Tina Fey Admits Why She Thinks Acting is ‘Embarrassing’

On the podcast Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, Tina Fey told Conan O’Brien how she really feels about acting. The fellow Saturday Night Live alums discussed Fey’s former NBC comedy 30 Rock, as well as her Broadway musical Mean Girls.

Fey was the first-ever woman to serve as head writer on SNL. 30 Rock, the workplace sitcom heavily influenced by her own experience on SNL, followed. She’s starred in several films and television series since, including Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (which she also created), and most recently, Modern Love. However, Fey admits that she finds the whole acting thing a bit humiliating.

Tina Fey, star of movies and television reveals how she feels about acting

Tina Fey and Conan O'Brien
Tina Fey and Conan O’Brien | Meghan Sinclair/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

In October, O’Brien had Fey as a guest on his podcast. Near the beginning of their conversation, O’Brien asked the 30 Rock creator about dramatic acting. O’Brien, who is known for his quirky comedy, described getting kicked out of an acting class because he couldn’t do the emotional scenes.

“I can do it if it’s funny, but I can’t show real emotion,” he remembered telling his acting teacher at the time. “And the acting teacher literally said, ‘You need to go.'”

Fey confirmed that committing to real emotion can feel “corny.”

“I secretly have a degree in drama,” Fey joked; it’s only secret because “no one cares.” But she also credits her training at improv theater Second City for getting her used to feeling silly in front of other people.

“I came up from old school improv training,” Fey explained. She told O’Brien that there was “so much of sitting and doing machines and mirror work, [that] you push past how deeply corny and embarrassing it is.” The thing Fey really couldn’t stand in acting training?

“There’s just so much eye contact,” she said, telling O’Brien, “we’re both hating this right now how much eye contact I’m giving you … It’s horrible.”

Fey argued that acting is about “pushing past how incredibly corny it is to allow yourself to try to care, to be vulnerable.” Because she had the training, she was more used to being in that headspace.

Tina Fey says acting reaches the height of embarrassment

But Fey admits that acting is a bit humbling. She told O’Brien that her friend and fellow actor Amy Poehler originally “wanted to call her book Movies Are Boring and Acting Is Embarrassing or something like that.” Fey couldn’t help but agree.

“It is, it’s just so embarrassing,” she said. Fey also admitted that she’s painfully aware of her own limitations.

Tina Fey and family
Alice Richmond, Tina Fey, and Jeff Richmond | Bruce Glikas/Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

“I’m very limited as an actor,” she told O’Brien, always one for self-awareness. However, Fey has no trouble committing.

“I don’t mind like, trying,” Fey told O’Brien. “And some comedy people do.”

The ‘Modern Love’ star only draws the line when things get sexual

“For me the boundary … the one thing I can’t do,” Fey said on the podcast, “I won’t do like, a sex scene.” She says this is her “one thing.”

“Believe me, no one’s asking,” Fey told O’Brien, poking fun at her own expense. She says it stems from her improv days.

“The comedy person part of me can remember an early enough time in improv,” Fey remembered, “where people would sometimes try to pimp you into something like that on stage just to be a jerk.” Fey admitted doesn’t have that trust.

Tina Fey
Tina Fey | Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Turner Image

“I have the like, ‘nope you’re not going to trick me,’” she said. “That’s the boundary, like, I’m not going to simulate intercourse in a movie.” Fey finished off sarcastically: “No matter how many people call!”

O’Brien wholeheartedly agreed.

“I always say, if my wife and I are watching a movie and there’s a very explicit sex scene,” O’Brien explained, “I always say out loud, ‘being an actor is so embarrassing.’ I say that out loud.” His own experience in the industry makes it so he can’t help but think of the whole crew.

“I think about these people that, they’re in front of fifty people, and people holding booms,” O’Brien said.