Tina Fey, speaking at The Hollywood Reporter‘s 2016 Women in Entertainment breakfast Wednesday morning, admitted that she and many of her peers have arrived at a career crossroads.
“We’re all a little less thirsty than we used to be,” Fey said of close friends (and former Saturday Night Live colleagues) Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer, Rachel Dratch, Emily Spivey and Paula Pell. “We love to work and to do good work, but we don’t need approval in the same way. We’re adults now, and I think we’re really starting to ask ourselves, ‘What’s next for me? What is my role in this business going to be once nobody wants to grab me by the pussy anymore?'”
The comment, her only real allusion to Donald Trump as she accepted the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award at Milk Studios in Los Angeles, prompted laughter from the crowd. But there was a thread of sincerity than ran through her entire speech. “I know these women, and what I think we will see will be some producing, some directing and mentoring of young talent,” she added, “and maybe, if we’re lucky, a really successful Golden Girls reboot with all of us.”
The nine-time Emmy-winning creator and star of 30 Rock and co-creator of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt spent much of her time onstage considering her place on the Power 100 and what it means to be a woman in a position of power in entertainment today. There are the simple pleasures, such as “having a job where you’re allowed to go to the restroom whenever you want,” and the crucial capacity to get a green light in film and TV. (“I can get Bob Greenblatt or Donna Langley on the phone within … 48 hours,” she noted. “But can I get my 5-year-old to answer me when Teen Titans Go! is on? No, I cannot.”
But Fey contended that the real power is in the word “no” and the freedom with which one wields it. “Whether it’s writing a pilot for a bad actor or the butter scene in Last Tango in Paris or telling Roger Ailes to put his hamburger meat back in the freezer, feeling like you can say ‘no’ without any negative repercussions is an important kind of power,” said Fey. “And it’s one that we can help each other have — by believing and supporting each other.”
Fey, who sat down with David Letterman for THR’s annual Women in Entertainment issue, admitted that she didn’t want to use the morning to discuss the election — “When I get written up on Breitbart, I want it to be because they’re mad that I’m making an all-female Hitler biopic.” — but her plan proved untenable. “I think the real reason Hillary lost, that people are afraid to talk about, is not enough celebrity music videos urging people to vote,” she offered. “I hate to be that person, but I just think … one more funny rap or a Hamilton parody, a little more hustle from Liz Banks and we could have tipped Michigan.”
She did not stop there. “The structure of those celeb ‘get out the vote’ videos always brings me joy, because you start with the dedicated people who were willing to show up and spend a day in the studio,” she said. “Then, in the second verse, you get to the people who agreed to participate … but from the steps of their trailer. It always just ends with, like, Patti Lupone singing one line from her basement on a phone. And that’s the career trajectory we all hope for, isn’t it? We’re all just punching the clock until we can be basement Lupones.”
Playing to the female-heavy crowd, Fey reserved the bulk of her barbs for the men of the room. She noted that Brett Ratner had probably come to the event by mistake — “In his defense, he thought this was a thing where you could eat breakfast off of a hundred women” — and repeatedly knocked friend Jon Hamm (on hand to introduce her) for being less her type than his Mad Men co-star John Slattery. The ribbing with Hamm went both ways.
“Of course, we’re not here just to celebrate Tina,” said Hamm, whose intro doubled as PG roast. “We’re also here to celebrate an industry where someone as brilliant and beautiful as Tina Fey can end up on casting lists to play my mother.” (Hamm, for the record, is 10 months Fey’s junior.)
Also subject to Fey’s mocking was inaugural Equity in Entertainment Award honoree Ryan Murphy, who Fey wants history to remember had nothing to do with her 2004 feature breakout, Mean Girls. “I mention the title just to remind Ryan Murphy that not every popular gay thing is his,” she said.
Mean Girls proved to be a particularly relevant touchstone, as it was Fey’s first collaboration with Sherry Lansing. While CEO of Paramount Pictures, Lansing put the comedy in theaters and offered the then-Saturday Night Live head writer a forgiving foray into features. “I had no idea what I was doing,” Fey admitted, calling Lansing the “perfect role model” for her two daughters. “I wrote 10 drafts of that script and she never took it away from me. She never had someone else do a two-week ‘de-flavorizing’ of it. And I didn’t realize how special that was at the time, but I do now. So thank you, Sherry.”
Like Barbra Streisand the year before, Fey closed with a plea to the media — members of which should now know what questions to stop asking the comedian. “They ask me, “What do you say to people who say ‘Women aren’t funny?'” said Fey. “To which I say, ‘It’s time to stop talking about that and start talking about how black people are funnier than white people.’ ‘How do you balance work and family?’ And I say, ‘On your mom’s back, that’s how.'”
“‘What advice do you have for young women?'” Fey finally asked herself, taking her final minute onstage to deliver the best guidance she has to offer. “I say, ‘Don’t smoke. Wear a bra. Trust your instincts. Don’t date John Mayer.'”
This article was originally published on The Hollywood Reporter.