Oprah: Other than a sense of humor, what do you need to take to comedy?
Tina: A willingness to drop your ego and let yourself look foolish. You almost have to enjoy looking vulnerable. You’d be surprised how many people don’t want to do that.
Oprah: They don’t even know how! For so many great actors, it’s about being in control.
Oprah: 30 Rock wasn’t a big hit at first—even though it’s so well done. I know what it’s like to work on a project and love it—then when you put it out, the world doesn’t receive it the way you intended. That’s what happened to me with the movie Beloved.
Tina: In the beginning, I would just cling to any good review we received. And the fact that when it was over, I’d at least have the DVDs.
Oprah: When you got an Emmy in 2007, I laughed when you said, “I’d like to thank our dozens and dozens of viewers.”
Tina: Our ratings were scary!
Oprah: Did your show survive only because it received such critical acclaim?
Tina: Yes—any other show would have been gone. Of course, we debuted at a time when NBC didn’t have much else happening. If Friends or Frasier were still on the air, forget it.
Oprah: Last year 30 Rock received 17 Emmy nominations. Did y’all go nuts when the nominations were announced?
Tina: We were working that day, but we did have a little champagne. Then somebody pointed out that The Larry Sanders Show had once gotten 16 nominations but won nothing. I was like, “Okay, I’ll get ready to win nothing.”
Oprah: How many did you win?
Oprah: And what does it mean to win?
Tina: The first year, it made us feel like a real TV show. Before the Emmys, I had done a lot of downplaying: “It’s just a bunch of people who paid 200 bucks to start a club and give themselves prizes.” But after we won, I was like, “It’s the greatest thing ever—extremely prestigious.”
Oprah: Just like that, it became an honor!
Tina: Exactly! Actually, it’s rewarding for everybody who works so hard on the show.
Oprah: What’s your process for creating a script?
Tina: Once we have a preliminary draft, we do a reading. Then I’ll have a couple of writers over to my home. We plug the computer into the TV, put the script onscreen, and work on it together. We try to include three story lines in every episode. When I go back and watch the first season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I’m like, “My God, there’s just one story!”
Oprah: That American Express ad where you’re hiding under the table with total chaos around you—is that real?
Tina: My life is not quite that crazy, but it’s close. It’s a weird mix: I have this job that I love, but I’m also like, “When can I go home?” In a way, that’s good, because otherwise, I’d never go home. I would just kill myself doing this show. And even so, the moment we put Alice to bed, Jeff and I go back to work. Sometimes I call a moratorium on talking about work at home, but mostly, we talk about it nonstop.
Oprah: What’s it like to work with your husband?
Tina: We’re not literally together all day. That would make anybody crazy. But it’s a good situation because we work toward the same goal. Although maybe I’m the one saying it works because I’m the boss! You should ask him. Last year he did have an issue with a particular story for the show. He was like, “Listen, I’m going to tell you something because nobody tells you no—I don’t like this.”
Oprah: You’ve reached that point where nobody tells you no?
Tina: At some point, you realize that people might be laughing at your jokes because they’re afraid not to laugh. That’s why I still have Lorne as a partner on 30 Rock. He’ll tell me if he doesn’t like something.
Oprah: Do you feel like the big star that everybody says you are?
Tina: Not exactly. One day last week when I was writing, I was in my sweatpants, exhausted, and I realized I’d just eaten six Kit Kats in 10 minutes.
Oprah: Kit Kats are your drug of choice?
Tina: Actually, it’s usually doughnuts. When I have a day when my hair is dirty and I’m tired, my friend Kay sings this little song she made up [Tina sings]: “TV star, livin’ the life, just like Jennifer Aniston!” My life is not at all like Jennifer’s. I never walk the dogs on the beach. I’m never in St. Bart’s. I’m never on a yacht.
Oprah: There are never photographs of you smooching with Jeff?
Tina: Noooo! [Laughing.] We have a good life—we just don’t have a famous person’s life.
Oprah: Do you want that life?
Tina: It’s great to have people be nicer to me than they would be if I weren’t famous. But the new level of fame that came from the Palin thing makes me anxious. I don’t love it that people recognize me all the time.
Oprah: You’ve been given the talent of great humor. How do you want to continue using it as the best expression of who you are?
Tina: I want to keep creating comedy that is, as my old improv teacher would say, at the top of our intelligence or higher. It’s easy to fall into the trap of just cranking out things that are good enough to sell.
Oprah: How do you choose the work that’s most important to you? By now, I could have had a food line, a furniture line, and a perfume line.
Tina: I choose one project at a time. I’m like, “If I saw this on my shelf a year from now, would I think it was good—or would I think it’s b.s.?” People have asked me to put my name on other shows, but I won’t do it. The only hallmark I have for what I do is that I’ve worked hard on it. I can’t lend my name to something I didn’t work on.
Oprah: Has somebody asked you to do the Tina Fey doll yet?
Oprah: It’s coming. But I’ve always believed that if you say yes to everything that comes along, people won’t believe you when you really do have something meaningful to say. Final question: What do you know for sure?
Tina: I know for sure that you can tell how smart people are by what they laugh at. I know for sure that a hard-boiled egg is two points on Weight Watchers. I know for sure that my kid needs my husband and me to be with her more. And I know for sure that I can’t get comfortable with all the attention I’ve been getting because it won’t last forever. It’s just a moment—and there will be other moments when people don’t care what I’m doing.
Oprah: This was fun—thank you for spending a rainy Saturday afternoon with me.
Tina: Thanks for stopping by!