The Collected Wisdom of Tina Fey

It’s obvious Tina Fey is one of the most talented, hard working, and successful people in comedy history. She was the head writer for Saturday Night Live, host of Weekend Update, eight-time Emmy winner, author of The New York Times best seller Bossypants, writer of Mean Girls, star of films like Baby Mama and Date Night, and the creator and star of 30 Rock, not to mention a mother of two. Although 30 Rock ended its seven season run early this year, Fey is by no means taking a break. She created a new show — tentatively titled Tooken — that stars The Office’s Ellie Kemper and received an early 13 episode order from NBC, in addition to developing a comedy for Foxanother one at NBC, working on a Mean Girls musical, starring in more movies, and prepping to host the next two Golden Globes with Amy Poehler.

To celebrate Fey’s impressive career, intelligence, and wit, here’s a collection of her wisest and funniest quotes.


Sometimes on the 30 Rock set, when I don’t quite know how to play a scene, my husband will just remind me, he’ll say, “Just try to act like Julia Louis-Dreyfus.” So thank you, Julia. That is really working out for me. [Emmy acceptance speech, 2008]

When I studied acting technique, I could never understand what I should be thinking about when I was onstage. I’d be standing there thinking, “Hmm, how does my hair look?” But with improv, the focus is clear: You’re supposed to be listening to the other person so you know how to respond. [Oprah, 2009]


My consensus is that I’m slowly transitioning to looking more and more like a vampire. I have this kind of Nosferatu quality that’s presenting as how my features are aging. And you know what? It’s not great, but that’s how it’s going. [The Nerdist Podcast, 2012]

I think I finally, in my late 30s, am getting over this teenage shyness. [Reader’s Digest, 2008]

It’s interesting ‘cause as a female comedy performer, I do feel like, “Oh yeah, this is gonna become a problem or like this is gonna cut my time short,” when I hit like a weird middle ground where I can’t play like a single gal going on dates. I’m gonna have to find some kind of transitional role before I come back as a rapping grandma. [The Nerdist Podcast, 2012]

I need to take my pants off as soon as I get home. I didn’t used to have to do that. But now I do. [Bossypants, 2011]


I have no affinity for animals. I don’t hate animals and I would never hurt an animal; I just don’t actively care about them. When a coworker shows me cute pictures of her dog, I struggle to respond correctly, like an autistic person who has been taught to recognize human emotions from flash cards. In short, I am the worst. [Bossypants, 2011]


“Blorft” is an adjective I just made up that means “Completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum.” I have been blorft every day for the past seven years. [Bossypants, 2011]

My ability to turn good news into anxiety is rivaled only by my ability to turn anxiety into chin acne. [Bossypants, 2011]

Some people say, “Never let them see you cry.” I say, if you’re so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone. [Bossypants, 2011]


Listening to all of these speeches and performances for the last two hours, I cannot help but feel grateful that I put a bag of pretzels in my purse. [Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize speech, 2011]

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, 2009]


If you retain nothing else, always remember the most important rule of beauty, which is: who cares? [Bossypants, 2011]

Let’s admit it: yellow hair does have magic powers. You could put a blonde wig on a hot-water heater and some dude would try to fuck it. [Bossypants, 2011]

Photoshop is just like makeup. When it’s done well it looks great, and when it’s overdone you look like a crazy asshole. [Bossypants, 2011]

But I think the first real change in women’s body image came when JLo turned it butt-style. That was the first time that having a large-scale situation in the back was part of mainstream American beauty. Girls wanted butts now. [Bossypants, 2011]


Well, trying to be a leader in a sort of very atypical workplace like Saturday Night Live forces you to realize that no one wants you to be their leader. If you can help them get their thing on TV or whatever, they want that. But no adult is looking for a role model. [The New York Times, 2011]

I’m still the kind of person, if I see someone cutting in line, it’s like, excuse me, what are you doing? I’ll get in a fight in, like, the Easy Spirit on the Upper West Side, on someone’s behalf. [The New York Times, 2011]

The idea of being in control for the sake of control is not really important to me. If everyone is sharp and doing what they’re doing well, you don’t really need to be in control all the time. [NPR, 2013]


It’s cold, and the food is really good, and everyone’s a little bit beefier for the most part. [Vogue, 2010]

I did find that the Chicago improv community is just all encompassing and just a wonderful lifestyle for someone in their early 20s to 32. And then get out. After that, you probably have an alcohol problem. [The Nerdist Podcast, 2012]


You just are kind of a human napkin for kids. They just wipe their face on you. [Late Show with David Letterman, 2013]

It’s so funny because they’re not strong enough to kill you. And they want to kill you so bad! They can’t kill you. Not yet. Try again in a couple years. [Late Show with David Letterman, 2013]


When humor works, it works because it’s clarifying what people already feel. It has to come from someplace real. You don’t just decide to destroy a person by making up stuff, and no one at SNL is writing to go after someone. [Oprah, 2009]

To make comedy, maybe you just have to work hard and be funny. [Reader’s Digest, 2008]

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, 2009]

Humor is a great coping mechanism in real life. I know things are getting stressful if I lose my sense of humor in any situation. Part of being successful is being a good collaborator — and being smart enough to find the right people to work with. [Ladies’ Home Journal, 2013]

I always think of everything from a mother’s point of view now. Every kid has something they’re good at, that you hope they find and gravitate toward. This is my thing. I don’t think I was supposed to be a gymnast and accidentally landed on this. [Reader’s Digest, 2008]

The only way I could get comfortable around people was to make them laugh. I was an obedient girl, and humor was my one form of rebellion. I used comedy to deflect. Like, “Hey, check out my zit!” You know, making fun of yourself before someone else has a chance to. [Oprah, 2009]


A coworker at SNL dropped an angry c-bomb on me and I had the weirdest reaction. To my surprise, I blurted, “No. You don’t get to call me that. My parents love me. I’m not some Adult Child of an Alcoholic that’s going to take that shit.” [Bossypants, 2011]

If you ever start to feel too good about yourself, they have this thing called the internet, and you can find a lot of people there who don’t like you. [Golden Globe acceptance speech, 2009]

When faced with sexism or ageism or looksim or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: “Is this person in between me and what I want to do?” If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you’re in charge, don’t hire the people who were jerky to you.  [Bossypants, 2011]

High School

No one feels right in their own skin, particularly in high school [Vanity Fair, 2009]


Gay people don’t actually try to convert people. That’s Jehovah’s Witnesses you’re thinking of.  [Bossypants, 2011]

In my experience, the hardest thing about having someone “come out” to you is the “pretending to be surprised” part. [Bossypants, 2011]


The thing that comes closest is free-form jazz. Sometimes when you listen to a recording, you’re like, “This is quite long,” but if you’re there hearing it in person, it’s so exciting. [Oprah, 2009]

It’s better than acting because you can play people you don’t remotely look like. It feels like a sport, and it was the fit I was looking for. [Oprah, 2009]

If you started to bomb, you could just turn to the person next to you. [The Nerdist Podcast, 2012]


You can tell how smart people are by what they laugh at. [Oprah, 2009]

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, 2009]


Board that story out as if it costs a million dollars a frame. Because you’re always gonna be able to come up with jokes and texture, but it’s that story that will kill you if you don’t have it. [The Nerdist Podcast, 2012]

Ladies gotta say no to their husbands at the movies. They gotta say: “No, we are watching back-to-back cancer movies. And then this movie about a cat.” [The New York Times, 2011]

I never get to go to movies, because I’m a mom. I’m part of the problem. [The New York Times, 2011]

New York

I think part of picking where you live in New York is accepting who you are. Really looking at yourself and going, “Yeah, I’m not cool enough for the West Village.” [Vogue, 2010]


I feel like I represent normalcy in some way. What are your choices today in entertainment? People either represent youth, power, or sexuality. And then there’s me, carrying normalcy. Me and Rachael Ray. [Vogue, 2010]


Oprah and Gayle were in my apartment, and they stayed for hours. It’s like the most amazing thing that can happen to a white woman in the twenty-first century. [Vogue, 2010]


I want to thank my parents for raising me to have confidence that is somehow disproportionate with my looks and abilities. Well done. That is what all parents should do. [Emmy acceptance speech, 2008]

Everyone’s parents are Republicans. [Oprah, 2009]

If everyone had a dad like mine, no one would have sex tapes.  [Bossypants, 2011]


I’m not a mean person, but I have a capacity for it. I have the biting comment formed somewhere in the back of my head — like it’s in captivity. Sometimes people expect that I’m going to be tough. It’s not a bad situation. People treat you better. People are on time. [Reader’s Digest, 2008]

Saturday Night Live

SNL is designed to be cutthroat. It is designed that you are to compete with everyone, including your friends, every single week, down to the last minute of the show when the last, you know, either or between two sketches – one gets cut, one doesn’t. [The Nerdist Podcast, 2012]

You don’t say yes to that hosting job if you’re not up for trying something insane. [The Nerdist Podcast, 2012]

Standup vs. Improv

I really admire standups. The couple times I’ve done it on the most amateur level, it’s so terrifying. The highs are higher and the lows are lower. If a joke bombs, it’s you. [The Nerdist Podcast, 2012]

It’s much safer going out in a group of six. [The Nerdist Podcast, 2012]


I love to play strippers and to imitate them. I love using that idea for comedy, but the idea of actually going there? I feel like we all need to be better than that. That industry needs to die, by all of us being a little bit better than that. [Vanity Fair, 2009]


Do your thing and don’t care if they like it.  [Bossypants, 2011]


I didn’t get on TV until I was 30, which is really fortunate because you are who you are at that point. [Elle, 2013]

Women in Comedy

That night’s show was watched by ten million people, so I guess that director at The Second City who said the audience “didn’t want to see a sketch with two women” can go shit in his hat.  [Bossypants, 2011]

It is an impressively arrogant move to conclude that just because you don’t like something, it is empirically not good. I don’t like Chinese food, but I don’t write articles trying to prove it doesn’t exist. [Bossypants, 2011]

There are a couple of things I want to impart to ladies who want to be in comedy: One, you don’t have to be weird or be quirky to get your job done. And two, comedy skill is not sexually transmittable. You do not have to sleep with a comedian to learn what you’re doing. Male comedians will not like that advice, but it is the truth. [Bossypants, 2011]

30 Rock

I always say our show actually takes place on the back of a shark. So we can’t really – we never jump the shark. [Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, 2011]

We started making our own songs, because it’s just free. [Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, 2011]

I have the best, best job in television because what I have is a room full of people who are working hard and pitching their great ideas, and I get to come in and pitch when I can. And then I get to pick. I get to pick which ones we go with, which is just obscene. [The Nerdist Podcast, 2012]

Where it can be a trap, where is can get boring is if a character has to be a role model by being perfect and having sort of perfect relationships. Then you’re risking having a very boring character. I feel like there’s two ways of doing role model stuff: you either can show that we’re all doing an ideal, exemplary way or you can poke at the kind of ugliness of characters and things they should be embarrassed of, because of course, in theory, these are characters who don’t know we’re watching them. So they should be allowed to be a little bit petty or ugly or make mistakes. [30 Rock writers panel at the Paley Center, 2013]

The Collected Wisdom of Tina Fey