Happygrrl of the Month:
The Happygrrl of the Month title is given to a cool chick who exemplifies the true essence of being a Happygrrl. Which means that she possesses independence, a sense of humour, and a slightly neurotic side.
YOU WANTED TO KNOW
Our Happygrrl of the Month is…Tina Fey.
As Liz Lemon, Fey’s alter ego on “30 Rock,” Fey encompasses everything that we ask from our Happygrrl of the Month: she’s fiercely independent yet wryly self-deprecating; she’s intelligent and outspoken but succumbs to moments of vulnerability; she can hang with the big boys like Jack and Tracy without losing her feminine sensibilities; and she’s neurotic (we really like the neurotic part).
Of course, Liz Lemon is an extension of the woman behind the cynical humour and sardonic wit. Loosely based on her own experiences as head writer on “Saturday Night Live,” the real-life Fey is every bit Liz, and then some. “Gifted comedic writer and actress” doesn’t even begin to describe Fey, but it’s a start.
And while we’re speaking of starts, it would be nearly impossible to know where to begin when one needs to sing the praises of Tina Fey. With a career spanning over ten years at NBC, plus another several years clocked in at “The Second City,” Fey’s proven time and time again that she’s got what it takes to make the masses laugh. And the icing on the cake is that she doesn’t need talking babies, members of the “Friends” cast, or Justin Timberlake’s penis in a box to do it.
When Fey became co-head writer of “Saturday Night Live” in 1999, and the first woman to ever do so, she wrote some of the best episodes to date. Helming a struggling variety program is no small feat, but she managed to pull the show out of the gutter with smart and satirical (and at times strongly political) humour that sometimes happened to involve French prostitutes. (If you love that skit, you’ll probably also love her send-ups of “The View” and “Live With Regis and Kelly,” as well as her “Mom Jeans” mock commercials.) She breathed new life into “Weekend Update,” and even managed to stay straight-faced while Jimmy Fallon, her co-anchor for most of her run, was rarely able to contain his boyish giggles. When Fallon left in 2004 and Amy Poehler took over his much sought-after seat, it marked another pivotal moment for “Saturday Night Live”: it was the first time in the show’s history that two women headlined “Weekend Update.”
It was during the height of her “SNL” run that Fey landed a 2001 Writers Guild of America Award and a 2002 Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing, a great achievement considering that the last time the show scored an Emmy for writing was in 1989. It was also during this time that she wrote Mean Girls (2004).
Mean Girls went on to do well at the box office, and Fey was single-handedly responsible for making Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams household names (we decided that we wouldn’t hold the former against her, although it did make us a little sad). Based on her own experiences at Upper Darby High School, where Fey was a self-professed “supernerd,” and a book called Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman, Mean Girls was the answer to Generation Y’s quintessential high school comedy. It was funny without peddling to the audience, it was sharp and satirical without being ostentatious, and it was a little too brutally honest. Moments that would have appeared sappy or contrived were saved with Fey’s penchant for subtle humour at all the right moments. It is astounding to contemplate how a thirty-four year old woman could have written such perfect dialogue and situations for sixteen year olds, but we can’t help but love lines like “that's why her hair is so big, it's full of secrets,” and Gretchen’s futile attempts at making “fetch” cool. In fact, we love them so much that we’ve decided to forget that she was ever associated with Lindsay Lohan.
And then came “30 Rock.” When the show premiered in 2006, there was enough buzz to feed a room full of Internet gossip columnists. The comedy, which initially revolved around the premise of show-within-show (the thinly-veiled “SNL” spoof, “The Girly Show”), was well received but faltered in ratings. Fey, who had just left “Saturday Night Live” to cultivate her project, felt the pressure but stayed true to her comedy roots by not only designing realistic and yet absurd situations, but also nurturing her characters, especially Liz, into people we genuinely cared about. While NBC axed other struggling shows like “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” the network wisely stood behind “30 Rock.” The half-hour comedy was given a second life when it moved to Thursdays (or, as NBC colloquially likes to call it, “Comedy Night Done Right”). Ratings improved and the critics took notice, awarding the show a 2007 Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series as well as a nod to Fey for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series. The show also went on to bag two other wins for Fey – a 2008 Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical, and a 2008 Screen Actors Guild award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy.
Despite top-notch writing and performances, “30 Rock,” which may have been the salvation Alec Baldwin so badly needed, only bags in a rough 6.6 million viewers each week, making it the current 106th most-watched show on television. In ratings speak, that means probable cancellation. But the show has been miraculously renewed for another season – evidence that we’re not the only ones who have adoration for Fey.
This summer, the comedy ingénue is back in theatres with Baby Mama, a movie most likely engineered after her own real-life experience of pregnancy and motherhood. Admittedly, Baby Mama failed to impress critics (it barely managed to score a “fresh” rating on the aggregate website RottenTomatoes.com with a 61% approval tally) and audiences (we’ll see it soon…we swear!), but it’s still lauded for its writing efforts, not to mention strong performances from both Fey and co-star Poehler. And compared to other “SNL”-alumnae ventures like The Ladies Man, A Night At the Roxbury, and Black Sheep, it’s almost Shakespeare.
Off-screen, Fey is every bit the wry, witty, opinionated, self-deprecating woman we love on-screen. She’s a devout environmentalist who drives a hybrid and considers herself a feminist. When she hosted the post-strike “SNL” episode, she went on a political tirade that culminated in the pop cultural sound bite, “Bitch is the new black.” She guest-starred on an episode of “Sesame Street.” She adamantly supported the writers’ strike even though it brought her show to a halt. And she seems to dislike Paris Hilton just as much as we do.
In 2003, Fey was named one of People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People. Speaking about the experience, she’s humble but still manages to provide a punchline. “When I was in my early twenties, being called sexy was not part of my experience in any way…if you’re a woman and they say anything complimentary about your appearance, well, I’m not going to complain. I fully intend to keep all of these magazines in the attic and bring them out for my daughter someday. ‘You see? There was a time when people thought your mother was a sexy bitch.’” And apparently the people at Maxim thought so too, because they awarded her with the number 80 spot in their annual Hot 100 Women list in 2002. She was also named one of Time Magazine’s 100 People Who Shape Our World in 2007. And this year, she topped LGBTQ website AfterEllen.com’s Hot 100 List, no doubt in part because of her trademark horn-rimmed glasses.
The landscape of the television comedy has never looked bleaker, but there’s a shining light at the end of the tunnel. And you can bet that when you reach that light, Fey will be waiting for you with a wry smile and a Bush joke tugging at her lips. ¤ C.Ho.