A Biography of the Ever-Witty Tina Fey

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March 20th, 2014

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Tina Fey has become one of the most recognized names in comedy, but her career trajectory is no laughing matter. From her beginnings in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, Fey worked her way up the ladder towards her phenomenal success as an actress, writer and comedian. Along the way, her natural wit kept Fey focused while she navigated the notoriously tricky business of making people laugh.

Elizabeth Stamatina Fey was born in May of 1970 to a grant writer father and a brokerage employee mother. Although she had a peaceful childhood, one incident left Fey with a lasting physical scar. An armed stranger attacked Fey when she was just five years old, slashing her cheek. Fortunately for Fey, the support of her parents and community helped her overcome the event, and she grew up to be a confident young woman. As a high school student, she was involved in the drama club and the school newspaper, showing off her burgeoning writing chops with a scathing satirical column.

A self-professed nerd, teenage Fey loved iconic comedians, including Monty Python and the Marx Brothers. As a young woman, Fey started to seriously consider launching her own career in comedy. Following high school graduation, she attended the University of Virginia and majored in drama. In 1992, Fey moved to Chicago and began studying at Second City, an improvisation program that has helped dozens of prestigious actors and comedians find their footing. Fey worked hard, sharpening her wit and honing her craft.

In 1995, an unparalleled opportunity came along for the aspiring comedy writer. Representatives from "Saturday Night Live," the renowned comedy showcase, came to Second City to see if they could find some fresh talent. Fey's biting sense of humor caught the attention of the show's producer, Lorne Michaels. Fey landed the coveted position of "Saturday Night Live" writer. Although she struggled to find her balance at first, Fey persevered. She was soon penning popular skits and catching attention, though the atmosphere at "SNL" was typically male-dominated. 

In 1998, Fey stepped in front of the "SNL" cameras for the first time. She only appeared as an extra. Still, this brief camera time was enough to make Fey resolve to lose weight and rethink her fashion sense. After gaining a more polished image to go with her already impressive wit, Fey's career at "SNL" boomed. She became head writer in 1999. By the next year, she was starting to appear on-camera regularly. Along with Jimmy Fallon, Fey became an anchor on the show's "Weekend Update" segment, detailing real news stories with a humorous bent. Although audiences had been laughing at Fey's jokes for years, they now had a face to go along with the writing.

After her rapid ascent to comedy fame, Fey started to expand her range. She wrote the screenplay for "Mean Girls," a smart, snarky film about the social hierarchy of high school. "Mean Girls" premiered in 2004 and became a smash hit, with quotes from the film becoming part of the pop cultural landscape.

In 2006, Fey departed "SNL." Her TV sit-com pilot aired soon after. The series, "30 Rock," stars Fey as Liz Lemon, a character with strong resemblances to Fey. Liz is the head writer at a comedy show in New York City, constantly dealing with pressures from the network and zany coworkers. In addition to starring, Fey also served as writer and producer for the series. Although "30 Rock" only enjoyed a relatively modest following at first, its popularity continued to grow. By 2007, Fey's show won an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series. By the time the sit-com ended in 2013, "30 Rock" boasted thousands of devoted fans to mourn its farewell episode.

During this time, Fey kept up a friendly relationship with her former colleagues at "SNL." She returned during the 2008 election to impersonate Sarah Palin, that year's Republican Vice Presidential candidate. Her physical similarity to the Alaskan politician, plus Fey's talent for comedy, made the skits wildly popular, boosting ratings for both "SNL" and "30 Rock."

Fey met her husband, Jeff Richmond, at Second City. The two dated for years before marrying in June of 2001. In 2005, Fey and Richmond welcomed their first daughter, Alice Zenobia. A second daughter, Penelope Athena, was born in 2011.

Tina Fey's career has brought along illustrious awards. She has accepted several Screen Actors Guild awards, the People's Choice Award for Favorite Funny Female Star and two Golden Globes (both for her role as Liz Lemon). Fey has acted in or written a wide variety of film and TV projects, including "Baby Mama," which co-starred Fey's friend and fellow comedian, Amy Poehler. Fey and Poehler served as co-hosts at multiple Emmy Awards, showing just how far Fey has come from her days of staying behind the scenes.