Lessons from the Queens of Comedy


This post originally appeared on Bed Crumbs.

Tina. Amy. Gilda. Jane.

These names are more than just names to me. They are women who left an indelible mark on my soul. They are women who helped me grow up. They are women who taught me how to be who I am today.

The 40th anniversary special of Saturday Night Live had me feeling incredibly nostalgic, as I wrote earlier. I remember the moment I discovered SNL. I’m pretty sure, actually, that it was around this time of year. In late January 2004, Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachay hosted (what a throwback to the early-aughts MTV era…). I was 12 years old. It was the first episode I remember being able to keep my eyes open for the whole way through.

Shortly thereafter, I was hooked. I was lucky enough to have grown up during an era where, not only could I look forward to watching the show live every weekend, but I could come home from school and see reruns on Comedy Central and E!. I had the best of both worlds: I could simultaneously watch a great current cast and great casts of the past. I was almost immediately obsessed. When I love something, I love it 150 percent. It’s not amateur hour.

I decided that I had to learn everything there was to ever know about SNL. I borrowed every book I could from the library, watched every special I could get my hands on. I was a smart kid, and my grades were good, but my mother has always told me that if I had had the same passion and dedication to my academic studies as I did to my SNL ones, I would have graduated valedictorian.

As a middle school girl caught up in the awkwardness of mean girls, boys, and growing up, I found myself drawn to brilliant women. I was the oldest of three girls, and aside from a few older cousins who lived hours away, for several years, I didn’t have many older women to inspire me, so I looked to the media for my lady heroes. When I discovered SNL, I didn’t only discover a pop culture phenomenon. I discovered a new group of amazing women to identify with.

They all are unique in their own ways, but they all have one thing in common: they weren’t here for your shit. They were bitches in the best possible sense of the word: they were bossy, they weren’t going to be told what to do. They were going to get on air and be seen, and they didn’t care if you liked it or not. They were loyal: best friends, sisters even, who stuck by each other’s sides through and through, never throwing the other under the bus or creating a rivalry. They were one of a kind.

Tina taught me to work hard.
Tina was my girl; I recognized such a kindred spirit with her that is hard to describe. She was me: geeky and intelligent, a smartass through and through, awkward and shy, but ambitious and stubborn to boot. Her accomplishments gave me such hope for my future. Here was a girl who was just like me, only grown up and doing it all, slowly but surely building an empire. If I worked just as hard as she did, if I was just as fiercely committed, the same could happen for me.

Gilda taught me to be brave.
Have you ever seen more fearlessness in a person? She flung herself around like a rag doll on stage, completely uninhibited. Which, given what we know now, about her inner anxieties and her eating disorder, is even more awe-inspiring. On stage, she was a completely different person. She didn’t care what she looked like. One of my favorite stories is how she broke a rib during a dress rehearsal run through of the now-iconic Judy Miller Show sketch. She taped it and went on to the show, commiting herself to the act even more.

Gilda died on my birthday, two years before I was born. When I was younger, sometimes I imagined that I was Gilda in a past life, that that’s where I got my goofiness from, only I was cursed with not being nearly as funny this time around. Today, I work a few blocks from Gilda’s Club, and sometimes I find myself walking by that red door. I pause, smile, and think of that beautiful spirit gone far too soon. I wish she was here for me to thank.

Amy taught me to be myself.
Where do I begin with Amy Poehler? So often I was either running around pretending to be Kaitlin, the preteeen goober who was constantly, endearingly, annoying her stepfather, Rick, or aspiring to have the same sort of friendship with someone as she had with Tina Fey. Amy is all about celebrating other ladies — seeing her work with smartgirlsattheparty now is just further proof of that — and standing up for who she is. She made herself an equal player in a boys’ club and stayed true to herself.

I will never forget the anecdote from Tina Fey’s Bossypants. Amy was vulgar at a table read — she often is, unapologetically so, and as someone else with an affinity for swear words, I appreciate that:

“Jimmy Fallon, who was arguably the star of the show at the time, turned to her and in a faux-squeamish voice said: “Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it.”

Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. “I don’t fucking care if you like it.” Jimmy was visibly startled. Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit …”

Jane taught me to that smart was sexy.
Jane Curtin was not goofy. She was the woman with an acerbic wit, who could match Dan Aykroyd’s barbs point for point. She also challenged the notion that women couldn’t be funny and pretty. Jane didn’t have to play dumb or make herself ugly or weird looking to get laughs. She came in and did her job pointedly. When her bits were over, I felt such an understated confidence radiate through the screen. She knew she was smart and she knew that it was intimidating, and she went with it. She was better than the boys in more ways than one, and she knew it and embraced it, though never in a pompous way.

These women meant everything to me growing up, and they still do to this day. I say this so often, but I will repeat it until I am blue in the face or until it sticks — whichever comes first. Young women need strong female role models. We need to see that we can succeed without dumbing ourselves down or sexing ourselves up. We need to see that we can accomplish just as much as men, that we can go from awkward duckling to beautiful, confident swans. We need lady heroes. We just do.

These women are such a rad group that 1200 words doesn’t do them enough justice. Go out and read Bossypants, Yes Please, Live From New York, and It’s Always Something. Go on YouTube and pour over clips of these amazing women. If you don’t understand their importance now, maybe then you will.


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