Women on Film: Tina Fey Makes the Screams Go Away

An ode to Tina Fey, the funniest among women.

There is a goddess amongst female comedy writers, and her name is Tina. I speak with some authority on the matter, as I have worked in comedy as a writer who carries estrogen as a predominant hormone. Being a female comedy writer can mean that you find yourself in interesting scenarios – scenarios in which you are completely, unwittingly leading with your breasts, which you thought were stashed safely under poncho.

This could mean that you are on what you think is a professional pitch meeting with an executive famed for his children’s programming, only to be invited to continue the discussion at the Playboy mansion over drinks.

Or it might mean that your agent will be told that the reason you didn’t get a job was because “you’re too pretty for the room” and would be a distraction to the “process.”

It definitely might mean that you’re typing away at the darkest hours of night, determined to “make it in this town if it kills you,” which it might, considering the two-buck Chuck your body can now process as handily as plasma.

But there is a beacon of hope on the horizon of hilarity. The 2000s saw the rise of a Greek goddess among men, a funny woman stashing Emmys under her cardigan as a recycler might pluck soda cans from the street. Tina Fey is a comedy master, advancing the art of feminine self-deprecation further than any uterus-carrying comedian before her. Here we see her as her alter-ego, Liz Lemon, on NBC’s 30 Rock.

Fey has been a game-changer for woman comedy writers. Sure, there’s always been the wit of Dorothy Parker, the perkiness of Mary Tyler Moore, the pratfalls of Carol Burnett, all worthy foremothers of comedy.

But Fey has realized the dream of many an awkward teen who had to grow into her mouth. She’s taken her sense of humor and parlayed it into a celebrated career spanning the earliest Baby Boomer to the fledgling Millennial. With her great success as the creator of 30 Rock to her best-selling memoir, Bossypants, she reminds us all that it’s okay to be funny based on a shared love of twee-desserts. Or a painful childhood spent sobbing in an appropriately-sized colonial lady outfit.

But what does Fey think about a world in comedy where invitations to soft-porn mansions are peddled about as easily as studio drive-ons? She has made an art of not leading with her looks, but is quick to avoid criticism of women who are perceived to do such that.

As she told NPR, “It’s just such a tangled-up issue, the way women present themselves – whether or not they choose to put their thumbs in their panties on the cover of Maxim and judge each other back and forth on it. It’s a complicated issue, and we didn’t go much further on saying anything other than to say, ‘Yeah, it’s a complicated issue and we’re all kind of figuring it out as we go.’”

She went on to speak about Olivia Munn, actress and “Daily Show” correspondent, who is criticized for exactly being “too pretty for the room.” As Fey spoke of Munn, “because she’s very beautiful, people are like, ‘You’re using that.’ It’s a mess. We can’t figure it out.’”

While Fey professes to lack any real answers to solve the comedy conundrum for female writers, she still leads by example. By making herself the butt of the joke, unafraid of being perceived as ugly, fat, or anything-but-comfortable in a food-stained cardigan, she’s taking comedy beyond the beauty borders for women. She’s brought first-world female foibles into the spotlight and reminded us that it’s okay to laugh at ourselves.

Katherine Butler

Katherine Butler is the Beauty Editor of EcoSalon and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.