Tina Fey (2011)
[E]ver since I became an executive producer of 30 Rock, people have asked me, “Is it hard for you, being the boss?” and “Is it uncomfortable for you to be the person in charge?” You know, in that same way they say, “Gosh, Mr. Trump, is it awkward for you to be the boss of all these people?” I can’t answer for Mr. Trump, but in my case it is not.
Contrary to what I believed as a little girl, being the boss almost never involves marching around, waving your arms, and chanting, “I am the boss! I am the boss!”
(It’s so hard to believe it’s 2011 already. I’m still writing “Tina Fey, grade 4, room 207” on all my checks!)
Then there’s another sort of person who thinks it makes them seem brave or sensitive or wonderfully direct to ask me about it right away. They ask with quiet, feigned empathy, “How did you get your scar?” The grossest move is when they say they’re only curious because “it’s so beautiful.” Ugh. Disgusting. They might as well walk up and say, “May I be amazing at you?” To these folks let me be clear. I’m not interested in acting out a TV movie with you where you befriend a girl with a scar. An Oscar-y Spielberg movie where I play a mean German with a scar? Yes. My whole life, people who ask about my scar within one week of knowing me have invariably turned out to be egomaniacs of average intelligence or less. And egomaniacs of average intelligence or less often end up in the field of TV journalism. So, you see, if I tell the whole story here, then I will be asked about it over and over by the hosts of Access Movietown and Entertainment Forever for the rest of my short-lived career.
The explanatory text was followed by a lot of drawings of the human reproductive system that my brain refused to memorize. (To this day, all I know is there are between two and four openings down there and that the setup inside looks vaguely like the Texas Longhorns logo.)
I had noticed something was weird earlier in the day, but I knew from commercials that one’s menstrual period was a blue liquid that you poured like laundry detergent onto maxi pads to test their absorbency. This wasn’t blue, so… I ignored it for a few hours.
Thankfully, blessedly, yelling “Suck my dick” is not the moment I really associate with entering womanhood. For me, it was when I bought this kickass white denim suit at the Springfield mall. I bought it with my own money under the advisement of my cool friend Sandee. I wore it to Senior Awards Night 1988, where it blew people’s minds as I accepted the Sunday School Scholarship.
Even the Yellowhairs who were once on top can now be found squatting to a Rihanna song in a class called Gary’s Glutes Camp in an attempt to reverse-engineer a butt.
Instead of trying to fit an impossible ideal, I took a personal inventory of all my healthy body parts for which I am grateful: Straight Greek eyebrows. They start at the hairline at my temple and, left unchecked, will grow straight across my face and onto yours. A heart-shaped ass. Unfortunately, it’s a right-side-up heart; the point is at the bottom. Droopy brown eyes designed to confuse predators into thinking I’m just on the verge of sleep and they should come back tomorrow to eat me.
I should have known he and I weren’t going to make it when for my seventeenth birthday he gave me a box of microwave popcorn and a used battery tester. You know, to test batteries before I put them in my Walkman. Like you give someone when you’re in love.
Karen and Sharon had been a couple at some unspecified time in the past but were now just friends with asymmetrical haircuts.
Gay people don’t actually try to convert people. That’s Jehovah’s Witnesses you’re thinking of.
I had to take eleventh-grade health in twelfth grade. I had postponed it the year before so I could take choir and Encore Singers—it was kind of a big deal to be in both, whatever. I was alto 1, but sometimes they had me sing second soprano. I had a solo in “O Holy Night” in a performance at the mall. In downtown Philadelphia. Enough! Stop asking about it!
I stayed after class to tell him that I thought he had misspoken. “I think what you meant to say was ‘child molesters,’ not ‘homosexuals.’ ” He just watched my hands move as I talked, not unlike a dog.
Your gay friend has obviously made a big decision to say the words out loud. You don’t want him to realize that everybody’s known this since he was ten and he wanted to be Bert Lahr for Halloween. Not the Cowardly Lion, but Bert Lahr.
Just then Brendan’s mom—who was totally unaware of the proceedings—started screaming and throwing everyone’s coats down the stairs, which shall henceforth be known as An Irish Goodnight.
Obviously, as an adult I realize this girl-on-girl sabotage is the third worst kind of female behavior, right behind saying “like” all the time and leaving your baby in a dumpster.
Imagine a bunch of seventeen-year-old theater boys away from home for the first time for six weeks. They were living in empty college dorms, for the love of Mike! Literally! Think of the joy and freedom they must have felt, like being on an all-gay space station.
I thought I knew everything after that first summer. “Being gay is not a choice. Gay people were made that way by God,” I’d lectured Mr. Garth proudly. But it took me another whole year to figure out the second part: “Gay people were made that way by God, but not solely for my entertainment.”
My dad looks like Clint Eastwood. His half-Scottish, half-German face in repose is handsome but terrifying. I searched the audience for him during the sixth-grade chorus concert and, seeing his stern expression, was convinced that he had seen me messing up the words to the Happy Days theme and that I was in big trouble. I spent the rest of the concert suppressing terror burps, only to be given a big hug and a kiss afterward. It took me years to realize, Oh, that’s just his face.
(In those days, international travel meant dressing up, smoking on planes, wearing Pan Am slippers, and flying into New York.)
Don Fey is a Goldwater Republican, which is his only option. If you’re Don Fey, you can’t look at Joe Biden and be like, yes, I want to be led by this gentleman with the capped teeth.
Don Fey has what I would describe as pre–Norman Lear racial attitudes. Once the Bunker family met the Jeffersons, every interaction between blacks and whites was somehow supposed to be a life-changing lesson, especially for the white people. My generation carries that with us, only to be constantly disappointed by Kanye West and Taylor Swift.
The late seventies were a dark time of “family meetings” about “tightening our belts.” The embarrassment of Watergate led right to the Iran hostage crisis. Three Mile Island was in our state. It was always “Day 27” of something in Beirut.
“Defective” was a big word in our house. Many things were labeled “defective” only to miraculously turn functional once the directions had been read more thoroughly.
He carried the defective shampooer down the back steps, the hose flopping around on purpose just to annoy him.
The Worldwide Parental Anxiety System is failing if this many of us have made sex tapes.
When I was a kid there was a TV interstitial during Saturday morning cartoons with a song that went like this: “The most important person in the whole wide world is you, and you hardly even know you. / You’re the most important person!” Is this not the absolute worst thing you could instill in a child? They’re the most important person? In the world? That’s what they already think. You need to teach them the opposite. They need to be a little afraid of what will happen if they lose the top of their Grizzly Adams thermos.
When my face was slashed, my dad held me on his lap in the car to the hospital, applying direct pressure with the swift calm of a veteran and an ex-fireman. I looked up and asked him, “Am I going to die?” “Don’t speak,” he said. So, yeah, he’s not the kind of guy who wants to watch people eat bugs on Survivor. It’s so clear to me how those two things are related.
During my First Year, I had a crush on a brainy, raven-haired boy from my dorm. This played out like the typical sexy coed letter to Penthouse. He would ask me at least once a day if I had ever seen the movie Full Metal Jacket. I would remind him that I had not. He would then describe parts of it to me. After several weeks of mistaking this for flirtation, I tried to kiss him one night by the Monroe Hill dorms and he literally ran away. Not figuratively.
He seemed to appreciate my sense of humor. Like all boys at that time, he tried to talk like David Letterman, which I appreciated.
Secret make-out time went on for a while. Handsome Robert Wuhl claimed to have some ethical/religious reasons for not going all the way, which was fine by me, as I would have been terrified.
To say he was unfriendly would be the biggest understatement since the captain of the Hindenberg said “I smell gas.” He alternated between ignoring me and shooting me disdainful looks that clearly said “Who is this ugly off-brand non-sorority girl ruining our homo-erotic bro-times?”
It may also have been the epicenter of all human grimness.
[B]orderline-homeless guys were sneaking women up to their rooms, which only goes to show that women continue to corner the market on low gag reflex.
Her complaints were like little WWII telegrams of bad news. DONNA: They’re making us work on Thanksgiving.
In high school I had this friend for a while named Dawn. We were sitting around my house watching MTV one day when a Tina Turner video came on. On the stage behind Tina Turner was a set of giant letters spelling out TINA.
DAWN: Wow. Can you even imagine seeing your name that big?
ME: Yeah, well, that is my name.
DAWN: What? Oh. Yeah.
We could rap like that for hours.
At my lunch break, I’d buy a sandwich from the machine in our vendeteria. Apparently it used to be a real cafeteria with “the greatest fries,” but then someone decided that wasn’t quite sad enough and it was grim-ovated into a room full of vending machines.
On my way out of the building, I passed the Men’s Residence Christmas Dinner. If you’ve ever witnessed a school bus accident or a dog trying to nudge its dead owner back to life, then the sight of this dinner probably wouldn’t affect you. But for me, it was easily the third-saddest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
He had forgotten his member card one day, and when I tried to explain that it was a four-dollar fee to enter without a card, he went batshit. “Don’t you know who I am, goddammit?” I had never seen him before. “Do you know who I am?” I wanted to say. “Then how could I know who you are? We don’t know each other.”
I started to see a pattern at the Young Men’s Christian Association. It was a power pyramid. At the bottom were all these disenfranchised residents who had to be taken care of like children, above them were a middle class of women who did all the work and kept the place running, and above them were two or three of the least-useful men you ever met. There was our comptroller, Lonny, who never once entered a room without saying, “Are we having fun yet?” He never went anywhere without food on his face. And his exit line was always “There’s a million stories in the naked city.” There was the program director, who talked exclusively in nonsense business language: “We are attempting to pro-activate the community by utilizing a series of directives intended to maximate communicative agreeance.” At the very top of the pyramid was Executive Director Rick Chang, who had no idea who anyone was or what anyone did. He’s the one who reprimanded me for peeling an orange at the front desk.
I had studied legit acting methods in college—Stanislavsky, Meisner, Cicely Berry’s The Actor and His Text—but any TV critic will tell you that I never mastered any of them.
Studying improvisation literally changed my life. It set me on a career path toward Saturday Night Live. It changed the way I look at the world, and it’s where I met my husband. What has your cult done for you lately?
This made no sense to me, probably because I speak English and have never had a head injury.
My husband doesn’t like to fly. He does fly now because he doesn’t want our daughter to grow up thinking he is a Don Knotts character. But when we were first married, he didn’t fly.
We board the ship from a giant hangar on the West Side of Manhattan. There are guys playing steel drums and handing you drinks. They don’t ask if you are a recovering alcoholic or if you are on any medications that might interact negatively with alcohol. This is maritime law!
There are some wonderful Filipinos who fold your towels in the shape of a different animal every night. It might be an elephant wearing your sunglasses, or a duck wearing your sunglasses. It’s just fun. Don’t overthink it.
But instead of Dan Dan the Party Man, it’s a woman’s voice and she’s breathing heavily. She sounds Filipina, if that’s even a thing.
Everyone is quiet. Which is the wooooooorst. It’s scary when a group of people all know instinctively not to joke around.
I look around. There are several tween-age girls, in tears, girls who have no doubt watched Titanic more times than you have looked at your own stools.
Nothing gives you a fear flashback like a bunch of strangers cheering in surprise that you’re not dead.
Interesting fact number two: In the event of an emergency, it is the entertainers who are in charge of the lifeboats. Because the rest of the crew has actual nautical duties, the kids from Fiesta Caliente are trained to man the lifeboats. If you ever have to get on a lifeboat, the person in charge of your safety will likely be a nineteen-year-old dancer from Tampa who just had a fight with his boyfriend about the new Rihanna video.
I then dried my hair with a Hot Comb. The Hot Comb was a small vibrating, wheezing hairbrush that for some reason my family kept in the dining room credenza. Maybe it wanted to be close to the electric knife, since they were almost the exact same machine.
I developed breasts very early, around nine years old. I developed breasts so weird and high, it’s possible they were above my collarbone. At that point, wearing a bra was not so much about holding the breasts up, as clarifying that they were not a goiter.
This was before Ms. Lewinsky’s infamous Barbara Walters interview aired. None of us had even heard her speak before. She was still that enigmatic girl in the beret who didn’t get to the dry cleaners very often. We spent the afternoon drinking wine and eating wasabi peas. (We didn’t even buy the girl lunch! Who did we think we were, presidents?)
Monica was bright and personable and very open with us—maybe too open for a person in her situation. I’m just saying, Linda Tripp might not have been the intelligence-gathering mastermind you thought she was.
When the topic turned to eye cream, I wanted to talk, so I shared the one piece of information I’d retained from the mean woman at the La Mer counter in Saks. “You’re supposed to gently pat it on with your ring finger.” I demonstrated. “Oh, really?” Monica asked with a level of interest and gullibility that explained a lot. To this day, I think of Monica whenever I apply my eye cream. And I’m sure she thinks of me.
As you age, you may want to pay someone to shoot lasers at your face. If you are a fancy lady and live in a fancy urban center like New York or Dallas–Fort Worth, you go to a fancy dermatologist and they cover your eyes and point various machines at your face to “promote collagen production.” If you live far from a city, you can simulate the experience at home by having a friend hide your wallet while you sit close to a space heater. It will work just as well.
Unfortunately, the steroids caused the spot to keep shrinking, and by the end of the week I had a divot in my jaw through which I could feel the bone. I was furious and complaining about it in the makeup chair at SNL. “My face is already pretty banged up and now I have another scar to deal with?!” Amy Poehler called to me from across the room, “The difference is… now you’re paying for it.” She was right.
I really had made it. We high-fived about it later.
That feeling of “I’m pretty sure this next step is wrong, but I’m just gonna do it anyway” is part of the same set of instincts that makes me such a great cook.
My hand—gripping the brush like it was a hand transplant from a murderer who hated beauty!—brushed through the curls, turning them into a giant static-filled mess. By the end of homeroom it was pulled into a ponytail, which really works on me, so there you have it.
(It would be a great exercise for someone who thinks they want to move to New York. Sit in an enclosed space full of fumes and hold hands with a stranger for twenty minutes while everyone around you speaks a language you don’t understand. If you enjoy this, you will enjoy the 6 train.)
There are never fewer than eight Tracey Ullman characters in any NYC nail salon at any given time.
I regularly ate health food cookies so disgusting that when I enthusiastically gave one to Rachel Dratch she drew a picture of a rabbit and broke the cookie into a trail of tiny pieces coming out of the rabbit’s butt.
I once left a restaurant in the middle of dessert to get to Krispy Kreme before it closed.
In 1997 I flew to New York from Chicago to interview for a writing position at Saturday Night Live. It seemed promising because I’d heard the show was looking to diversify. Only in comedy, by the way, does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity.
You would think that as a producer, your job would be to churn up creativity, but mostly your job is to police enthusiasm. You may have an occasion where the script calls for a bran muffin on a white plate and the Props Department shows up with a bran cake in the shape of Santa Claus sitting on a silver platter that says “Welcome to Denmark.” “We just thought it would be funny.” And you have to find a polite way to explain that the character is Jewish, so her eating Santa’s face might have negative connotations, and the silver tray, while beautiful, is giving a weird glare on camera and maybe let’s go with the bran muffin on the white plate.
You have to remember that actors are human beings. Which is hard sometimes because they look so much better than human beings. Is there someone in the room the actor is trying to impress? This is a big one and should not be overlooked. If a male actor is giving you a hard time about something, you must immediately scan the area for pretty interns.
2) “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.” This is something Lorne has said often about Saturday Night Live, but I think it’s a great lesson about not being too precious about your writing. You have to try your hardest to be at the top of your game and improve every joke you can until the last possible second, and then you have to let it go. You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute. (And I’m from a generation where a lot of people died on waterslides, so this was an important lesson for me to learn.) You have to let people see what you wrote. It will never be perfect, but perfect is overrated. Perfect is boring on live TV.
What I learned about “bombing” as an improviser at Second City was that bombing is painful, but it doesn’t kill you. No matter how badly an improv set goes, you will still be physically alive when it’s over. What I learned about bombing as a writer at Saturday Night is that you can’t be too worried about your “permanent record.” Yes, you’re going to write some sketches that you love and are proud of forever—your golden nuggets. But you’re also going to write some real shit nuggets. And unfortunately, sometimes the shit nuggets will make it onto the air. You can’t worry about it. As long as you know the difference, you can go back to panning for gold on Monday.
But when you’re improvising eight shows a week in front of drunk meat-eating Chicagoans, you will experience highs and lows. You will be heckled, or, worse, you will hear your own heartbeat over the audience’s silence. You will be bombing so hard that you will be able to hear a lady in the back put her gum in a napkin.
This is all to make the case that Harvard boys and Second City/Groundlings people make beautiful comedy marriages. The Harvard guys keep the Improvisers from wallowing in schmaltz. (Steve Higgins used to joke that every Second City sketch ended with sentimental music and someone saying, “I love you, Dad.”)
I tried to apply Lorne’s lesson when staffing 30 Rock, and it has worked well so far. Our current staff makeup is four Harvard nerds, four Performer-turned-writers, two regular nerds, and two dirtbags.
This is the same advice they give people who’ve just come out of rehab. After a grueling period of work (or what passes for grueling work in our soft-handed world) you will crave some kind of reward. Don’t let this cause you to rush into a big decision, like a new house or a marriage or partial ownership of a minor league baseball team, that you may later regret. The interesting thing about this piece of advice is that no one ever takes it.
Comedy is about confidence, and the moment an audience senses a slip in confidence, they’re nervous for you and they can’t laugh.
Add some dancers! There’s no harm in things looking fun, and you don’t get extra credit for keeping things indie and grim.
But there is not one management course in the world where they recommend Self-Righteousness as a tool.
(Remember all those fun catchphrases from 2001? “Swabbing,” “Cutaneous,” “Cipro,” “I am Zoolander.”)
Real movie stars do look different from regular people. They are often a little smaller and usually have nicer teeth, shoes, and watches than anyone else in the room.
(When I started at SNL, you could still smoke in an office building. I might not be young.)
Anytime there’s a bad female stand-up somewhere, some dickhead Interblogger will deduce that “women aren’t funny.” Using that same math, I can state: Male comedy writers piss in cups.
I suggest you model your strategy after the old Sesame Street film piece “Over! Under! Through!” (If you’re under forty you might not remember this film. It taught the concepts of “over,” “under,” and “through” by filming toddlers crawling around an abandoned construction site. They don’t show it anymore because someone has since realized that’s nuts.)
Do your thing and don’t care if they like it.
People sometimes ask me, “What’s it like to do photo shoots for magazines?” “Do you enjoy that kind of thing?” Let me be completely honest here. Publicity and press junkets are just part of the job. Your work is what you really care about because your work is your craft and your craft is your art and photo shoots are THE FUNNEST!
In case you ever find yourself at a magazine cover shoot (and you might, because Snooki and I have, so anything can happen!), let me tell you what to expect.
I suggest you show up freshly scrubbed with damp hair. Not only is this a courtesy to your hair and makeup team but also it helps to set the bar low. Show up looking like an uncooked chicken leg and they can’t help but be pleased with the transformation once they get all their makeup on you. I think this is what Jesse Jackson calls the “subtle genius of lowered expectations,” but I may be misquoting.
You must not look in that mirror at your doughy legs and flat feet, for today is about dreams and illusions, and unfiltered natural daylight is the enemy of dreams.
The stylist’s assistant will be a chic twenty-year-old Asian girl named Esther or Agnes or Lot’s Wife.
She will do this thing before she lines your lips where she puts her finger on your top lip and rolls it back ever so gently. When she is done, you look like you have lips! Not crazy overdrawn grandma lips like you would do, but God-given lips.
These fashionable young assistants are a fun window into what the rest of us will be wearing three years from now. From what I’ve seen lately, we can look forward to the return of prairie skirts and the male shag. (The prairie skirts will be on men and the male shag will be on women.) Once your hair is straightened, it will be curled, then shown to the photographer, who will stare at it with his or her head cocked to one side. Then it will be restraightened.
Depending on the concept for the shoot and the health of your natural hair, you may be asked to wear hair extensions. It’s okay. A controlled, photo shoot environment is where extensions belong.
Places that are less ideal for hair extensions: the grocery store, women’s prison, a water park.
There are different types of fancy photographers. Some are big, fun personalities like Mario Testino, who once told me, “Lift your chin, darling, you are not eighteen.” I enjoyed his honesty. Also, I’m pretty sure he says that to models who are nineteen.
Some photographers plan out every detail of the shot, then plug you into it. For example, with Annie Leibovitz, you might have advance fittings for several custom Tinkerbell costumes. On the day of the shoot, Annie will pick one of the costumes, then obscure it with a large harness. Afterward, she’ll remove the harness with Photoshop, change the color of the costume, and shrink you down to the size of a pea anyway.
If a bout of “creepy face” sets in, the trick is to look away from the camera between shots and turn back only when necessary. This also limits how much of your soul the camera can steal.
Most photographers have some kind of verbal patter going on when they shoot: “Great. Turn to me. Big smile. Less shark eyes. Have fun with it. Not like that.”
With the wind blowing on your long extensions, you feel like Beyoncé. The moment the wind machine stops, you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and wonder, “Why is the mother from Coal Miner’s Daughter here?”
“Believe you are worthy of the cover,” as Mario Testino might say to a tense, shark-eyed forty year old.
You don’t get to keep the clothes, by the way. Some people say that the really famous people get to keep the clothes, but I suspect it’s just the pushiest, most deluded people who get to keep the clothes because they steal them and no one says anything.
Your only keepsakes are the individual false eyelashes that you later find stuck to your boob in the shower. (Someone should do a study of the human brain and how quickly it can adjust to luxury. You could take a homeless person who has been living on the street for twenty years, and if you let them do three magazine photo shoots, by the fourth one they’d be saying, “Louboutins don’t really work on me. Can I try the Roger Vivier?” By the fifth one they’d sigh, “Do they not have the vegetable tartlets? Bummer!” in a passive-aggressive tone that means “Somebody go get them.”)
And what’s with the eyes? They always get it wrong under the eyes. In an effort to remove dark circles they take out any depth, and your face looks like it was drawn on a paper plate.
I feel about Photoshop the way some people feel about abortion. It is appalling and a tragic reflection on the moral decay of our society… unless I need it, in which case, everybody be cool.
Do I worry about overly retouched photos giving women unrealistic expectations and body image issues? I do. I think that we will soon see a rise in anorexia in women over seventy. Because only people over seventy are fooled by Photoshop. Only your great-aunt forwards you an image of Sarah Palin holding a rifle and wearing an American-flag bikini and thinks it’s real. Only your uncle Vic sends a photo of Barack Obama wearing a hammer and sickle T-shirt and has to have it explained to him that somebody faked that with the computer.
Photoshop is just like makeup. When it’s done well it looks great, and when it’s overdone you look like a crazy asshole. Unfortunately, most people don’t do it well. I find, the fancier the fashion magazine is, the worse the Photoshop. It’s as if they are already so disgusted that a human has to be in the clothes, they can’t stop erasing human features. “Why can’t we accept the human form as it is?” screams no one. I don’t know why, but we never have. That’s why people wore corsets and neck stretchers and powdered wigs.
Technology doesn’t move backward. No society has ever de-industrialized. Which is why we’ll never turn back from Photoshop—and why the economic collapse of China is going to be the death of us all. Never mind that. Let’s keep being up in arms about this Photoshop business!
I have thus far refused to get any Botox or plastic surgery. (Although I do wear a clear elastic chin strap that I hook around my ears and pin under my day wig.) I can’t be expected to lead the charge on everything. Let me have my Photoshop. For today is about dreams!
One of my greatest regrets, other than being the Zodiac Killer. . . .
First of all, my apologies for the delayed response. I was unaware you had written until I went on tmz.com to watch some of their amazing footage of people in L.A. leaving restaurants and I stumbled upon your question.
P.S. Great use of double question marks, by the way. It makes you seem young.
Dear jerkstore, Huzzah for the Truth Teller! Women in this country have been over-celebrated for too long. Just last night there was a story on my local news about a “missing girl,” and they must have dedicated seven or eight minutes to “where she was last seen” and “how she might have been abducted by a close family friend,” and I thought, “What is this, the News for Chicks?”
Why do we keep talking about these dumdums? We are a society that constantly celebrates no one but women and it must stop! I want to hear what the men of the world have been up to. What fun new guns have they invented? What are they raping these days? What’s Michael Bay’s next film going to be? When I first set out to ruin SNL, I didn’t think anyone would notice, but I persevered because—like you trying to do a nine-piece jigsaw puzzle—it was a labor of love.
I’m not one to toot my own horn, but I feel safe with you, jerkstore, so I’ll say it. Everything you ever hated on SNL was by me, and anything you ever liked was by someone else who did it against my will.
P.S. You know who does have a funny bone in her body? Your mom every night for a dollar.
I’ve had a treatment called Grimmáge where two fishing wires are run through my jawline and used to gather the skin until it looks like a fancy pillow.
Madonna and Gwyneth go to her, and we’ve all had amazing results. Ugh, listen to me, I really have changed! Why did I feel the need to name-drop the fact that I’m friends with Madonna Vickerson and Gwyneth Chung?
If you had told me when I was a kid that I would grow up to sit through the annual NBC Employee Sexual Harassment Seminar fourteen times, I would have said, “What’s ‘sexual harassment’?”
Pilot scripts are particularly difficult to write because you have to introduce all the characters without it feeling like a series of introductions. You have to tell a story that’s not only funny and compelling but also dramatizes your main characters’ points of view and what the series would be about thematically (love, work, investigating sexy child murders in Miami, etc.).
If you want to see a great pilot, watch the first episode of Cheers. It’s charming, funny, and well constructed. If you want to see an awkward, sweaty pilot episode, watch 30 Rock. I will not be joining you, because I never want to watch that mess again. (The 30 Rock writing staff have asked me to stop saying the pilot was terrible, so from here on out I will refer to it as “quirky and unique.”)
In September, my daughter was born. (For the record: epidural, vaginal delivery, did not poop on the table.)
Lorne asked him and Alec said yes. I stayed out of the room, which is my specialty.
NBC executives must have seen something of value in my quirky and unique pilot (Alec Baldwin) because they decided for some reason (Alec Baldwin) to “pick it up.” This means they agreed to make eleven more episodes and maybe show them on TV.
I had mixed feelings about this. I now had an eight month old at home, and I wasn’t sure that this new seventy-hour-a-week job was, as disgraced politicians say, “in the best interest of my family at this current juncture at the present time.”
(Alec and I like to joke now about what I call his “Irish Negotiating Technique,” which usually boils down to his saying: “They offered me more money and I told them to go f*** themselves.”)
“We’re really going out on a limb for you here,” Jeff Zucker said, wagging his finger at me begrudgingly. “You’re picked up.” And then, in a most unfortunate Freudian slip, I said, “You’re welcome” instead of “Thank you.” And that was the glorious becoming of what would go on to be the 102nd most popular show on television.
When he finally spoke, it was during a mundane conversation in the writers’ room about crappy summer jobs we’d had as teenagers. Jack laughed as he told how at eighteen he was operating the roller-coaster at Magic Mountain and how one night, there was a riot in the park after a disco concert and six people got stabbed. One guy bled out in front of him. Then he turned in a thoughtful and hilarious 30 Rock script that showed he was more than just a former carnie who had watched a man die.
A couple months later he spoke again to tell us how he had once bought a bunch of depth charges and thrown them off the side of a rowboat in Mexico. Also, he believes his torn ACL was healed by a visit to Roswell. And once he fainted in front of Ringo Starr from an undiagnosed testicle infection. Jack’s stories were reason enough to keep him around; his elegant scripts were just a bonus.
DR. SPACEMAN What, this? No, no, I was at a costume party earlier this evening…and the hostess’s dog attacked me so I had to stab it.
TRACY: Why is the baby covered in goop?!
DR. SPACEMAN: Because everything about this is disgusting!
You know that saying “Dance as if no one is watching”? Well, that’s what we were doing. We were dancing with abandon, and no one was watching.
I proceeded with the blithe confidence of a moron. I was the baby in the movie Baby’s Day Out, toddling down the street, completely unaware that an anvil had just fallen behind me. Conversely, every time the office phone rang, Robert put his coat on. That was the burden of his higher intelligence.
Carlock and I can’t believe we used to complain about the hours at SNL, which now seem like a cakewalk. Especially for me, because that’s all I did my first two years at SNL: walk around and look for cake.
I appreciate NBC for letting us make jokes about them all the time. I don’t think ABC or CBS would stand for that abuse, and I’ll probably never find out.
We only shoot in this “single camera” style because it is currently the fashion. Classic shows like Frasier, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Seinfeld were shot “multi-camera” in front of an audience. I’m pretty sure it took about three hours a week. I don’t know why the network’s taste changed to single-camera shows, but there’s no bucking fashion trends.
I would excuse myself occasionally to change a diaper in the night. Usually for the baby.
There is one other embarrassing secret I must reveal, something I’ve never admitted to anyone. Though we are grateful for the affection 30 Rock has received from critics and hipsters, we were actually trying to make a hit show. We weren’t trying to make a low-rated critical darling that snarled in the face of conventionality. We were trying to make Home Improvement and we did it wrong.
No matter how many times we tried to course-correct the show to make it more accessible—slow the dialogue down, tell fewer stories per episode, stop putting people in blackface—the show would end up careening off the rails again. In my limited experience, shows are like children. You can teach them manners and dress them in little sailor suits, but in the end, they’re going to be who they’re going to be.
When you watched Sanford and Son, you didn’t want to have sex with everybody you saw, just Grady. I’ve never understood why every character being “hot” was necessary for enjoying a TV show.
I may never know why they chose to keep the show going (Alec Baldwin), but my proudest moment as an adult was walking back onto the soundstage and telling everyone they still had jobs. (My proudest moment as a child was the time I beat my uncle Pierre at Scrabble with the seven-letter word FARTING.)
By March, the first season of 30 Rock was complete. (For the record: no epidural, group vaginal delivery, did not poop on the table.)
Now, I know I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said hundreds of times, but 30 Rock is the perfect symbol for the pro-life movement in America. Here’s this little show that no one thought would make it. I’m sure NBC considered getting rid of it, but by the time we won the Emmy, they were too far along.
Q: Is 30 Rock the most racist show on television? A: No, in my opinion it’s NFL football. Why do they portray all those guys as murderers and rapists?
In rehearsing for the screen test, I realized that I couldn’t see the cue cards. I’ve worn glasses to see far away since I was twenty-one, but I only need them for a few activities, like going to the movies, finding Orion’s belt, and reading cue cards.
I was sweaty and green from having to touch my own eyeballs like that. If you’ve never had to do it, I’d say it’s not quite as quease-making as when you lose your tampon string, but equally queasish to a self–breast exam. If you are male, I would liken it to touching your own eyeball, and thank you for buying this book.
We did another camera test for set and lighting. Less than eager to touch my own eyeballs again, I just wore my glasses the second time around. After the test, the great comedy writer and chronicler of human perversions T. Sean Shannon came up to me and said in his Texas drawl, “You should leave them glasses on, sister.” And so, a commonplace librarian fetish was embraced for profit.
But Lorne is also an old-school producer, and somewhere deep down I think he knew that if he cast me in the part “by popular demand,” even if I sucked, it might be a good rating. A good rating is a good rating, even if people tune in just to be mad about how much it sucked.
Oprah seemed genuinely concerned for me. “How much rehearsal time are you going to get?” “Do you have tapes of her to listen to?” “You’re going there right after this?!” (By the way, when Oprah Winfrey is suggesting you may have overextended yourself, you need to examine your fucking life.)
That night’s show was watched by ten million people, so I guess that director at The Second City who said the audience “didn’t want to see a sketch with two women” can go shit in his hat.
Politics and prostitution have to be the only jobs where inexperience is considered a virtue. In what other profession would you brag about not knowing stuff? “I’m not one of those fancy Harvard heart surgeons. I’m just an unlicensed plumber with a dream and I’d like to cut your chest open.” The crowd cheers.
They have endless time to fill, but viewers get kind of “bummed out” if they supply actual information about wars and stuff, so “Media Portrayal of Sarah Palin” and SNL and I became the carrageenan in America’s news nuggets for several weeks. I was a cable news star, like a shark or a missing white child!
I would expand Jim’s definition to include any time someone being parodied volunteers to come on the show and prove they’re “in on the joke.” Comedy writers hate Sneaker Uppers. On a pure writing level, it’s just lame. But like other lame things—sorbet, line dancing, New Year’s Eve—people seem to love it.
And that was it. We had gone through the entire life cycle of an SNL character—from first-time jitters to Sneaker Upper to “This again?”—in six weeks.
When I was pregnant (remember, I was pregnant once, and I’m on TV: Those two things combined make me an expert) [...]
“No other formula gives your baby a better start in life except that stuff that comes out of you for free.”
Should I breast-feed or not? I asked my mother for advice. “Don’t even try it,” she said. This is a generational difference. This is the same woman who told me to request “twilight sleep” during delivery. (Twilight sleep is the memory-erasing pain medication that doctors gave women in the 1950s whenever they had to take a baby out or put a body snatcher in.) I could never have chosen twilight sleep because I wanted to be present for my birth experience and also it is no longer offered.
We began our breast-feeding journey in the hospital under the tutelage of an encouraging Irish night nurse named Mary. We tried the football hold, the cross-cradle hold, and one I like to call the Bret Michaels, where you kind of lie over the baby and stick your breast in its mouth to wake it up.
Shortly thereafter, we made the switch to an all-formula diet. If you’ve ever opened a can of infant formula mix, then you know it smells like someone soaked old vitamins in a bucket of wet leaves, then dried them in a hot car.
As my friend’s husband fed the baby, he said offhandedly, “This stuff is liquid gold. You know it actually makes them smarter?” “Let’s set a date!” I screamed. “IQ test. Five years from today. My formula baby will crush your baby!” Thankfully, my mouth was so full of cake they could not understand me.
Lesson learned? When people say, “You really, really must ” do something, it means you don’t really have to. No one ever says, “You really, really must deliver the baby during labor.” When it’s true, it doesn’t need to be said.
My husband drives the whole seven hours because I don’t have a driver’s license. It’s just one of the many ways in which I am developmentally stunted. I don’t drive. I can’t cook meat correctly. And I have no affinity for animals. I don’t hate animals and I would never hurt an animal; I just don’t actively care about them. When a coworker shows me cute pictures of her dog, I struggle to respond correctly, like an autistic person who has been taught to recognize human emotions from flash cards. In short, I am the worst.
There are plenty of positives to being married to me. I just can’t think of any of them right now, and I’m sure my husband can’t think of any of them either while he’s driving wideways across Pennsylvania.
“Youngstown!” my husband always yells as we pass the sign. He yells it in a way that you can actually hear the letters getting bigger at the end like an old-timey postcard. It never fails to startle me and make me laugh. Half the time it wakes me up. Yes, I fall asleep while he’s driving. Did I mention that I’m the worst?
In the last hour, highway turns to snowy country roads and the GPS system shuts down because you’re in a part of the world that Toyota doesn’t recognize (and the feeling is mutual).
If there’s one thing my husband’s hometown has that St. Barts does not, it’s the water. “Legally potable” doesn’t quite capture it. Straight from the tap it smells like… How can I describe it?—if you boiled ten thousand eggs in a prostitute’s bathwater. It turns your jewelry green, but it leaves your hair soft and manageable. So, while I couldn’t find it in St. Barts, I could probably sell it there.
Another way my body rejects dog love is that I am allergic to them. Those first few Christmases, I had to dose myself with Benadryl to survive. I would end up sleeping half the day and then shuffling aimlessly around the house like later-years Judy Garland in a Christmas special. Most of my in-laws didn’t experience my actual personality until Claritin was invented. By then it was too late to get rid of me.
I learned quickly that trying to force Country Folk to love the Big City is like telling your gay cousin, “You just haven’t met the right girl yet.” They just don’t like big cities. It’s okay. It’s natural. They were born that way.
The Christmas in New York Adventure didn’t go so well. My father-in-law tripped on a crack in the pavement and spent the rest of the week politely pretending he had not dislocated his shoulder.
Of course the final ingredient for a perfect Christmas vacation is a good Buffer. A Buffer is a neutral party who keeps the conversation light. Everyone needs a Buffer. You don’t think Mary and Joseph were psyched to see the Little Drummer Boy?
That night at the Herdic House my best friend from high school, Marlene, and her husband joined us for the evening. She was visiting family in Williamsport, too, and she is the perfect Buffer. My girl Marlene can talk to anyone. She could talk to a Frankenstein about neck bolts.
It is less dangerous to draw a cartoon of Allah French-kissing Uncle Sam—which let me make it very clear I HAVE NOT DONE—than it is to speak honestly about this topic.
How could they possibly know if I’m a good mother? How can any of us know until the kid is about thirty-three and all the personality dust has really settled?
What is the rudest question you can ask a woman? “How old are you?” “What do you weigh?” “When you and your twin sister are alone with Mr. Hefner, do you have to pretend to be lesbians?” No, the worst question is “How do you juggle it all?”
Maybe that’s what I should tell the roving reporter from Showbiz Hollywood the next time she asks me, “Is it weird for you being the boss of all these people?” “Who? These actors and teamsters and camera guys? These dummies don’t scare me. Now, can you call my house and tell the babysitter I’m gonna be forty minutes late? Pweeeeze?”
This is one of the weird things about motherhood. You can’t predict that some of your best moments will happen around the toilet at six A.M. while you’re holding a pile of fingernail clippings like a Santeria priestess.
My daughter and I can have real conversations now. I told her that I didn’t like it that the mommy in the book was a witch. That it hurt my feelings. And she looked at me matter-of-factly and said, “Mommy. I can’t read. I thought it was a Halloween book.”
May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.
Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance.
May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.
And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.
Now, I’m not really one for status symbols. I went to public school. I have all my original teeth and face parts. When left to my own devices, I dress like I’m here to service your aquarium. But the kid pressure mounts for other reasons.
Thirty-five turned into forty faster than McDonald’s food turns into cold nonfood.
The Wedding Creeper—An overworked woman looking for love sneaks into weddings and wishes strangers well on their wedding videos, only to fall in love with a handsome videographer (Gerard Butler or a coatrack with a leather jacket on it), despite the fact that when they first met, they knocked over a wedding cake, causing an old lady (Academy Award™ winner Jane Fonda) to rap.
Next, a strategically chosen small part in a respectable indie dramedysemble called Disregarding Joy, in which I play a lesbian therapist who unexpectedly cries during her partner’s nephew’s bris. Roger Ebert will praise my performance as “brave to grow that little mustache.”
Finally, for money, I play the villain in the live-action Moxie Girlz movie opposite a future child star who at this moment is still a tickly feeling in Billy Ray Cyrus’s balls.
Let me clarify. I have observed that women, at least in comedy, are labeled “crazy” after a certain age. FEMALE WRITER: You ever work with MALE AGENT: (dismissive) She’s crazy now. FEMALE WRITER: You know who I loved growing up? . What about her for this part? MALE WRITER: I don’t know. I hear she’s pretty batshit. FEMALE WRITER: I got a call today from . MALE PRODUCER: Ugh. We had her on the show once. She was a crazy assache. She wanted to see her lines ahead of time. She had all these questions. I’ve known older men in comedy who can barely feed and clean themselves, and they still work. The women, though, they’re all “crazy.” I have a suspicion—and hear me out, ’cause this is a rough one—I have a suspicion that the definition of “crazy” in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore.
This is the infuriating thing that dawns on you one day: Even if you would never sleep with or even flirt with anyone to get ahead, you are being sexually adjudicated by these LA creeps. Network executives really do say things like “I don’t know. I don’t want to fuck anybody on this show.” They really do say that stuff. That’s not just lactation-stopping dialogue on Entourage.
To hell with everybody! Maybe I’ll just wait until I’m fifty and give birth to a ball of fingers! “Merry Christmas from Tina, Jeff, Alice, and Ball of Fingers,” the card will say. (“Happy Holidays” on the ones I send to my agents.)
Covered in slivered almonds and soaked in booze, Italian rum cake is everything kids hate about everything.
Like everyone from Tom Shales to Jeff Zucker, I thought 30 Rock would be cancelled by now.