From the archive: Tina Fey's first big screen adventure
- Eddie Harrison
- 9 June 2020
Eddie Harrison uncovers America's newest great comedy phenomenon, ahead of the release of her first major feature Baby Mama
Not since the heyday of Mary Tyler Moore in the 70's has one woman taken the media by storm like Tina Fey has. Now she's set her sights on the big-screen, and with her first starring vehicle Baby Mama already taking $60 million in the US, in Tina Fey, a star is born.
'Who can turn the world on with a smile? Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?'
Baby Mama star Tina Fey grew up watching the Mary Tyler Moore Show. From a sidekick role on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Tyler Moore hit global stardom in her own top-rated sitcom in which she played a small-town girl struggling with a tough boss to make it in a big-city television office.
Today she is fondly remembered in the iconic and much-imitated image from the show's credits in which she throws her tam o'shanter into the air; the spot where she stood on a busy Minneapolis thoroughfare is now immortalised by a bronze statue.
No stranger to bronze statues, Fey's success-story is already giving Moore a run for her money. Fey carried off both an Emmy and a Golden Globe for 30 Rock, winning her a Vanity Fair cover and putting her on both People magazine's Most Beautiful People list and Time magazine's Top 100.
Yet Fey's route to stardom was hardly kitten-soft; born to a Scottish/German father and a Greek mother in Pennsylvania, she started out doing improv in Chicago. Fey worked her way onto NBC's popular comedy showcase Saturday Night Live, and after becoming the first woman to become head writer on the show, which produced crossover film stars Chevy Chase, Mike Myers and Will Ferrell and more, Fey parlayed this into writing acerbic teen comedy Mean Girls before creating, producing and starring as Liz Lemon in NBC's flagship sitcom 30 Rock. In a straight lift from the Mary Tyler Moore playbook, Lemon is a small town girl struggling with a tough boss to make it in a big city television office.
Despite its huge US popularity, SNL isn't shown overseas and producer Lorne Michaels assiduously keeps clips from appearing on the likes of YouTube. So unless you caught the first run of 30 Rock on its Channel 5 slot, UK audiences are likely to need an introduction to Tina Fey, and that's where Baby Mama comes in. Working with producer Michaels and writer/director Michael McCullers, Fey enjoyed having a vehicle crafted for her comedic talents.
'It's such a nice gift to have somebody else write something for you to be in," says Fey. 'At Saturday Night Live, you write your own stuff and come up with your own ideas. This just seemed like a giant Christmas present.'
Fey had originally conceived of her first starring vehicle as 'a sort of Baby Boom', but with a twist on the Diane Keaton vehicle; her character is advised that she's unable to conceive and engages the services of a surrogate mother played by former SNL co-star Amy Poehler.
'We're very excited to be doing something together that is a story about two women who are not somebody else's girlfriend in a story … they're really the centre,' says Fey. 'To work with Amy is great, because we've known each other and worked together so long, I feel we have a very nice shorthand with each other. A nice give and take.'
Against the grain of much of today's shock-jock, bodily fluid comedy, Baby Mama's humour derives from the Odd Couple conflict between Fey's uptight and super-organised Kate and Poehler's shambolic Angie, a difference accentuated when Angie moves into Kate's uptown apartment.
'Kate, being a real yuppie, wants to drag Angie through the entire upscale pregnancy: a lot of baby yoga, high-end shopping, Lamaze and birthing classes. And Angie doesn't want to do any of it.' says Fey. 'Angie's messy, leaves her shoes everywhere and thinks Kate's food is weird, because it has vegetables in it. They eventually wear each other down.'
And while Baby Mama is essentially a lightweight comedy, Fey understands that much of the humour comes from real issues involved with surrogacy.
'The whole topic is fraught with so much, especially when you get into the areas of adoption, surrogacy and fertility clinics,' says Fey. 'It's one of the ways of the future for making babies and raises questions about the ethics and repercussions of people's actions.'
On and off screen, she's seldom one to shy away from controversy, and made waves as an outspoken supporter of Hilary Clinton, for whom she coined the phrase 'Bitch is the new black.' 30 Rock viewers will know that beneath Lisa Lemon's gauche exterior, a ball-breaking, career-driven harridan shares her skin and like her on-screen characters, Fey believes it's all about balance. She's currently living in New York with her husband, composer and musician Jeff Richmond and her two-year-old daughter, and is writing her next feature Curly Oxide and Vic Thrill.
Funny, smart and nobody's fool, she's enough to make you throw your tam o'shanter in the air.