The Important Lesson Tina Fey Learned While Working On Weekend Update

We like to think of Tina Fey as a comedic mastermind, but back when she was first writing for Saturday Night Live, she didn’t have nearly the experience she has today. She learned a lot on the set of NBC’s long-running late night series and a few years into the gig, she was asked to step up and take over “Weekend Update.” At the time, she didn’t have the experience writing the “real” stand-up type of jokes the position required, and she recently revealed that it was Colin Quinn that taught her how to write better jokes on SNL. She also says that one lesson in particular really stuck with her…

I still have a thing that I invoke called ‘The Colin Quinn Rule’ at 30 Rock or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Colin used to always say you can’t write a ‘Weekend Update’ joke where the punchline is you just show a picture of a cartoon character. It’s supposed to be like this guy—so and so’s crazy—and just the punchline is a picture of a turtle. He’s like, ‘that’s not a joke, you can’t do that.’ And so sometimes if our writers drift toward cartoon references, I’m like ‘I’m invoking the Quinn rule, that joke will not stand.’

Fey also called Colin Quinn “a great teacher” at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this week.  She, in fact, had only nice things to say about the man who helped her to step up to the plate on “Weekend Update” this time around, although she has told a story about him calling her the 'c' word in the past.  While I’ve seen some wacky stuff during “Weekend Update,” come to think of it, I can’t remember ever seeing Tina Fey use a cartoon character as a punchline. 

If you know anything about Tina Fey’s SNL career, it’s that it didn’t go as smoothly as some of the other cast member’s trajectories. She had trouble getting airtime during her first season on the show, and ended up dropping a ton of weight in order to be more camera-friendly. Eventually, she became head writer on the series and then landed the coveted “Weekend Update” position. But I love that she doesn’t take all of the credit for her success and is willing to share the lessons she learned along the way. 

Saturday Night Live is currently airing its 41st season on NBC, and Colin Jost and Michael Che now have the “Weekend Update” desk. Tina Fey is still around the desk on occasion, though. She popped up in the 40th Anniversary special last winter, hosted an episode this winter and even appeared in the Tracy Morgan episode this season. You can watch Fey and Amy Poehler deliver the final two “Weekend Update” jokes of the year, below. 


New episodes of SNL air on Saturday nights at 11:30 p.m. ET, only on NBC. To find out what TV will be around this summer, check out our upcoming premiere schedule

Photo courtesy of NBC. 

Jessica Rawden
Managing Editor

Reality TV fan with a pinch of Disney fairy dust thrown in. Theme park junkie. If you’ve created a rom-com I’ve probably watched it.