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There was one moment of seriousness in the otherwise hilarious acceptance speech Tina Fey gave after being awarded the 2010 Mark Twain Prize for Humor. Fey asked when America would stop counting women’s achievements, when breakthroughs based on gender alone would be irrelevant, and when award recipients would no longer have to say, as she did in her speech, “Yes, I was the first female head writer at Saturday Night Live, and, yes, I was only the second woman ever to be pregnant while on the show. And now…I am the third female recipient of this prize.” Fey’s hope for her young daughter, Alice, is a society without these kinds of firsts, seconds and thirds.
Fey’s career accomplishments testify that gender still matter in the world of entertainment. As a comedian, writer and producer, she has risen to the top of a “man’s” profession. “Only in comedy,” she said about interviewing for a writing job at SNL in 1997, “is an obedient white girl from the suburbs a diversity candidate.”
Fey got her start in 1994 at the Chicago improvisational comedy ensemble, Second City. By 1999, she was named head writer on Saturday Night Live. Creating art from life, Fey used her SNL experiences as the basis for 30 Rock, a comedy show about a comedy show that she writes, produces, and in which she stars. Fey returned to SNL during the 2008 presidential campaign to perform a series of pitch-perfect parodies of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. “I would be a liar and an idiot if I didn’t thank Sarah Palin for helping get me here tonight,” Fey said as she accepted the Twain Award. “My partial resemblance and her crazy voice are the two luckiest things that have ever happened to me.”
Fey continues to win awards and to appear at the top of lists of high achievers. Those that rank her among the “most powerful women,” or the “most influential women” probably impress her less than those that name her as among “America’s most fascinating people” or “ the 100 people who are changing America.” Clearly, Fey wants to be thought of as someone who can make people laugh, a talent that is gender-neutral.
Alice Guy Blache: Nellie Bly: Louise Bourgeois: Margaret Bourke-White: Gwendolyn Brooks: Rita Dove: Lorraine Hansberry: Sherry Lansing: Ellen Manderfield: Leontyne Price: Beverly Sills: Anna Edson Taylor: Camilla Williams: