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The Tina Fey Zeitgeist

by Jake Mohan 


Tags: Arts, television, comedy, politics, satire, writing, acting, improvisation, Second City, Tina Fey, Sarah Palin, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Amy Poehler, Katie Couric, Joe Biden, Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, Emmy,

tina feyBy the time Tina Fey emerged onto the cultural landscape in 2000 as an anchor on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” segment, the Second City alum was already the show’s head writer, quietly shepherding the comedy institution into its late-'90s renaissance and noticeably improving its ratio of funny-to-bad sketches.

Her star continued to rise with the razor-sharp satirical sitcom 30 Rock, which premiered in 2006 and solidified her status as the embodiment of geek chic in an entertainment climate where brainy, funny women are tragically undervalued. Fey has carved out a career in which she accomplishes the seemingly impossible feat of injecting savvy cultural and political commentary into mass entertainment, with her cerebral, rapid-fire monologues on “Update” and then with the surprisingly subversive 30 Rock.

But no one could have predicted Fey’s next act until August 29 of this year, when John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his running mate. The world pounced on the striking similarity between Fey and the VP candidate, and Fey didn’t disappoint. She has returned to Saturday Night Live to lampoon the candidate’s disastrous interviews with Katie Couric and her debate against Joe Biden, and delivered a speech with Hillary Clinton as played by longtime collaborator Amy Poehler. For her part, Palin has joked about honing her own Tina Fey impression, telling reporters she dressed as Fey for Halloween. (When? Last year?)

This week, Fey signed a multimillion-dollar book deal for a collection of humorous essays in the vein of Woody Allen and Nora Ephron. She appears undaunted by relative missteps like the box-office flop Baby Mama or her shilling for American Express, and now wields enormous cultural influence—as writer, performer, and human barometer of that uniquely American nexus of politics and entertainment.

Fey doesn’t necessarily relish her newfound cultural clout, however. As successful as her Sarah Palin gig has been, Fey hopes it doesn’t last long: “I want to be done playing this lady November 5,” she said backstage at this year’s Emmys. “So if anyone could help me be done playing this lady November 5, that would be good for me.”

We’ll do our best, Tina.

Image by David Shankbone, licensed by Creative Commons.