Tina Fey won plenty of laughs by playing Sarah Palin next to Amy Poehler's Hillary Clinton on "Saturday Night Live" back in 2008. Now, Tina Fey is the off-stage force behind the new musical "Mean Girls," opening tonight on Broadway. How she brought her original hit movie to the Great White Way is the story she recently shared with Jane Pauley:
For some people Tina Fey is synonymous with "Mean Girls." She wrote the 2004 movie. So, maybe Pauley arrived for her interview a little nervous.
"Well, just don't worry about it," Fey said. "If it's something I'm uncomfortable with, I'll just flip this table."
"You'll just flip this table! All right, with me hangin' on!"
"Toward you, yes!"
"Mean Girls" was a kind of anthropological dig through the treacherous terrain of a very particular slice of American teen girl psyche. And now, 14 years after the movie, audiences are lining up again, for "Mean Girls," the musical. And tonight is opening night.
Fey is not in the show. But she wrote the lines, and her husband, Jeff Richmond, wrote the music.
Pauley asked, "Would it surprise you to know your cast kind of thinks you're sort of mean?"
Fey gasped: "No, they don't, do they?"
"No," they don't" laughed Pauley.
"Oh, good," she said, relieved.
"So, you nailed it with 'Saturday Night Live,' you wrote a super best-selling book ["Bossypants"], TV show, plural, with great success. There was one thing left, one thing left to conquer."
"Pageants!" Fey laughed. "No?"
"Yes. And, yeah, so it's a dream. I was trying to explain to my older daughter last night, when I was a kid, I didn't grow up in New York City, so if we came to New York to see a show and we got this real Playbill, and it was just so special. And I really did feel, like, a burning desire to have my name in one of those Playbills someday."
A self-described theater nerd, she grew about 100 miles south of Broadway, in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. And in high school, believe it or not, Fey might have been a little mean.
"I think at this age I was very kind of jealous and bitter," she said, "and you know, in hindsight could've been better. Which was part of the impetus for writing ['Mean Girls']."
"What were you mad about?" Pauley asked.
"I mean, you're just jealous about -- for me it was, like, whatever girl had the boy that you liked, well, she better watch out. There would just be constant sniping."
In college, at the University of Virginia, she studied drama. As for her social life: "I had a great time. I had a great time. And if I had dated a lot, I would've wasted a lot of energy on that. Think of all the playwriting I did, Jane! Think of all the stage crew I did because no one would date me!" she laughed. "I know, like, all the names of different kinds of lights.
"Now, here I am on Broadway!"
By way of Chicago's famed Second City, where many "Saturday Night Live" stars honed their chops. She met Jeff Richmond there, another musical theater geek from a small town in Ohio.
When asked how long they've been married, Richmond interjected, "Get it right."
"17 years," Fey replied.
"Preceded by how many years of couple-ness?"
"Seven?" Richmond said.
"Six or seven?" Fey said.
"You're pushing a quarter of a century together," Pauley said.
"Oh, my. High five!" Richmond said to his spouse.
"So how do you explain your longevity?"
"Well, I don't know," Richmond said. "It seems like we just get along. You know, you're funny, I kinda like that. And we seem to enjoy the same things. I don't know. Just a regular gal from Philadelphia. Just poundin' the streets of Chicago. But you know, I saw. I said, 'There it is. That's it.'"
In 1997, Fey came to New York to see about a job.
"She was probably uncomfortable," said Lorne Michaels, the legendary creator and executive producer of "Saturday Night Live," as well as the producer of "Mean Girls," the movie and the musical. "I knew it right away. In Tina's case, it helped enormously that she was a performer."
She got the job, but he hired her as a writer. Three years later, she got a shot in front of the camera.
And after nine years of late-night sketch comedy, Tina Fey was ready for primetime.
On TV's "30 Rock," she wore every hat: Creator, executive producer, writer and star.
Then, lightning struck: In 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain chose a running mate.
Michaels recalled: "As I was leaving my building the day after the debate, my doorman said, 'Hey, Mr. Michaels, hey, what a break, huh?' And I go, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'Well, you know, Sarah Palin-Tina Fey. I mean, you know, what a break!'
"I called Tina when I got to the office and I said, 'It doesn't seem like this is any longer up to us. They already cast you!'"
It was the performance that won her an Emmy, but the resemblance was uncanny.
Pauley asked, "Is your face actually very, very much like Governor Palin's?"
"No, not that much," Fey replied. "I think really it's just like a brown hair-and-glasses thing. We used to have to glue my ears down, 'cause my ears stick out.
"I have this memory of just, like, being home Sunday mornings with my daughter, who was three at the time, and just picking the wig glue off the edges of my ears and being like, 'Well, are we on the news today? How'd that sketch play last night?' It was a weird little window of time."
Which brings us back to this little window of time. She's been preparing for Broadway her whole life, but is first to admit it's all new. "I've been saying a lot in this process, like, I know what I know and I know what I don't know," she said.
And what Tina Fey knows is that her name is finally in a playbill.
"Look at this! It's all happening. Dreams do come true!" she laughed.
For more info:
- "Mean Girls," at the August Wilson Theatre, New York City | Purchase tickets
- Follow "Mean Girls" on Facebook
- Tina Fey on "Saturday Night Live" (nbc.com)
Story produced by Jay Kernis.