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Becoming Tina Fey

Tongue-in-cheek memoir maps rise to fame

In Tina Fey’s memoir Bossypants, she explains how a shy, Greek girl from the suburbs of Philadelphia eventually became the head writer for Saturday Night Live, and later, the creator and star of the critically acclaimed TV show 30 Rock. Her memoir explores the career moves, hairdos and bad dates—some at UVA—that got her where she is today. An idol for many, Fey (Col ‘92) inspires for reasons beyond her résumé. Unlike some comics, her strength is sensitivity. On 30 Rock, Fey uses sympathy as a comedic tool, often finding humor in moments of cultural misunderstanding, asking us to see how both sides could be right. Her characters are complicated, defined by dueling motivations, resulting in funny, honest sketches. She’s our modern comedienne, both ambitious and self-deprecating. When NBC decided to pick up 30 Rock, Fey describes feeling “blorft.” “‘Blorft’ is an adjective I just made up,” she explains. “It means ‘completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum.’”

In Bossypants, Fey changes her tone frequently, and serious insights are quickly balanced by incisive wit. While Fey’s memoir might not offer substantial life advice to her fans, it does demonstrate what to do when someone hands you a rubber chicken at a photo shoot. And perhaps that kind of wisdom is just as valuable.

What Tina Fey Says About…

Dating at UVA

During my first year, I had a crush on a brainy, raven-haired boy from my dorm ... he would ask me at least once a day if I had ever seen the movie Full Metal Jacket and I would remind him that I had not ... 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. Literally.

Her journey to SNL

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 a white girl from the suburbs count as diversity.

Women in the workplace

If you are a woman and you bought this book for practical tips on how to make it in a male-dominated workplace, here they are. No pigtails, no tube tops. Cry sparingly. (Some people say “Never let them see you cry.” I say, if you’re so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone.)

Being a boss

I’ve learned a lot over the past 10 years about what it means to be the boss of people. In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way. ... Contrary to what I believed as a little girl, being the boss almost never involves marching around, chanting, “I am the boss! I am the boss!”

Sexism and other “-isms”

So my unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism, ageism, or lookism or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: “Is this person in between me and what I want to do?” If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way.

Writing 30 Rock

Another night to remember: Around three a.m., [30 Rock producer and writer Robert Carlock] and I were leading a rewrite in my living room and realized that we had both fallen asleep while talking. When we woke up a few moments (or hours?) later, the other writers were just sitting politely, awaiting further instruction. That is a dedicated staff.