Tina Fey on Getting Mean Being nice is overrated.

Who runs comedy? Without question, it’s Tina Fey.

Head writer at Saturday Night Live. Director and star of hit Emmy-award winning sitcom 30 Rock. Executive producer of Netflix’s latest popular show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. This is just a sampling of the successes that make up Fey’s comedic legacy.

Arguably, her greatest hit is the cult classic and forever quotable film Mean Girls, which is interesting because Fey says she used to be one herself.

“I was a mean girl,” said Fey in an interview with the New Yorker, “When I was eighteen or nineteen, that was all that I was, caustic.”

She described it as a defence mechanism, but over the years, as she rose through the comedy ranks from a member of improve troupe Second City to her big break as a writer at Saturday Night Live, the negative quality actually helped shaped her biting wit.

In the New Yorker article, nearly all of the colleagues interviewed mentioned her ability to be mean yet disarming at the same time. Her humour was variously described as “hard-edged,” “vicious,” and “cruel.”

“The fight you have in your head with someone, that you’re never really going to have? . . . I think she plans one every day.” – Michael Shoemaker, former SNL producer

However, once Tina Fey became the first female head writer at Saturday Night Live, getting mean was exactly what she had to do take the show to new heights. Under the Tina Fey regime, Fey and the writing team won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing and a Writers Guild Award for “Saturday Night Live: The 25th Anniversary Special.”

“In that comfort zone, we say the meanest kind of things,” says Tina Fey, about the SNL writing room. “If you want to make an audience laugh, you dress a man up like an old lady and push her down the stairs. If you want to make comedy writers laugh, you push an actual old lady down the stairs.”

Sometimes, being nice is overrated. In comedy especially, pushing the boundaries is the key to getting those coveted laughs, but the idea can apply to other industries. Leaders should always give constructive feedback to their teams, but they should also be honest, even if it means bruising a few egos. If someone isn’t pulling their weight, tell them. They may not like you in the moment, but they will respect you in the long run.

Learn More:

Anchor Woman – New Yorker Profile on Tina Fey


Image Credit: Huffington Post

Jasmine Williams

Jasmine Williams

Jasmine Williams is the editor of Year One. She is also a freelance writer/editor currently pursuing her Master's in Media Production at Ryerson University. She has a Bachelor of Journalism from Carleton University and is the co-founder and former editor-in-chief of online lifestyle website Her Campus Carleton. Her main writing interests are pop culture, entertainment, and health. And she makes a mean cilantro pesto.