Tina Fey Says SNL's Male Writers Piss In Cups

Tina Fey knows the difference between male and female comedy writers: One pisses in cups, the other uses maxi pads.

The New Yorker has run a second excerpt from Tina Fey's upcoming book, Bossypants. It contains the line (also used in her Kennedy Center speech), "Only in comedy, by the way, does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity." Fey is clearly both tired of having to explain why she's the only woman in the room and just plain tired of being the only woman in the room. So instead she talks about jars of piss, which she found in more than one male comedy writer's office.

Not all the men at "S.N.L." whizzed in cups. But four or five out of twenty did, so the men have to own that one. Anytime there's a bad female standup somewhere, some idiot Interblogger will deduce that "women aren't funny." Using that same math, I can deduce that male comedy writers piss in cups....

To continue with this science of broad generalization, pissing in cups may show that men go into comedy to break rules. Conversely, the women I know in comedy are all dutiful daughters, good citizens, mild-mannered college graduates. Maybe we women gravitate toward comedy because it is a socially acceptable way to break rules.

Incidentally, the most prominent exemplar of "why women aren't funny," wasn't an Interblogger, but a celebrated Vanity Fair columnist. But Fey's point about good girls and misbehaving boys strengthens her other point about the gender gap in comedy, which is the gap in frames of reference. Meredith Scardino, describing her experience as the only female writer on The Colbert Report,

"The only limits I feel like I have is Lord of the Rings and Star Trek. I didn't fall in love with that stuff growing up. Not to sound really girly, but I could come in with a killer Bachelor pitch. But it may not resonate as much. Then again, I end up writing a lot of sports news and there are guys on the show that cannot do that whatsoever."

And no, the point is not that there are some Trekkie women who love Tolkien. It's the subtle premise that was being bumped up against here that everyone is operating with the same cultural vocabulary. Or, in Fey's case, biological, as she learned when she and a female writer tried to do a parody of a maxipad commercial.

It was the moment I realized that there was no "institutionalized sexism" at this place—sometimes the guys just literally didn't know what we were talking about. In the same way that I was not familiar with the completely normal custom of pissing in jars, they had never been handed a bulging antique Kotex product by the school nurse. But they trusted Paula and me, so we made the commercial, and the commercial worked.

But institutionalized sexism doesn't have to mean that its practitioners are terrible people who want to bring women down. It can also be people who don't know what they don't know, and take for granted that everyone else knows the same things. We're all pretty lucky that in Fey's case, she prevailed.

Lessons From Late Night [The New Yorker, sub. req'd]
Earlier: The Only Women In The Late Night Writers' Rooms