Monday, August 16, 2010
FUNNY GIRLS: Stand-up gals who always crack us up!
By Amber Nasrulla
After years of interviewing celebrities, I get a kick out of reading star profiles in which writers describe wealthy actors as “so normal.” Newsflash: They’re not. It’s impossible.
Oh, sure they will share their limo, buy you lunch and look into your eyes while answering your questions. They’ll kiss you good-bye and their lips might actually graze your cheek. They’ll complain about the price of gas and the local politician’s latest gaffe, but, let’s face it: Stars aren’t normal. There are as many reasons for that as there are dollars in a star’s bank account. Still, there are a few high-profile actors who are almost average, in a gal-next-door kind of way. One of them is Tina Fey.
In the comedy world, performers traditionally hold specific roles: Mae West was a sensuous vamp; Lucille Ball and Debra Messing, were ditzy klutzes; Mary Tyler Moore and Phyllis Diller had a lock on self-deprecation; Roseanne Barr wore the mantle of angry feminist; Sarah Silverman and Kathy Griffin were shockers. Now, for the first time, “normal” joins the line-up, and Fey has a firm hold on that category.
As queen of the castle Fey is all tangled up with Liz Lemon, the character she created for the Emmy Award-winning 30 Rock. Both produce a late-night comedy/variety show at a large TV network in Manhattan. Both deal with overbearing bosses and prima donna talent. Both inspire us with the fact that they are brainy, high-achieving women in a field still dominated by men. They are not perfect and don’t pretend to be. And, God, do they make us laugh.
Liz is the most realistic single career woman on TV since Murphy Brown. She’s not the girlfriend, the wife or the hot chick. She’s the boss. Liz isn’t afraid to wear granny underwear and ugly pajamas in the era of Victoria’s Secret. She has dated a beeper salesman and chugs wine while running on a treadmill. Perfect, she ain’t. Normal? Yeah. Relatable? Absolutely. Liz gives us permission to be eccentric, to be okay about ourselves, to do exactly what we want. We can laugh at our mistakes and not take ourselves too seriously. How freeing is that?
And Fey seems to have it all. She is navigating a man’s world, but she has maintained her sense of self, hasn’t compromised her ideals and never seems manipulative or coquettish. You don’t see her purring like Paris Hilton or the Kardashian sisters on the red carpet or flashing her waxed privates to paparazzi in Hollywood. And when she does do something that could be considered sex-kittenish – like the April issue of Esquire with the cover line, “Tina Goes Wild” – she defuses it with a self-deprecatory comment. “What I've come to realize is that when people say, ‘The thinking man’s whatever,’ there’s no such thing. The thinking man also wants to fuck Megan Fox.”
Fey was matter-of-fact when she told Vogue in March: “I feel like I represent normalcy in some way. What are your choices today in entertainment? People either represent youth, power or sexuality. And then there’s me, carrying normalcy.” As a multi-millionaire entertainer, Fey isn’t really “normal.” She was the first female head writer at Saturday Night Live and has won mountains of awards. She created, writes, and executive produces 30 Rock. She writes and stars in movies and makes a point of working with her friends. (And we love her more for her loyalty.) During last year’s presidential election, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more quick-witted political satirist and impressionist. But she projects normal beautifully. She talks of her stable home life. She’s married and has a daughter. She’s self-deprecating and downplays her achievements.
“Tina Fey is a hero to a lot of women,” says Kelley Lynn, a comedian and frequent performer at the Gotham Comedy Club in New York. An adjunct professor at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y., who teaches dramatics and stand-up comedy, Lynn says of Fey, “She’s brilliant. She works hard. She’s not Ms. Plastic Surgery. Her trickle-down effect is positive, positive, positive.”
When I do a shout out to my girlfriends on Facebook they gush about how they relate to Fey. Tara, a film marketing coordinator in Los Angeles, writes: “She doesn't conform to the beauty aesthetic in Hollywood and she has created a sex appeal for smart, cute brunettes.”
Marie Lavallée, a Canadian expat and sales manager in Newport Beach, California, says Fey has “that BFF aura” about her and has created an equally approachable character. “Liz Lemon is the personification of my most inner dialogue and her character makes me laugh at my anxieties.”
Every decade has had a comic social commentator with an artfully contrived look. Phyllis Diller commanded the stage in zany costumes while mocking her looks. Joan Rivers held the microphone in an evening gown, a vision of elegant sarcasm; Roseanne Bar wore feminist rage on her sleeve. And now there’s Fey as Liz: quirky, brainy, lovely.
Jessica Kirson, a stand-up comedian in New York City, who has appeared on The Tonight Show, says that stand-up comics have evolved past costumes and props, and somehow nutty and normal manage to co-exist. “We can be vulnerable – and our audiences want to hear more reality,” she says.
When she won an Emmy in 2008, Fey said, “I want to thank my parents for somehow raising me to have confidence that is disproportionate with my looks and abilities. Well done! That is what all parents should do.”
I feel like she’s parenting us through her comedy, spreading confidence with each quip, improv sketch, and punch line that she writes, and every laugh, giggle, and cackle she brings out in us. Fey is my role model for the 21st century – next to my mom of course. And I’d buy them both lunch anytime.
(TO READ MY AMAZING INTERVIEW WITH MS. DILLER AND MORE ON TODAY'S FEMALE STAND-UP COMICS, PICK UP THE SEPT. ISSUE OF ELLE CANADA)