The Feminist’s Take on the Art of the Double Act: Amy Poehler and Tina Fey

By Lydia Geisel

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(Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, hosting the 2013 Golden Globes)

Historically, in both cinema and television, iconic comedy duos or “double acts” have traditionally comprised of men—think, Chris Farley and David Spade, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. Since resetting the bar on Saturday Night Live, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have been spearheading a space in both film and television for female comedy pairs (like fellow SNL stars, Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph). Their authenticity, feminist attitudes, and smart-sweet approach to comedy has given them an iconic status—one that serves to rival their male-duo counterparts of both the past and present.

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(Still from Baby Mama, 2008)

The comedy phenomenon of the “double act” originated in the British music halls and vaudeville scene during the late nineteenth century. Since then, the idea of an “uneven” pair has become a staple in comedic narratives. What’s been missing, however, are strong female pairs. While it is possible to pick a few out here and there, I’m talking about pairs of funny women that have consistently worked on a variety of film and/or television projects together over an extended period of time. What’s amazing about taking a look at the work and careers of Poehler and Fey is that they are as strong together as they are individually.

Since their first film together in 2008, Baby Mama, Fey and Poehler have each produced a number of long-running sitcoms and have even become best-selling authors. Yet, over the past ten years or so, they have come together on a number of projects (most recently Sisters) and appearances to crack jokes about other celebrities, being parents, and politics. To me, their work as frequent collaborators is important because they have not only paved a path for like minded female duos, but they have also changed the way we see and understand women-to-women relationships on the screen.

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 4.13.38 PM (From The New York Times, by Elizabeth Weinberg)

In 2015, Fey and Poehler sat down with Melena Ryzik from The New York Times to discuss their latest film, Sisters. Fey explained to Ryzik their feminist-type mentality, claiming, “When we choose projects, we do have our own internal Bechdel test.” Fey adds that in Sisters the two women are in fact in conflict, but they’re not in competition. The Bechdel Test, as a reminder, has three requirements: it has to have at least two women in it, who talk to each other, about something other than a man. In almost all of their work, there is an evident mindfulness of, and care for, the on-screen female relationship.

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(Still from SNL)

There is a consistent undertone of integrity, respect, creativity, friendship, and authenticity with all of the characters that they create. For as famous and funny as we know they both are, I think it’s important to acknowledge what they have done for both the female duo in comedy, and also women in comedy in general. They also, I would add, prove that what they do is really hard work and that there’s reward for producers and writers who aren’t afraid to walk the line and create fresh material for all audiences to enjoy.

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6 Responses to The Feminist’s Take on the Art of the Double Act: Amy Poehler and Tina Fey

  1. mediaphiles says:

    Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are great role models for young women. Their relationship is admirable considering the fierce competition they must feel – or must have felt at some point in their careers – in the entertainment industry. Both of their books speak to the importance of supporting women in all aspects of life. -Caitlin Herlihy

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I love that you brought this up! Their relationship, just like Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph is truly refreshing and groundbreaking in our current times. It is also interesting to note the success of these films and how this type has become more prominent recently which points to audiences getting bored of the overdone male-driven films that have dominated media.

    -Maddie Turner

  3. mediaphiles says:

    These two are truly an amazing duo and work so well together. “Baby Mama” is by far my favorite movie with them and their off screen friendship translates so well on screen. These two are so individually successful that its great to see two people work together and support each other the way that they do. I also had never heard of the Bechdel Test and Its really cool/interesting that they use that when screen writing.

    -Kendra Thornton

  4. mediaphiles says:

    This is such an engaging post! I believe Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are very funny on their own, but, put together, they have such great chemistry. They talk about many important issues and are very comfortable in their own skin. Many women have looked up to them and for good reason. They aren’t afraid to stand up for what they believe in and they also put their own comedic twists on the subject. I find them hilarious!

    -Shelby Halliman

  5. mediaphiles says:

    Lydia! Thank you so much for your comments! I have to start by saying that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are my childhood- I was an SNL baby and grew up watching them and their “best of” DVD’s. I absolutely adore their comedy and love the way that, when together, they truly seem like sisters who love each other, but will crack jokes at each other! It will be interesting to see who the next iconic comedic duo will be!

    -Luke Dellorso

  6. mediaphiles says:

    I love how you focused on actresses this week instead of specifically on a television show or film. Thank you for sharing the quote from the New York Times article. Really cool how they have thier own test for projects.

    -Katherine Naylor

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