Interview: Tina Fey Talks About 30 Rock (Part 2)

Last week, Tina Fey was kind enough to talk to the press on a conference call about the return of the hilarious comedy series, 30 Rock. She answered questions about the series, upcoming episodes, guest stars, as well as what goes into the writing of the show. The interview is pretty long, so we broke it down into two parts.

Here’s part 2. For part 1 of the interview, CLICK HERE.

Are there are any actors out there that you’d love to see play a love interest for Liz?

Tina Fey: It’s funny because those are - for me, my least favorite stories to do and so there’s a certain contingency in our writers’ room. They’re always pitching them and I’m always saying no - no more love times. So I don’t know what will be on the horizon for Liz. Maybe - you know who would be good? Peter Dinklage - that would be good. That guy is awesome.

Your supporting cast is also awesome and I was wondering if you’re going to see more of Toofer and Frank, and Pete in the five episodes that are to come?

Tina Fey: You definitely will see them, for sure. It’s - they are great and our ensemble is very large, and it’s hard to get everybody in every week. But you definitely will get to enjoy those guys in those five episodes.

Any hints as to what they might be doing?

Tina Fey: Let’s see. Frank has some good stories with - he’s teamed up with Tracy a fair amount this year. He becomes Salieri to Tracy’s Mozart in a way. That might be all I can say about it at this time. But - and Toofer - oh, Toofer - and Keith Powell in a weird comic got to play Sammy Davis, Jr. in a weird fantasy sequence and he did a really good job. So look for that coming up. What else? And then - and Lonny - Lonny is in MILF - he’s in the MILF Island one. He’s in - they’re all blaring in my head. He’s definitely…

Hello. Sorry about that. Hi Tina. What’s the edgiest, most shocking thing you have imagined for 30 Rock, but have not yet dared to write?

Tina Fey: We have - well I think comedy writers in general - the stuff that they talk about in the room is often too rude or shocking for general consumption. So there are a few stories, but I wouldn’t even dare say them on this call. People would -it would be like when the Exorcist came out and people fainted

Liz mentioned in Season One, I think it was, that people should vote for Obama. Hillary is old news. You, I’m sure, recall it better than I do. But - so where do you stand and where might Liz stand now?

Tina Fey: I think, you know, 30 Rock especially, we like to sort of just put things out there that hopefully spark discussion. And I think that thing of Liz saying - Liz Lemon also said last year that -when she was confessing her secrets to Floyd, she said I might tell everyone I’m voting for Obama and secretly vote for McCain. And so I think there’s just a level of - I think there’s a certain small sector of people that do think that and so we just kind of like to put that stuff out there. I think our role is more to spark discussion and to try to clarify and point out what we’re observing more than to really endorse or campaign for anybody.

With the current trend of pop stars showing up on TV, would you entertain the idea of a Britney Spears or a Britney equivalent doing a guest spot on 30 Rock?

Tina Fey: Well like I was saying before, we usually like write a part first and then think about who would be good. But if there were…

If she approached you?

Tina Fey: If there were a part that was appropriate, I don’t think we’d hesitate to go to somebody like that because I’ve actually worked with Britney twice at Saturday Night Live and she was very professional and nice.

You've been referred to before as a comic geek goddess. Do you feel yourself as a part of a revolution? Do you keep that in mind when writing the show?

Tina Fey: First, everyday we talk about the revolution. Then we figure out how to keep the revolution going. No, we sort of just think about our characters and what stories we want to tell about them. And I try to have my character be written in a way that feels truthful to me and all the women on the show to feel realistic, and intelligent in their own way. And beyond that, no, not running the revolution.

I saw an awesome interview on Conan just awhile back. It aired here with a Geek magazine cover. And of course, Liz Lemon is sort of a ditzy, neurotic, you know, pretty - a geek herself. So how do you see yourself as - both in life and in character as sort of a geek ambassador who is ranking up points on the sexy meter as well?

Tina Fey: I definitely am a nerd in life. I think Liz Lemon might be a bigger nerd than me. One of the writers put - in an upcoming episode, he had her - a flashback of her playing Dungeons and Dragons in college. And I said I never played Dungeons and Dragons in college. Liz Lemon is much more of a geek than I ever was. But thank god there is a Geek magazine, or what would I be on the cover of?

But is nerd the new sexy?

Tina Fey: I think some people will always like nerds. I think that goes back to Buddy Holly.

When you and writers sit down to write an episode and the filler stuff in the background of the TGS show - How much of that is based on reality? Like is there real stories of NBC pages running around hopped up on caffeine?

Tina Fey: Some of it - I think some of those stories - some things come from our work experience. Some things come from what you build with the characters. And we had - with that particular story, we had talked about Kenneth having been part of his religion that he had never drunk hot beverages before. And so, you know, some things come from sillier places than others.

You just did the Vanity Fair story which was kind of a response to Christopher Hitchens’ now infamous piece about how women aren’t funny. If you ran into him in a bar tomorrow, what would you say to him or what would your character on 30 Rock say to him?

Tina Fey: I’d probably say you need to get out of this bar. You’ve been here for two days. No, I feel like stuff like that - it’s - I didn’t even read that article because it’s not really - it’s - the discussion is just so old and unnecessary anymore to be talking about whether women are funny. It just seems silly and outdated to me.

We spoke about guest stars before -- but if you had had any discussions with Amy Poehler?

Tina Fey: Oh, about being on 30 Rock. Sorry you meant if I ever talk to her. Yeah, we actually - yeah, we try - we had an episode last year where we went to Amy for something and she was out of town. It was an SNL hiatus week. And so we definitely would love her to come on sometime when there’s a nice, juicy part for her. I would love it.

What did you think of Jack McBrayer’s star turn in Mariah’s video? And do you think there might be a spot for Mariah in the 30 Rock universe?

Tina Fey: I thought McBrayer did great in that video. And yes, once again, if there’s ever something that comes up that is appropriate for Mariah, I will be the first person to try to get in contact with her.

You mentioned that sometimes you have your daughter on set. I was just wondering kind of what she enjoys doing when she comes to work with you?

Tina Fey: She likes to watch people get their makeup done and then when I come home, she goes you got makeup? I like your makeup. Who did your eyes? I think I have a very girly girl on my hands. And she likes the snack table. But who doesn’t?

You talked a little bit earlier about how they were - the sitcoms these days are, you know, one camera and they’re not shot in front of an audience. I was wondering if you would like to shoot a show in front of an audience or if you think it just wouldn’t work?

Tina Fey: I think it would be super fun to shoot a show in front of an audience. We were trying, at one time - we may try to do this again. I’m trying to think of an excuse to shoot our show in front of an audience somehow. Because we did - during the strike, we did do a stage reading of it in front of a live audience with the Upright Citizens Brigade and it was really fun to have an audience there. I personally - I grew up on that multi-camera format. I think that’s a great format and as soon as somebody - you know, someone will - there’ll be a new one that works and all of a sudden everybody will make those again.

When your show wins a Best Comedy Emmy, does that give you more leverage with the network in any way?

Tina Fey: Well I think it certainly helps a show like ours which isn’t the highest rated show. I think it helps us stay on the air. It buys us some time. But that said, we don’t - other than that, we don’t really - other than staying on, we’re not really looking for leverage with the network because they’ve always been very supportive with us. And the fact that they let us do the show, and help us pay for fancy guest stars and stuff when we get them, they’re very supportive.

Speaking of guest stars, real quick, you mentioned Tim Conway is going to be on.

Tina Fey: Yes.

Kevin Thompson: What is he going to be doing?

Tina Fey: He plays a very sweet TV veteran named Bucky Bright who used to be on a show in the Fifties called Wagons Ho. And Kenneth is very excited. He’s there to be a celebrity for a Republican Party Rally that Jack is trying to organize. But Jack is looking for a younger, hipper celebrity so he pawns him off on Kenneth and he tells Kenneth some very, very shocking and racy stories about the old days of television.

I’m sure you have no shortage of offers to do any number of things. What is it about television that’s appealing to you?

Tina Fey: First of all, I have a real shortage of offers because I pretty much only do stuff that - until Baby Mama, really was the first time I ever had the luxury of someone saying I want to write this for you. Do you want to be in it? So that was a great, great gift. But mostly, the stuff that I’ve done has always been stuff that I helped generate, at least. But what was your question? What else would I like to do?

What is it about television that’s appealing to you?

Tina Fey: Oh, right. Well television, I think, is a great writer’s medium whereas movies are more the director’s medium and they kind of kick the writers off the set. And so it’s very satisfying to write a show and within a few weeks have it shot. It’s also - it moves so much faster than movies, so you write it and pretty soon you’re doing a table read and shooting it, and editing it. And pretty soon it’s on TV. So it’s - doing a half hour is as close to doing a live show, like SNL as you can get.

[Does] anyone besides the writers contribute to the arcs on the show and the character development? Like did Tracy Morgan come up with the Black Crusaders? Does Alec Baldwin ad lib?

Tina Fey: Alec oftentimes gives us ideas that we like and use. Sometimes they are - sometimes it’s a joke on the set, but sometimes it is, you know, like you know it would be great if I had a brother. And we always welcome it because when you’re trying to make up 21 stories for each character every year, you need lots of help. So we definitely have gotten things from Alec. Tracy, I think some of it has been from just observing and his life. But - and taking it and heightening it by about five notches. And then pretty much the rest just comes from the writers.

All right, so there’s not a lot of ad libbing?

Tina Fey: There is - we try to - there’s not a ton of ad libbing. We try to leave a little room. Usually when you shoot a scene, you shoot it as written and then maybe at the beginning and the end of the scene, there’s a little room for stuff. Or if you have an idea on the floor, we’ll shoot additional lines. And sometimes we definitely use them if they - we’re not averse to using them if we like them.

You talked earlier about how you and your friends from Second City - how you guys in some ways have been kind of (unintelligible) in your own integrity - in your comedy. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about that and explain that? And just talk about how you guys are different from other comedians in the US.

Tina Fey: Well at Second City in Chicago, you’re trained to improvise and to take your ideas from stories in the news that are important to you and there - you are taught that you can really affect change with your improvisation and with the sketch comedy. And so I think sometimes after that you have to kind of re-learn that you can also be - just be silly as part of your comedy. But I think people from Second City make great actors because they come in - because they’re used to working as an ensemble. They come in and they really know how to make other people look good.

So do you feel that you have landed on the silly side of comedy nowadays?

Tina Fey: Well sometimes we do still try to look at what’s going on in the world or the news, and kind of use that as a jumping off place for stories. I think that is a useful technique to retain because there’s always something happening in the world that you can make into a story.

There’s a little sense that you can be a little more outrageous, a little more surreal now. And I guess I sort of see that as different as the shows are, I see that in Scrubs. I see that in Earl. Is there something - I mean, what has changed? Where is that influence? Why are things opening up in that direction now? Is it The Simpsons or what is it?

Tina Fey: Well that’s interesting - that it is maybe the influence of The Simpsons. I know with our show, we talk about the - we feel that to be able to get away with that, we have to try to keep the characters grounded at their core and at emotional level - and that they are real and they care about each other and they - the things that are at stake are real to them. And then if you’re seeing a flashback to their past or the way they view something, then it can be a little more bent, for lack of a word, then. But I think if they were only all silliness and cutaways, then I think it would be hard to sustain itself. We - because even if it was - if you look at The Simpsons, it’s so all over the place and they can go anywhere. But at the center of it, is that family that really - even though it’s a silly cartoon family, the mother loves the children and the, you know, it’s a real family that’s their starting off point.

There seems to be much more of that now than there was in the Friends/ Seinfeld/Caroline in the City era where it was this kind of, sort of singles comedy, though. I mean, it seems to be much more of that sort of freedom for you guys now.

Tina Fey: For the world to be kind of strange?


Tina Fey: Yeah. And I think that - maybe that comes and goes in waves because there are some great old Seventies shows like Mary Hartman or Fernwood 2 Night, I think that were just really odd and they - once again, the Bob Newhart Show was great about having just some really odd characters on it. And I don’t know. I haven’t really thought this through.

Now talking about The Simpsons before - you were establishing some connections. But how do you describe the humor that that you make in the 30 Rock? Is it that - lessons to the actual situation of the feeling of the Americans?

Tina Fey: Well I think that our show has a lot of different kinds of jokes in it. It has political jokes. It has jokes based in the characters and the way they behaved. It has physical humor, a lot of the time and just some absurdity. Tracy’s character provides us a lot of silliness a lot of times. So I think it’s a mixed bag of all different kinds of American humor.

I just wanted ask, actually about some aspects of the show seem to translate well. Like online, you sort of get viral with like werewolf bar mitzvah, things like that - the muffin top song. And I’m just curious, when you think about those sort of segments of the show, if you think about the Internet component and/or if that’s going to be something that’s going to continue, I guess?

Tina Fey: I think we do a little bit. We - I feel like we do like to put things in the show that are - I would for lack of a better term call TiVo jokes that are things that you would either have to kind of rewind to, you know, or rewind and pause - or at the very least, things that kind of pay off on more than one viewing. Because I’ve had a lot people say that things go by so quickly that they - there are certain jokes that they don’t get until the second or - don’t even hear, literally don’t hear until the second or third time they watch.

No, I was going to say the same thing. I mean, certainly sometimes when you have like (Fox News of the Cairon) or whatever, which is still crazy (unintelligible).

Tina Fey: Yes, so we’ll put - which we are - we do try to put things like that in there - little - like in Mad Magazine, they would draw in the margins because early on last year we did an episode where there was a prop that was a list - Liz made a list of the pros and cons about her boyfriend. And then I realized that people did freeze frame and, you know, wrote on the Internet - hey look what Liz said. And so ever since then, I realized well people really look at this stuff. So if we do have a prop newspaper or something like that, we try to make sure that it has some extra jokes in it in case you do zoom in on it.

Kelly West
Assistant Managing Editor

Kelly joined CinemaBlend as a freelance TV news writer in 2006 and went on to serve as the site’s TV Editor before moving over to other roles on the site. At present, she’s an Assistant Managing Editor who spends much of her time brainstorming and editing feature content on the site. She an expert in all things Harry Potter, books from a variety of genres (sci-fi, mystery, horror, YA, drama, romance -- anything with a great story and interesting characters.), watching Big Brother, frequently rewatching The Office, listening to Taylor Swift, and playing The Sims.