’30 Rock’: This Gross Episode Storyline Was Pulled From Tina Fey’s Real Life

Co-creator of 30 Rock Tina Fey used her experiences as the first-ever female head writer of Saturday Night Live to inspire several episode storylines on 30 Rock. While many of those memories were exaggerated for comedic effect, this particularly gross scene from 30 Rock Season 4 is unfortunately very, very real.

’30 Rock’ creator and cast member Tina Fey pulled from real life for this season 4 episode

Tina Fey as Liz Lemon in 30 Rock Season 5
Tina Fey as Liz Lemon in 30 Rock | Ali Goldstein/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

In a season 4 episode of 30 Rock, sketch writer Liz Lemon, played by Fey, discovers a gross habit by some of the writers on her staff.

In the episode titled “Sun Tea,” fellow TGS writer Frank admits to Liz that he pees in jars in his office, rather than going to the bathroom — but only after Liz catches Frank in the act. The habit stems out of convenience — but he also uses the jars to water his office plants.

Of course, Liz demands Frank toss the jars, but Kenneth the NBC page, who is on a “green” trend,” dubs Frank the most environmentally-healthy person in the office. (For the “sun tea,” as Frank calls it, as well as eating out of the garbage).

In a 2011 article Fey wrote in The New Yorker, Fey revealed this 30 Rock episode was one storyline heavily inspired by her real-life experiences as a writer on Saturday Night Live.

Fey remembered one shocking moment in the office of her SNL boss Steve Higgins. When she went to adjust some paper cups, Higgins sprang up and asked her not to touch them. Her friend/colleague Paula Pell told Fey the bad news after the fact.

“Oh, yeah, that’s pee in those cups,” Pell said.

The 30 Rock creator clarified that not every male SNL writer was peeing in their offices.

“But four or five out of twenty did, so the men have to own that one,” Fey wrote in The New Yorker.

Tina Fey recalls seeing the ‘sun tea’ behind the scenes of the ‘SNL’ segment ‘Weekend Update’

cast members Judah Friedlander as Frank Rossitano, Tracy Morgan as Tracy Jordan on 30 Rock Season 1
Judah Friedlander as Frank Rossitano, Tracy Morgan as Tracy Jordan on 30 Rock | Virginia Sherwood/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

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And after a while, Fey began to notice the disgusting practice spreading around the Saturday Night Live office.

“Once I became aware of this practice, I started noticing cups in other places,” she explained. However, in one particular corner of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, it somehow got even worse. Fey shared:

In the ‘Weekend Update’ offices—which were like the smarter but meaner older brother of the regular writers’ offices — there weren’t any cups. There was a jar. It was a jar of piss with a lid on it, and, judging by its consistency, I suspect that the writers sometimes spat into it. Or that one of them was terribly ill. You could see it when you came in the door, backlit by the afternoon sun, and at first I thought it was a test. If you saw the piss jar and dared to ignore it and continue into the room, you were welcomed. ‘Welcomed’ is too strong a word.

Of course, in the episode of 30 Rock, the story of the pee jars takes a turn, doing more to depict Liz’s hypocrisy than engage in the habit’s inherent grossness.

Liz eventually allows Frank to keep the jars, as long as she gets to keep her in-office mini-fridge. (A “green” activity for an energy-wasting appliance to satisfy Kenneth).

And at the end of the 30 Rock episode, Liz also uses the “sun tea” technique to gross out her upstairs neighbor so much that he’ll move out — so Liz can take the apartment.

Sun tea: horrifying — but comedically effective.