eye sockets singed when the spark got near.
I am a man who has always been fair.

Looking Back At The Screen: The First Annual Appalachian Queer Film Festival

unnamedThe way the Appalachian region sits in the popular imagination, it’s the last place anyone would expect to find a film festival celebrating queer identity. But in the same month that West Virginia—the only entirely Appalachian state—legalized same-sex marriage, it also welcomed the first annual Appalachian Queer Film Festival, boasting a diverse lineup of features and documentaries. It included mainstream films like Skeleton Twins, starring Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader and To Be Takei, the Sundance documentary about actor George Takei. The festival featured lesser-known films such as Kumu Hina, a documentary about a transgender woman who teaches and preserves Hawai’i’s indigenous culture, and Goodbye Gauley Mountain, a protest against the ravaging practice of mountain top removal by filmmaker Beth Stephens and performance artist Annie Sprinkle.

I spoke with festival founders Tim Ward and Jon Matthews on the eve of their opening night. Over the telephone, we talked about growing up queer in Appalachia, bringing independent film to West Virginia, and showcasing the contemporary Mountain State.

Young Ejecta, "Your Planet"

A spaced-out production in reverse: denouement, climax, rise, introduction.

New York City, November 24, 2014

weather review sky 112414★★★★ Sometime in the night, the rush of tires on the wet avenue began to penetrate the windows and the deafness of sleep. Rain spotted the panes as the deep blue of dawn brightened to gray. There was just enough variation in the cloud cover to show that it was moving fast. The downpour ended, leaving air too humid and warm for a jacket. The subway turnstiles and platform were wetter and drippier than aboveground had been. The clouds weakened and left, and the sky attained a piercing blue, the autumnal blue so rare this season. Only a wisp of cloud moved through it, here and there. After dark there was a warm lively breeze, a breath from another time and place, springtime in Boston long ago with the magnolias out. Late at night, through the still-open window, there came the grim throbbing of a helicopter.

Lies Told to Me About Thanksgiving by the New York Times

pieAccording to Google and the New York Times, the most “distinct” Thanksgiving recipe in Georgia, my home state, a place known for fine delicacies like peanuts, peaches, pecans, Vidalia onions, Moon Pies, Coca-Cola, and RC Cola, is key lime cake, which the Times cheerfully describes as taking key lime pie “to the next level.” Leaving aside the fact that I have never heard of anyone in the state of Georgia producing a key lime cake for any occasion, much less Thanksgiving, this dish is, on its face, a farce.

How 'The Bernie Mac Show' Changed the Future of the Sitcom

bernie-mac-show“You know I ain’t lyin!”
“America, I tell the truth you can’t say!”
“Bust his head til the white meat shows!”

Bernie Mac was already an up-and-coming comedian when he starred in Spike Lee’s Original Kings of Comedy in 2000. Having risen through the ranks by way of Chicago, Mac made a name for himself during the Def Jam comedy years, as one of the funniest and most unflappable comedians on the tour. So by the time he was introduced in Spike Lee’s film, his confidence and persona was on full display.

From word one, he owns the crowd, making light of everything from his sex drive to the disappearance of grandmother figures to why he has no problem telling the truth about children. It’s in this last bit that a new avenue really opened up. Mac talks of how his sister has recently been arrested and imprisoned for drug use and how he has become the legal guardian of her three children. He then begins to go down a path which in today’s culture might be deemed offensive but in his hands is mined for humor: Children are evil and in need of a heavy hand with discipline, heavy enough to show the white meat. Within this routine, the seeds were planted for The Bernie Mac Show.

As told to The Champs podcast, series creator Larry Wilmore, himself a TV veteran, had the idea for the show from watching the movie and thought Mac’s story on raising his sister’s children was fascinating. At the same time, he had been mulling the idea of spoofing the still young but soon to be omnipresent reality-TV craze. By marrying the two ideas together, the general framework for The Bernie Mac Show was born. Mac would star and it would depict him struggling to raise children while at various times breaking the fourth wall and directly addressing the camera in a sort of tell-all confessional. This framework in part laid the groundwork for what would eventually become an en vogue comedy style: the TV mockumentary.

The show, which debuted in 2001, came during a dry period for the single camera style in comedy. The top comedies of that time were all multi-cams, Friends, Frasier, Everybody Loves Raymond, Will and Grace. All extremely well done, funny shows but all still playing more or less within the common framework of the multi-camera setup. The lone exceptions were Fox’s Malcolm In The Middle, itself breaking new ground with it’s own 4th wall breaking and shows from other countries, chiefly, the UK’s The Office which would rapidly become the template for future shows.

Lizards Rude

Finally, the Jurassic Park franchise gets its very own Jaws 3-D. Which, in a surprising but apt twist, means Chris Pratt is our era’s Dennis Quaid.

Sorry About Your Thanksgiving

I’m sorry about your Thanksgiving! I’m sorry you’re going to have to have tense conversations about politics and race when you see your family. I’m sorry that you need to make the choice between two paths of mild discomfort: engaging or not. I’m sorry that nobody can stop this, but I’m glad that when you tweet that you are “preparing yourself for battle” with your family, whom you love but apparently do not respect, your sentiments are quickly mirrored, and empathy seems to find you instantly. I’m sorry that your best recourse seems to you to be to ask for public approval for inaction or gratitude for action; to ask, from people who are experiencing something acutely and personally and existentially, for assurances that, despite your ambivalence about conduct and communication and conflict, your self-evident rightness remains self-evident and correct. And I’m sorry that your de facto allyship feels suddenly quite precarious, for some reason. I’m sorry that you will have to “survive” discussions with people to whom you are uniquely influential. I’m sorry about your Thanksgiving!

Photo by Andy Pixel.