By Lydia Geisel
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.