This interview with Tina Fey was published in the November 2003 issue of The Believer.
BLVR: A lot of people—myself included—have romanticized ideas about what it's like to work on the Saturday Night Live writing staff. I have this mental image of a nearly decimated office filled with Emmy statues and smashed beer bottles and thick clouds of marijuana smoke. The writers, fueled by a lack of sleep and an endless supply of narcotics, are furiously working on their skits for the week. Maybe Michael O'Donoghue (having faked his death, as we all knew he would) is snorting coke off of some terrified intern's ass. Is that a fairly accurate description?
TF: I'm sure it used to be accurate. It's not that wild anymore, though it's certainly not a normal workplace. It's usually crowded at night, and there's lots of noise and commotion and comedy bits being thrown around. It's not at all surprising to hear screaming at three o'clock in the morning, or to walk out of your office and nearly get plowed over by a writer pushing [Chris] Kattan down the hall in a cardboard box. And there are always lots of people fake-raping each other. After another long night of trying to come up with sketch ideas, there's nothing like a little fake-rape to relieve the tension.
BLVR: Do you remember what it was like to be a young, fresh-faced writer on the show and scared out of your wits? Are there certain rites of passage that you have to go through before you can officially call yourself an SNL veteran?
TF: Well, the first hurdle you go through is the Wednesday read-through. You're in a room with all the writers, all the performers, all the producers, all the designers, and NBC legal. It's a tough room, and they've heard a lot of comedy over the years. The first time you get a laugh in that room is really exciting. But you also spend a lot of time in that room eating shit. It's an incredibly nerve-racking, intimidating experience. You sweat from your spine out, you're woozy, and you can feel your heartbeat in your mouth. I've talked with other writers about what it's like when you have a sketch that tanks. Like when you set up a joke on page three and it doesn't get a laugh, and you're sitting there thinking, "Oh my god, I call that joke back four times. There's going to be six more pages of this joke that nobody thinks is funny." It's the worst feeling in the world. But once you get callous to it, you're a much stronger person.