‘Like picking a fight in a Wawa parking lot:’ Tina Fey is ‘fetch’ in Philly

Tina Fey at the Kimmel Center on Aug. 14, 2019. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Tina Fey at the Kimmel Center on Aug. 14, 2019. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A few hundred people packed into the plaza of the Kimmel Center last night to see their hometown hero, comedian Tina Fey make jokes onstage with her childhood friend Damian Holbrook.

Fey was in town to promote the Broadway tour of her musical comedy, “Mean Girls,” which is coming to Philadelphia in November. Holbrook, a writer for TV Guide, served as the inspiration for, Damian, the gay best friend to the protagonist played by Lindsey Lohan in the 2004 film version.

“I think my sense of humor definitely was bred here,” Fey said. “I went to school in the South – I went to the University of Virginia – and my roommate said, ‘Everyone from Philadelphia when I ask them a question, they always give me a smart-aleck answer before they give the real answer.’ And I’m like, why wouldn’t we?”

Both Fey and Holbrook came up through the Upper Darby Summer Stage youth theater program. Fey went on to be head writer of “Saturday Night Live,” and created the television show “30 Rock.”

A few years after the “Mean Girls” film came out, Fey approach SNL producer Lorne Michaels about writing a musical.

“Everyone said it would take five years. I said, ‘OK, at ‘Saturday Night Live,’ we write the show in four days. We got this,’” she said. “Cut to: It took five years.”

The musical opened on Broadway in April 2018 and was nominated for 12 Tony awards, including Best Musical.

Holbrook reminded Fey that her musical got overshadowed last year’s Tony awards by another show, “The Band’s Visit.”

“Of course, every show that year got beat by ‘The Band’s Visit,’” Holbrook said. “Which closed in April and ‘Mean Girls’ is still running at the August Wilson Theater, thank you very much.”

Tina Fey and Damian Holbrook at the Kimmel Center on Aug. 14, 2019. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“That’s some harsh Philly realness coming down,” Fey responded. “That’s like picking a fight in the Wawa parking lot with ‘The Band’s Visit.’”

The original “Mean Girls,” movie came out 15 years ago, before Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat became dominant forces of teenage life. Fey said she did not write social media into the musical – or did so sparingly – because it doesn’t lend itself to drama.

“We do use it for comedy a little bit,” Fey said. “But I felt the core of the show is human interaction.”

To avoid becoming immediately dated — teen culture transforms quickly — Fey invented her own slang, though she regrets she ever made “fetch” happen.

However, she did get caught in some pop culture references. One joke referring to a somewhat stodgy, older celebrity had to be changed several times as the #MeToo movement quickly altered the cultural landscape.

“It was like, ‘Honey, you love Garrison Keillor.’ Nope,” Fey. said “Then it was, ‘Honey, you love Neil DeGrasse Tyson.’ Gone.”

Fey also talked about being a famous mom – whose kids aren’t having it. She said her two young daughters have seen the musical, but have little interest in seeing their mother’s television performances.

“No one wants to watch their mom do anything,” she said. “My younger daughter, who just turned 8, had a friend over one time and her friend said, ‘Your mom’s famous.’ Without missing a beat, she said, ‘She’s not famous. She’s well-known.’”

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