DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
In 2011, while still starring on and co-writing NBC's "30 Rock," Tina Fey hit the New York Times bestseller list by releasing a comic memoir titled "Bossypants." Terry Gross spoke with Tina Fey when that book was released and took the opportunity to ask some additional questions about her TV work.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
Let me play a clip from "30 Rock," and this is from an episode called "Sexy Baby," and this is like, a new writer on the show.
TINA FEY: Oh yeah, the episode, the actual title of the episode is "TGS Hates Women."
GROSS: Oh right, yeah, yeah. Because this writer is hired to kind of change things around because the show's being accused of being misogynistic. So this new writer's hired, but she's a real sexy baby type. And you're trying to tell her to, like act - like knock it off.
GROSS: You don't have to put on that act when you're not acting. You know, just, like, knock it off and be yourself. And so here's that scene.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "30 ROCK")
FEY: (As Liz) Abby, thanks for meeting me here. This place is very special to me.
CRISTIN MILIOTI: (As Abby Flynn): Is this where you got your V-card punched?
FEY: (As Liz) What? No. Does this look like the makeup room of a clown academy? No. This is a statue - and I know you know this - of Eleanor Roosevelt: first lady to the world, champion of the rights of women, and the lid on my high school lunchbox.
Look, I know it can be hard. Society puts a lot of pressure on us to act a certain way. But TGS is a safe place, so you can drop the sexy baby act - and lose the pigtails.
MILIOTI: (As Abby) I like my pigtails. My uncle says they're sexy.
FEY: (As Liz) Enough with the gross jokes and that voice. I want you to talk in your real voice.
MILIOTI: (As Abby) This is my real voice. And the little sexy baby thing isn't an act. I'm a very sexy baby. I can't help it if men are attracted to me - like that homeless guy. He likes what he sees.
FEY: (As Liz) OK, that could be for me.
HANNIBAL BURESS: (As Homeless Guy) It's not. It's for her.
FEY: (As Liz) Abby, I'm trying to help you.
MILIOTI: (As Abby) Really? By judging me on my appearance and the way I talk? And what's the difference between me using my sexuality, and you using those glasses to look smart?
FEY: (As Liz) I am smart. I placed out of freshman German.
MILIOTI: (As Abby) Or Lutz, using that sexy English accent to get me in the sack.
FEY: (As Liz) No, you didn't. Lutz? Is that even possible? I mean, I was there when he Belvedered. God, Abby, you can't be that desperate for male attention.
MILIOTI: (As Abby) You know what, Liz? I don't have to explain myself to you. My life is none of your business.
FEY: (As Liz) Except it is because you represent my show, and you represent my gender in this business, and you embarrass me.
BURESS: (As Homeless Guy) Kiss!
MILIOTI: (As Abby) Dude, I am sorry, but this is who I am. Deal with it.
GROSS: That's my guest, Tina Fey, with Cristin Milioti. Am I saying her name right?
FEY: I think so, yeah.
GROSS: In a scene from "30 Rock." Do you know actresses like that, or writers like that, who have that kind of like, sexy baby persona?
FEY: Mm-hmm. It's funny because as we were listening to that, I was thinking: Yeah, it's just your typical sitcom, two-minute-long discussion about gender. I'm like no wonder no one wants to watch this program.
FEY: Yeah, actually, I was remembering, as we were listening to it, that the thing about the moment - and this script was written by Ron Weiner - but I remember one of the things that - we talked about this story a lot in the room - the moment where I say to her: Talk in your real voice.
It's actually a thing that I remembered from a college acting class where there was a girl - this beautiful, really beautiful, voluptuous, little, tiny actress - who had one of these tiny voices. And I had one of my acting teachers - I remember she was doing a monologue in class, and he very gently said to her - he was like OK, I want you to do the monologue again, and I would like you to use your adult-woman voice.
And she did, and all the other women in the class looked - I remember looking at each other like, I knew it! I knew that voice wasn't real. And that moment was kind of inspired by that because sometimes those voices are real; sometimes, they are a habit that's just kind of worn in.
But this episode was - that story is so kind of loaded and complex that I was really glad that we did it. And I think it confused and sort of delighted the Internet in a way because it sort of opens up more questions than answers.
I mean, for me it was about Liz - Liz is in the wrong to try - she thinks she's doing the right thing by trying to correct this woman, by trying to say like, you don't have to be this way. And at the same time, this girl has every right to be whoever she wants.
And so that, to me, was what the story was about, that it's just such a tangled-up issue, the way women present themselves. Whether or not they choose to, you know, as I say, put their thumbs in their panties on the cover of Maxim. And the way women judge each other back and forth for it.
It's a complicated issue, and we didn't go much further, saying anything about it other than to say: Yeah, it's a complicated issue, and we're all kind of figuring it out as we go. And in the episode, we have a fake website that we're referring to, a feminist website called Joanofsnark.com - that the women at Jezebel.com immediately recognized that it was their website, basically.
And it was kind of a - it was. It was, you know, a reaction to the way I saw Olivia Munn, who is a correspondent...
GROSS: On "The Daily Show."
FEY: ...treated on that "Daily Show," which was, you know, I don't have the answer. But I find it interesting - is all I can say - is I find it interesting that Olivia gets - people go after her, sometimes, on these sites because she's beautiful, I think is part of it.
You know, I think she was posing - I think if she were kind of an aggressive, kind of heavier girl with a, you know, Le Tigre mustache, posing in her underpants, people would be like: That's amazing, good for you. But because she is very beautiful, people are like: That's - you're using that. It's just a mess. We can't figure it out.
BIANCULLI: Tina Fey speaking to Terry Gross in 2011. NBC's "30 Rock," which premiered in 2006, presents its final episode next Thursday. You can download podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org and follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair and on Tumblr at nprfreshair.tumblr.com.