Tina Fey has been making instrumental contributions to film and television since the ‘90s. What did she do before becoming famous?
Tina Fey got her first significant role in television with Saturday Night Live, in 1997. Since then, public knowledge of the writer and actress grew steadily. Before this role, Tina Fey lived a fairly ordinary life—she worked as a receptionist while attending comedy classes, and before that, she went to college.
Stick around to learn more details about the life of Tina Fey, and how she became successful in the comedy and writing fields.
Pre-fame Tina Fey
Tina Fey, whose birth name is Elizabeth Stamatina Fey was born on May 18, 1970, in Pennsylvania.
Her father, Donald Henry Fey, had been in the military, serving in the Korean war. He later worked as a university administrator and a grant proposal writer. Her mother, Zenobia “Jeanne,” who was Greece-born, worked as a brokerage employee.
Tina Fey’s parents introduced their daughter to comedy at a young age.
She talked about the influence her parents had on her in an interview, saying, “I remember my parents sneaking me in to see Young Frankenstein. We would also watch Saturday Night Live, or Monty Python, or old Marx Brothers movies.”
She continued, “My dad would let us stay up late to watch The Honeymooners. We were not allowed to watch The Flintstones though: my dad hated it because it ripped off The Honeymooners. I actually have a very low level of Flintstones knowledge for someone my age.”
Tina became interested in comedy and writing during middle school. To exercise her passions, she joined the drama club at school and worked as the co-editor of her school’s newspaper, The Acorn, for which she would anonymously author the satirical column.
Tina attended college at the University of Virginia, studying playwriting and acting.
After graduating from college, Tina moved to Chicago where she worked as a receptionist. In the evenings, she would attend classes at the improvisational comedy troupe The Second City.
Saturday Night Live
Tina Fey submitted scripts to NBC’s Saturday Night Live (SNL) and was eventually hired as a writer, in 1997. She moved to New York City in order to begin her new role.
Describing her elation at clinching the job, she told The New Yorker, “I’d had my eye on the show forever, the way other kids have their eye on Derek Jeter.”
In 1998, Tina had a role as an extra in one of the episodes and became self-conscious about her weight.
“I was a completely normal weight, but I was here in New York City, I had money and I couldn’t buy any clothes. After I lost weight, there was interest in putting me on camera,” she told The New York Times.
In 1999, Tina was made the head writer of SNL, becoming the first female head writer in the show’s history.
Take a look at this throwback 2001 interview with Tina Fey on the Late Night with Conan O’Brien show:
In 2015, Rolling Stone listed all SNL cast members that had featured to date, in order of deemed importance to the show. Tina Fey was listed as third on this list, behind John Belushi and Eddie Murphy.
Rolling Stone commented that Fey instigated a “salvaging ‘Update’ from a decade-long losing streak,” as well as “slapping SNL out of its late-nineties coma.”
Tina Fey worked on SNL until 2006.
After establishing herself as a writer, Tina Fey went on to write for many other projects, such as Mean Girls (2004), 30 Rock (2006–2013, 2020), Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2015–2020).
Tina Fey is not only a writer but also stars in her own scripts and other ventures. She has starred in dozens of television programs and feature films, as well as theatre productions.
She’s had roles in Mean Girls (2004), Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013), Wine Country (2019), among many others.