Eight years and a Trump after she kickstarted Saturday Night Live‘s political approach with her Sarah Palin impression, Tina Fey marvels at how “gentle” those days now seem. “It was like an ice cream social,” she said about the political scene and those who mocked it in the era before her old 30 Rock castmate Alec Baldwin reddened his face for the Donald Trump sketches that have reinvigorated the long-running series yet again.
Fey, a featured speaker at today’s Produced By New York conference, was interviewed by her Sisters producer John Lyons. Though the intended topic was her “Triple Threat” duties as a producer, actress and writer, Fey inevitably made her way to the Palin days of SNL.
Giving credit to then-head writer Seth Meyers and costar Amy Poehler (Hillary in the pre-Kate McKinnon days), Fey said that, believe it or not, her gang never took political sides. “We spent so much time and care on making sure everything was a fair hit,” she said. “We never, ever went into it thinking, ‘We gotta protect Obama’ or ‘We gotta make (the Republicans) look bad.’ Audiences can smell when a sketch is tipped.”
Fey said the intensely angry mood of this election season has even impacted the comedy scene, pointing to the flack her old Weekend Update partner Jimmy Fallon took for handling Trump (and his hair) with kid gloves. “This election is so, so ugly, it’s not business as usual. I really felt for Jimmy when people were so angry. It’s not Jimmy who peed in the punchbowl. It’s not Jimmy who created this horrible world we’re living in.”
Currently producing Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – and, as a writer, in development with husband Jeff Richmond and a “secret director” for a Broadway musical version of Mean Girls – Fey said she’s become the kind of ex-SNL star that bedeviled her during her tenure at 30 Rock (the building, not the series). “I’ve become their worst nightmare – calling up on Friday nights and saying, ‘So, what do you got?’”
In other words, she’s become Minnesota Senator Al Franken. Fey remembered that after she’d written an SNL sketch about John McCain, comic-turned-politician Franken publicly criticized the skit. “I thought, ‘You’re not wrong, but you do know my phone number, right? You wanna tell me or Larry King? You knew the phone number when you submitted a sketch.”
Years later, when Franken hit her up for a political contribution, Fey saw her chance for revenge. Franken won his Senate seat, but without Fey’s help. “I texted him and said, ‘I knew you could do it without my $4,000.’ To which the Senator Al Franken, to his credit, texted back: F*ck You.’”