Tina Fey's Keeping Comedy In The Family

tina_embedPhoto: REX USA/Rob Latour.
There's something to be said about the bond forged between cast members of both small and large productions. A familial connection is inevitable. And, when you've spent seven seasons with the same cast of funny people like Tina Fey did with 30 Rock, letting it go is near impossible.
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Hence why Fey's bringing her 30 Rock family with her on her new televised adventure. But, before all that, she's got another family to deal with: the ensemble cast of This Is Where I Leave You (opening September 19).
After the death of her father, Fey's character reunites with her "dysfunctional" family (which includes Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, and Jason Bateman) to sit shiva in her hometown. Old rivalries resurface, petty family drama rules, and the ghosts of old lovers past come to play. It's the kind of feel-good comedy with heart Fey's come to be known for — a career she attributes to the Joan Rivers.
Ahead, Fey reflects on the late comedian and what it really means to be "dysfunctional."
What attracted you to this story?
“I like human stories about human people that never turn into cars — no matter what happens. I loved the premise of this ensemble being stuck together. I really love [my character] Wendy’s story in particular. She’s sweet and sad and (hopefully) relatable.”
Can you speak more to her story? What’s so special about Wendy?
“One thing I like about her story is that it felt fresh. She’s a woman who lost the love of her life without really losing him early on. It’s more detailed in the actual book, but she tries to stick with [her longtime friend] Horry in the beginning, but at a certain point it just became impossible. She had to go off and make a more pragmatic life choice to marry this successful guy. Her life from the outside appears perfect, but she’s not really happy with all the choices she's made. It was a backstory I wanted to figure out and explore; find ways to identify with her because, thankfully, I don’t have those direct experiences in my life.”
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What about the “dysfunctional family” is so appealing to comedies?
“I think the term ‘dysfunctional’ is just a buzzword — some pop psychology term that’s marketable. I think this family, well all families, function per se because they’re forced to. I think this, for a lot of people, will be a recognizable family dynamic — granted this family gets a little more physical. If the family’s getting along in a film, robots that turn into cars will come in and attack that family. Now, that’s dysfunctional!”
How will the whole sitting shiva thing sit with audience members who aren’t familiar with the practice?
“That really is just a marketing thing, too. I will say, having been through a similar situation in the past year when a loved one passes, that even though ‘shiva’ is the formal version of us all coming together, it’s what happens any way. Everyone comes from out of town, you all pile into a space where everyone brings food, and, you know, you’re all together. So, hopefully it’s more of a family movie that’s relatable. We’re not the most religious family.”
Switching gears: How badly do you miss 30 Rock?
“I’m always very, very proud of the work that we all did on that show. But, I don’t miss it. We’re producing a show with my partner with from 30 Rock, Robert Carlock, though. We’re doing a show for Ellie Kemper right now. We’ve assembled almost the entire 30 Rock crew! So, it’s kind of like having our reunion only it’s a different cast and show.”
Finally, can you talk about what the loss of Joan Rivers means to you as a comedian?
“She was a pioneer and I had tremendous admiration for her. And, she for sure made careers like mine more possible. She was funny and she worked until the last moment of her life. I met her very briefly once, but I never got to really spend time with her.”
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