I have a huge girl crush on Tina Fey.
In November she was awarded the Mark Twain Award for American Humor.
The Mark Twain Prize recognizes people who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th century novelist and essayist best known as Mark Twain. As a social commentator, satirist and creator of characters, Samuel Clemens was a fearless observer of society, who startled many while delighting and informing many more with his uncompromising perspective of social injustice and personal folly. He revealed the great truth of humor when he said “against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.”
That is a whopping commendation if ever I heard one. Tina Fey stands in great company: Richard Pryor, Billy Crystal, Steve Martin, Bob Newhart, George Carlin, Bill Cosby… Oh, and Lily Tomlin and Whoopi Goldberg. In the prize’s 13-year history, Fey is only the third woman to receive it.
In her acceptance speech, Tina had this to say on the matter (starts a 02:44):
Apparently I am only the third woman ever to receive this award and I am so honored to be numbered with Lily Tomlin and Whoopi Goldberg. But I do hope that women are achieving at a rate these days that we can stop counting what number they are at things. (applause) Yes, I was the first female head writer at Saturday Night Live, and yes, I was only the second woman ever to be pregnant while on the show, and now tonight I am the third female recipient of this prize. I would love to be the fourth woman to do something… but I just don’t see myself married to Lorne (Michaels). (laughter)
SNL is itself 35 years old. Tina was also the second woman to host Weekend Update, the sketch that brought her national attention. She then co-anchored with Amy Poehler on WU‘s first two-woman anchor team.
Those are some pretty egregious numbers. Especially when you run your eye down Wiki’s list of cast members, and see that only about 16 are female, with half of those making it to the “Shortest Tenure” list with one season or less. Few women make it TO SNL and even fewer stay.
Which makes Tina’s triumph there even sweeter. She’s an outstanding writer and actress. Her movie, Mean Girls, drew on the very important Queen Bees and Wannabes, a study of cliques and bullying among girls. Her SNL sketches were often biting, especially the commercial parodies (Annuale, Mom Jeans). The show she created, 30 Rock, is a cult sensation.
For all that, we know the #1 reason she got the Mark Twain Award this year: Sarah Palin. Yes, Tina’s dead-on impersonation of Palin is surely going down in the history books alongside Chevy Chase’s Klutzy President Ford. It arguably changed the course of the 2008 election.
So, that’s why Tina Fey is amazing. I have a girl crush on her because I think she is awesome. And I know that, if her and my timelines had been aligned slightly differently, she could well have been my role model.
You see, Comedy Central used to run old SNL episodes around noon. I spent a lot of summers and sick days watching those, which is why I know all about LIVING IN A VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER and Jack Handy’s Deep Thoughts. They only aired older episodes, though, so I wasn’t as inundated by Feyisms. But when I think back to that time, and how I was–with semi-serious aspirations toward the stage and comedy–I know that seeing Tina Fey on screen and succeeding would have made a strong impact on me. She kinda looks like me (Hell, any white woman who has brown hair looks like me, yeah?), she has a sense of humor that coincides with mine, and she’s clearly incredibly quick-witted, which I love. I would have seen her as someone to emulate. She would have been that someone who’s gone where I want to go and proved that it’s possible for someone like me to do it, too. I think I would have tried harder down that path if I’d had her out there in front of me, being smart, making people laugh, writing up a storm.
I hope that some other little chickadee hit that sweet spot where SNL was cool and Mean Girls came out at just the right time to mean something to her. I hope she knows that it’s ok to be a little awkward now, that she can grow into someone phenomenal. I can’t wait for that girl to wind up on SNL one day, cracking jokes and kicking asses.
Thank you, Tina, for being awesome.