Why Tina Fey Called This ‘Saturday Night Live’ Alum the ‘Michael Caine of Sketch Comedy’

Tina Fey served as both writer and cast member on Saturday Night Live. Beginning her tenure on the show in 1997, Fey learned numerous lessons on the iconic sketch series both in front of and behind the camera.  

While viewers may think SNL hones their show to perfection, the 30 Rock star revealed that each episode hits the airwaves live every Saturday night at 11:30 p.m., regardless of what shape its in.

Tina Fey of 'Saturday Night Live'
Tina Fey of ‘Saturday Night Live’ | Dana Edelson/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Lessons from Lorne Michaels

Rising in the ranks from staff writer to head writer and cast member, Fey gained plenty of insight working with SNL creator Lorne Michaels. In her 2011 memoir, the Mean Girls director shared one lesson that helped her on the show.

“The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30,” Fey wrote in her book Bossypants. “This is something Lorne has said often about Saturday Night Live, but I think it’s a great lesson on not being too precious about your writing. You have to try your hardest to be at the top of your game and improve every joke you can until the last possible second, and then you have to let it go.”

Dealing with a weekly live broadcast, Fey discovered that perfection was impossible to achieve and not all it was cracked up to be.

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“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it,” the 30 Rock star noted. “You have to go down the chute. … let people see what you wrote. It will never be perfect, but perfect is overrated. Perfect is boring on live TV.”

‘You can’t be too worried about your permanent record’, Tina Fey advised

Drawing from her experience from her years at The Second City in Chicago prior to SNL, Fey earned a thick skin doing improv comedy.

“What I learned about ‘bombing’ as an improviser at Second City was that bombing is painful, but it doesn’t kill you,” she explained. “No matter how badly an improv set goes, you will be physically alive when it’s over.”

With SNL being such a legendary comedy, Fey acknowledged that writers and performers can get caught up in maintaining a certain reputation when it comes to getting laughs.

“What I learned about bombing as a writer at Saturday Night Live is that you can’t be too worried about your ‘permanent record,'” the Emmy winner wrote. “Yes, you’re going to write some sketches that you love and are proud of forever – your golden nuggets. But you’re also going to write some real sh*t nuggets. And unfortunately, sometimes the sh*t nuggets will make it onto the air.”

Will Ferrell knows how to shake it off

Fey discovered that staying mired in any perceived failures would only slow her down, and tried to focus more on the golden nuggets than the sh*t nuggets.

“You can’t worry about it,” she remarked. “As long as you know the difference, you can go back to panning for gold on Monday.”

The Baby Mama star gave props to one SNL alum who was quickly able to recover from comedic missteps.

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“That’s what was so great about Will Ferrell,” Fey wrote. “He would do sketches that were absolutely his voice and what (I assume) he loved most – Bill Brasky, Robert Goulet, and Cowbell – but he would commit just as fully to tap dancing next to Katie Holmes in the monologue. He’s the Michael Caine of sketch comedy. He could be in something awful and it would never stick to him.”