If you guys read Old Lady Movie Night, you’ll know I like to tell stories about high school. That’s because a) most of the movies I choose to write about are set in high school, b) I’ll never be finished making fun of myself for wearing both pleather and denim suits (two separate suits, worn on two different days), and c) whether we like it or not, high school is a formative time.
I’m not saying that means high school is the best time of your life — 99.9% of the time, it’s completely the opposite. But even though you may be juggling schoolwork, gentleman callers, friend politics, and the choice to wear that valour hoodie to school (don’t do it — take it from me who did it, never do it), you’ll stumble upon a few things that stick with you.
For me, it was comedy — or at least comedy writing. I knew I liked making people laugh, but, considering it was 2002-2004 (you know, the two years I was in grade 12 because I actually failed it the first time), there was no social media; no way of really reaching out to anyone or finding people with the same interests. “It’ll get better after high school!” I thought to myself. And hooray! It did. But until magical “after high school” happened, I only books and TV.
I grew up watching Saturday Night Live and Kids In The Hall, but it wasn’t until this formative age — the ripe old age of 17 — did I realize that people could actually be involved in projects like these. Thankfully, at the same time, I bought a book — Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live. And in that book, I got to know more about Tina Fey.
As we now all know, Tina Fey was head writer at SNL before going on to do 30 Rock, movies, and write Bossypants (which might be one of my favourite memoirs of all time). Obviously, she’s a force to be reckoned with. But in 2003, I knew her only from a couple of paragraphs in the biography, her appearance in the A&E SNL special, Weekend Update, and the occasional sketch — until I saw Mean Girls, and all of our worlds got a million times better.
Mean Girls came out the same time I was finishing grade 12 (for the second time), and the timing couldn’t have been better. Here, during the same months I was ready to bid adieu to high school the way Jenna Maroney does to most TGS writers, I — and all of us — were given a beautiful gift: a movie that proves just how ridiculous high school can be, and how girls tend to mistreat each other when figuring themselves out. This is before sites like HelloGiggles, Rookie, and xoJane were around to encourage discussion and awareness — so you can imagine both how precious and revelatory this message was. Especially for someone like me, whose only understanding of feminism came from my mom and aunts (so obviously, I wasn’t listening because I thought they were out of touch).
And from there, we know what happened next: Weekend Update with Amy Poehler. 30 Rock. Movies. Bossypants. Awards. Everything we now cite when we discuss influential Tina Fey and other influentials. Or at least everything I cite, since I personally owe a huge thank-you to Tina Fey.
Through 30 Rock specifically, Tina Fey showed that human, strong, flawed female characters could exist — and they were better for their realism. “I’m Liz Lemon” became the ethos of countless women I know (myself included), and while she was a character created for the diverse 30 Rock universe, she was refreshing and different. And she could — and did — have it all, sandwich at the airport included. Here, we saw a single, mid-30s woman running a relatively successful late-night comedy show while navigating the waters of dating, adoption, and friendship. While she obviously made mistakes (like all human beings), she was never without opportunity to learn from them, and ended the show a better, more aware person. We championed her — and as we should have. Liz Lemon really was all of us.
And even if you don’t relate to Liz, to acknowledge what Tina Fey has done must be celebrated. Her book demonstrated the importance of hard-work, of saying yes, and of standing one’s ground. She acknowledges the “are women funny?” debate with only an expression of boredom (just like Amy) and disinterest in engaging with it. She is unabashedly herself, and she has succeeded for it — at no point has she attempted to be someone else. (She even embraces her past haircuts.)
So thank you, Tina Fey, for everything. While the end of 30 Rock is heartbreaking (especially to those of us still trying to shotgun a pizza), new beginnings are even more exciting. Remember: at one point, we mourned the loss of Tina on Weekend Update before celebrating the introduction of Liz Lemon. So who knows what Tina will give us next?