This month's Vanity Fair cover story is about Tina Fey (maybe you've heard of her). The profile, written by Maureen Dowd (maybe you've heard of her?), features such headline grabbers as the backstory behind Fey's mysterious chin scar -- according to her husband, she was cut in her front yard by a stranger when she was five -- and the fact that she was a virgin till she was 25. More interesting than those details, however, is Fey's development from writer's room puritan with a "chord of anger running through her comedy," as her one-time colleague Adam McKay put it, into a va-va-voom leading lady.
Much like Virginia Heffernan's 2003 New Yorker profile, Dowd's piece depicts Fey as a sober, hard-driven, deeply principled woman who is a galaxy removed from the pill-popping icons who came before her on "Saturday Night Live." When Dowd asks Fey what's the wildest thing she's ever done, she replies, "Nothing." This is, after all, the woman Colin Quinn nicknamed "Herman the German." Lorne Michaels compares her to Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl. Fey's husband discloses the story of the worst trouble he ever got into with her: He went to a strip club.
"I feel like we all need to be better than that," Fey says of the incident. "That industry needs to die, by all of us being a little bit better than that."
But despite her disdain for hedonism, she has gone from a "mousy," "goofy-looking" comedy writer who never seemed to put much of a premium on her looks into television's most unexpected bombshell. (Pictures accompanying the article show Fey in five-alarm sexy librarian mode, seductively biting the frame of her glasses and wearing red stilettos.) Fey seems conflicted about her sexuality in a way that might feel familiar to any woman who has found herself choosing between muumuus and fishnets.
“I only have two speeds," she says, "either matronly or a little too slutty. I have to be steered away from cheetah print.”
Alec Baldwin remembers suggesting that Fey tart it up a bit on "30 Rock," where her character, Liz Lemon, has been known to wear a low-cut shirt or three. "You're a very attractive woman and you've got to work that," he told her at one point. "You've got to pop one more button on that blouse … Glamour it up!"
Maybe you find this depressing (a brilliant comic mind inevitably reduced to shaking her cleavage). Maybe you find this empowering (a brilliant comic mind finally shaking her cleavage!). Either way, it only confirms what many of us have known for a long time: Tina Fey is one of the most fascinating celebrities out there right now. No wonder she landed a six million dollar book deal.
Not long ago, I was watching the Emmys with a male friend. Tina Fey took the stage to accept an award, one of several she took home that night. She was stunning but looked out of place, unaccustomed to the designer duds and the solo spotlight. I felt certain she would wrap herself up in a hoodie if she could. And the thing about Tina Fey is that she must have a deep and unshakeable faith in herself to have accomplished so much. She must have the courage of a champion fighter. And yet, standing there in the spotlight, she still seemed weirdly vulnerable, twitchy.
"Tina Fey is a beautiful woman who looks uncomfortable in her own skin," I told my friend.
"Yes," he said. "It's very appealing about her."