As part of the Sacerdote Great Names series at Hamilton College, students had the opportunity to have a small group question-and-answer with Tina Fey. Fey, the executive producer, head writer, and star of NBC’s Emmy Award-winning comedy “30 Rock,” visited Hamilton on Oct. 22 as the latest guest in the Sacerdote series.
After a brief introduction by Chair and Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies Anne Lacsamana, Fey took questions from the audience. The group, composed of Campus Activities Board E-board members, senior theatre and women and gender studies majors, and some students from classes in those departments, asked Fey for her thoughts on a wide range of topics.
Several students asked Fey about various aspects of her career. She recounted how she got into comedy writing through a moment of rejection when she was passed over by “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) scouts. As she said in response to another question, she always wanted to do comedy at any level, so she applied to SNL as a writer. Fey also talked about the transition from SNL to her show “30 Rock.” The former was a more competitive workspace where writers try to get their pieces chosen for the week, while the latter was a more collaborative workspace where other people’s jokes help the final piece shine.
Ashley Huntington ’20, who was in the small group, said “I appreciated when (Fey) said that creating a space that is collaborative and supportive is one of her proudest achievements. Working with others should be seen as a success, rather than some individualized and cut-throat competition.”
Students asked Fey for her perspectives as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field. She said she focused on trying to hire writers who were nice people. When asked what she was most proud of, Fey said it was creating good work environments. She also expressed her appreciation for growing diversity in the industry, as new and interesting stories are being told.
Others asked Fey how to assert oneself and have confidence in your work. Imparting an important lesson, she said confidence is about taking your work seriously, putting it in front of others, and understanding that humiliation won’t kill you.
Theatre major Jo-Jo Rinehart Jones ’20 was among students in the class. She said “The Q&A was great, she was very kind and funny and answered a huge range of questions with a lot of thought and patience. She was very candid about some aspects of the comedy-writing industry, which was really interesting and helpful to me as someone interested in the field.
“It was also refreshing to hear her talk about struggling after graduating. I know that the senior theatre majors present definitely enjoyed hearing her talk about rejection and day jobs and the like since that’s where we are all imminently headed,” Jones said.
There were also some more offbeat questions, like Fey’s feelings on her “criminally underrated” work in the movie Megamind and whether she was a Left Twix or a Right Twix person. One student asked for her recommendations for things to pay attention to in comedy, and she listed several TV shows and movies, like “Fleabag” and “Chewing Gum.”
The conversation was lighthearted and fun, but also very useful for many individuals in the room interested in fields and careers related to Fey’s work. One theatre major asked Fey if she found time for creativity outside of her creative career. Fey said she never writes for pleasure and does other things in her down time, like self-described terrible watercolors and trying to cook. Whether directly giving advice or sharing stories about her experience, Fey imparted valuable wisdom with a heaping dose of comedy.
“Getting to hear Tina Fey was so exciting … I loved getting the chance to hear from someone who has a wide variety of experience in the entertainment field,” said Grecia Santos ’20. Santos said Fey gave tips on how to manage when just breaking into a new career, and how to act when in leadership positions. “I learned that it’s important to make sure everyone feels valued if you have the chance to do that – the work you do is better and stronger for it, because everyone is putting in their absolute best.”
The small group question-and-answer session was a unique opportunity for students to get to hear more from Fey. It was an hour full of laughs, stories, and genuine guidance from a foremost voice in her field. The event fit into the spirit of the Sacerdote Great Names series, which is to provide the Hamilton College community with the unique opportunity to interact with renowned individuals.
Laura Boyman ’20 summed up the classroom event. “I particularly liked how thoughtful (Fey) was with her answers. When theatre majors asked about television and other aspects of the entertainment industry she was able to give realistic and helpful advice,” Boyman said. “When others asked about ethics in comedy and its role in our current political landscape she gave, I felt, honest and nuanced answers. I appreciated that she wasn’t afraid to dig into those difficult questions.”
Later, Fey delighted a sold-out Field House crowd with a question-and-answer chat moderated by Selena Coppock ’02.