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Tina Fey dazzles with wry humor in President’s Speakers Series revival

The award-winning writer, actor and producer returned to her alma mater alongside University President Jim Ryan

An energetic crowd of students, alumni and fans patiently waited as the lights dimmed and the spotlight focused on two brightly colored red chairs. After two exciting opening acts — K-edge Dance Crew and the Cavalier Marching Band — those same chairs welcomed the return of the President’s Speakers series with University President Jim Ryan and award-winning writer, actor, producer and Class of 1992 alumna Tina Fey. 

Fey graduated from the University with a Bachelor’s degree in drama. She quickly put her degree to work, moving to Chicago to pursue a career in comedy. While in Chicago, Fey submitted scripts to Saturday Night Live, eventually landing her a job. Since SNL, Fey has made significant contributions to the entertainment industry, showcasing her talents as a writer and performer on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” creating the highly acclaimed and multi-Emmy-winning show "30 Rock" and producing many successful movies and television shows.

“So if someone didn't know you and they came up to you and they said, what do you do? What would you say?” Ryan said.

“Don't worry about it,” Fey said with a laugh. “I'm going to pay for what I'm holding, leave me alone … First I would say I was a writer, for the most part… And secondly I would maybe say I was a comedian.”

Since graduating, the noted alumna has returned virtually and in-person to Charlottesville, speaking over Zoom to classes last semester and delivering the inaugural President Speakers series in 2013. Unfortunately, the series would go on a two-year hiatus from 2020 to 2022, likely a result of COVID-19 restrictions. The President’s Speaker Series delivered an energetic return, supporting individual University arts programs and groups with the welcoming back of Fey.  

The event K-Edge Dance Crew — a K-Pop interest dance group. They performed four choreographed dances with each member dressed in pastel blue, white and red. The large group of thirteen dancers all impressively maintained in sync to the fast-paced rhythm of each K-pop song.  

Following K-Edge, a wave of orange half zip pullovers emerged from the side of the stage. The Cavalier Marching band opened with its classic anthems played at University sporting events — the highlight of the performance was when the band paid homage to Fey by playing the theme song for the comedy “30 Rock.”  

To kick off the main event, Fey was introduced via video by Class of 2022 alumnus Micah Rucci, who recently made headlines for his work as an SNL page. Rucci went on to praise Fey’s career and how she inspired Rucci to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. Setting the stage for the comedian after Rucci’s video concluded was a compilation of Fey’s most beloved movie and television characters. 

Fey’s talent and charisma sparkled throughout the event — questions from Ryan revolved around her life at the University and life as a comedian and were instilled with her trademark sardonic wit. The event capitalized on school pride, with Fey standing as a real-life example of the opportunities of pursuing a career in the arts. 

In vivid detail, Fey recalled the important resources and communities — such as First Year Players — at the University that fostered her interests in acting and writing. With an impressive resume, and in a particularly funny moment, Ryan asked Fey what she had yet to accomplish professionally.

“Run a mile,” Fey said, eliciting laughter from the crowd. “When I got down here I was like, ‘So many people here do fitness. So many people jogging. Should I do fitness?’ It's too late. Your pelvic floor can't take it.”

Ryan, who just completed his twelfth marathon, said he “might be able to help [her] with that, actually” — Fey laughed and poked fun at an offer to help with her “pelvic floor” before sincerely congratulating Ryan on his marathon. 

Long-term fan of Fey and second-year College student Nazifa Rahman was impressed with Ryan’s interviewing skills, resulting in an organic constant back-and-forth banter between Fey and Ryan. From beginning to end, the Speakers series never felt like an interview — rather, the audience witnessed a unique fireside chat. 

“I thought the stage presence of Jim Ryan and Tina Fey was hilarious," Rahman said. “They were clearly two different professionals in their respective fields, but at one point it just felt like two friends hanging around and catching up.”

Much of the joy in the performance for students came from Fey’s detailed stories from her time at the University, many of which revolved around Fey “chasing boys.” In one story in particular, Fey spoke about the time she was invited by a boy she liked to go hiking at Old Rag Mountain at night. 

“The guy that I liked fell down the side of the mountain,” Fey said. “We eventually found him and he was all banged up. After a long time, we got to the top of the mountain and we were sitting, taking in the stars and then he told me … about another girl that he liked.”

Fey also spoke to inspirations inside and outside of Charlottesville who helped her throughout her career, including her brother, who she said was the catalyst for her interest in comedy as they bonded over SNL.

SNL creator Lorne Michaels was one of these mentors, who she said taught her countless lessons about comedy and writing. Another contributing factor to Fey’s career path? One of her middle school teachers. 

“In eighth grade, I had an English teacher named Mr. Novelli,” Fey said. “We had to write some essay where we had to personify an object. I wrote a funny paper about it and he wrote on my paper — ‘You are a writer. You should pursue this.’ That was really meaningful to me.”

As a final question, Ryan asked about Fey’s upcoming plans in her career. As of now, Fey said she is going on tour with her longtime best friend Amy Poehler for the Restless Leg Tour. As for producing and acting, Fey has multiple upcoming projects such as “Maggie Moore(s)” and “Mulligan.” Clearly, Fey has thrived in her career since graduating — and she said that she accredits much of her success to education. 

“I would encourage anyone who wants to chase to have a full and well-rounded education,” Fey said. “You should be taking everything you can get your hands on. It's going to make you a better actor in the long run.”


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