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.
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.
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."
Celebrity Biographies, Baseline II, 2005.
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.