The first time I saw Tina Fey perform, I had no idea who she was. Pretty much no one in the theater that night did. To us, she was just the other person in the sketch show, second fiddle to the one everyone had really come to see. Which, looking back on it now, is completely insane. The show was called Dratch & Fey, and in the summer of 2000, it was pretty much the hottest thing at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York. But it wasn’t the Fey part that had everyone talking. The real star was Rachel Dratch, who had debuted on Saturday Night Live a year earlier, and become beloved by comedy nerds everywhere, myself very much included. Before Dratch & Fey even made it to NYC, we comedy dweebs were breathless with excitement. “Did you
hear Rachel Dratch’s show from Second City is coming here?! I need tickets. I NEED TICKETS. Oh, by the way, who’s Fey? Don’t know. Some dude, maybe? Who cares. It’s Rachel Dratch!” It’s preposterous to think about now, now that Tina Fey is the most consistently hilarious and well-rounded comedian in the country, but in 2000 she was simply Rachel Dratch’s lesser-known co-star. But 2000 was a long time ago. So long, in fact, that in The Wall Street Journal’s review of the show, they said it was so good it was “even worth missing Survivor for.” And thus their journalistic integrity torch was extinguished. But after seeing Dratch & Fey, I was sure I’d never forget Tina again.
To be fair, there were probably more informed members of the audience who were aware of the Fey genius. She had written for SNL for a few seasons, and months later would take over as head writer and co-anchor of “Weekend Update” with Jimmy Fallon. But for the most part, she was unknown, and it’s crazy to think that in the 12 years she’s gone from that to utter comedic world domination. She was hilarious that night, of course. And weird, and unique, and preposterously hot. All hallmarks we’ve come to know as the Tina Fey Brand. And of course, she was just getting started. Since then, Tina Fey revitalized “Weekend Update” and SNL, made the hilarious Mean Girls, wrote the bestselling Bossypants, created, wrote and starred in 30 Rock — one of the best sitcoms of the 2000s, and effectively mocked Sarah Palin’s political career into submission. A pretty impressive resume. Even better than mine, and I’ve worked for Blockbuster Video twice. But all of that isn’t what sets her apart. What truly makes Tina Fey special is that everybody loves Tina Fey. And I mean everybody.
Have you ever heard anyone say they didn’t find Tina Fey funny? Like, even one person? Seriously, have you ever heard the words, “You know what, Tina Fey just doesn’t do it for me.” No. You have not, because it’s never been said. Language stops functioning if you try to complete that sentence. You start, “You know what, Tina Fey just does — ” and then your jaw breaks off your face and falls on the ground. Parents like her. Kids like her. Hipsters, weirdos, Democrats, Republicans, even my cat can’t stop talking about Date Night, and I thought it was pretty mediocre. Who else has such universal appeal? Puppies? Maybe, but you still have to pick up their poop, which limits things. I would say she’s the white Barack Obama, but she’s not. She’s better. She’s the white Michelle. The white Michelle With Bangs. Everybody loves Michelle with Bangs.
The moment I knew Tina Fey had reached the maximum capacity of adoration was when I got a phone call from my mom. My mother can’t send a text message, she doesn’t own a DVR, and still uses dial-up internet. But still, she called and asked, “What do you know about this Gina Gay? She’s very funny.” That’s big time stuff. I mean, she only got three letters wrong! For her, that’s huge. Like man walking on the moon huge. I can’t think of any other performer with such cred. Jon Stewart reached Mom Awareness a few years ago, but I think she forgot about him. She still mentions Bruce Springsteen occasionally, but I’m pretty sure she has him confused with Bon Jovi. No one else, pop culture or otherwise, has reached such lofty heights.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Fey is the quality of her work. Check out her IMDB page, there’s not a stinker in the bunch. (Except for, perhaps, her voice work in Deer Avenger 2: Deer in the City, which I have yet to track down.) There is no other comedian with such a success rate. Will Ferrell. Steve Martin. Woody Allen. Joan Rivers. Bill Cosby. Louis CK. Chris Rock. Jerry Seinfeld. They’ve all made a crapper here or there. Not Tina Fey. Tina Fey would take one look at the script for Bee Movie, say, “Yeah, kinda heavy on the puns,” and just write another hit TV show instead. I wouldn’t just watch her read the phone book, I’d watch her consider reading it, then lie down and take a nap instead. In the least creepy way possible. If there’s another comedian that good, and as universally beloved, I’d love to know who it is.
Seriously, tell me. I’m lost without 30 Rock. At this point, I’d even take a Gina Gay.