UVA Alumna Tina Fey: ‘It Feels So Good To Be Back’

April 23, 2023 By Renee Grutzik, amn8sb@virginia.edu Renee Grutzik, amn8sb@virginia.edu

University of Virginia alumna Tina Fey was greeted with a standing ovation as she jogged up a small set of stairs to the John Paul Jones Arena stage Sunday. 

For the second time in 10 years, Fey served as the guest in the President’s Speaker Series for the Arts. Fey was the first guest when the series launched in 2013. The conversation Sunday, moderated by President Jim Ryan, highlighted the importance of the arts at the University and in society.

Before the show began, Fey spoke with current members of the First Year Players, a UVA thespian organization founded in 1977 that only casts first-year students in acting roles, but welcomes students of all years to participate in productions. It was after joining the First Year Players during her first year at UVA that Fey realized she wanted to major in drama. 

“It’s a joke that [First Year Players] have that ‘We know Tina Fey,’ but we were all so shocked that we were able to meet her,” third-year College of Arts & Sciences student Kathleen McNerney, a member of the First Year Players, said. 

The members of First Year Players had the opportunity to ask Fey questions about her experiences in the University’s Department of Drama, her time in First Year Players and advice she has regarding acting in college.

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From behind photo of Tina Fey and Jim Ryan on stage looking out into the audience
Fey and Ryan chatted for just over an hour in front of an enthusiastic audience that applauded every mention of Fey’s characters, shows and movies, and laughed at her self-deprecating stories of how bad she was at dating at UVA. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

“We all view Tina Fey as an inspiration,” McNerneny said. “It’s crazy that she was in our organization, and now she’s gone on and made a career out of acting. It’s inspiring to know that it is possible to live a creative life like hers.” 

The event began with vibrant performances from UVA’s K-Edge Dance Group and the Cavalier Marching Band, which featured a rendition of the “30 Rock” theme song to welcome Fey. 

President Ryan prompted Fey with several questions regarding her time on Grounds, from her daring trek up Old Rag Mountain in the middle of the night to her favorite professors and classes.

Tina Fey posing with U V A's First Year Players
Before taking the stage at JPJ, Fey poses with the First Year Players, a UVA drama group that Fey credits with launching her love of writing and performing. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

Among other questions, Ryan asked Fey the following: Of all the characters you have played, which one would be the best first-year roommate? 

“I think I would say Liz Lemon would be the ideal first-year roommate because she would never bring anyone back to the dorm,” Fey laughed. “At the end of your first year, you would never be friends with her again, and no one would feel bad about it.” 

The conversation lasted just over an hour and then Fey departed the stage to another energetic burst of applause. And it might not be another 10 years before one of the University’s most famous graduates returns to Grounds.

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Not long before the conversation concluded, Fey told Ryan she and her longtime friend and collaborator Amy Poehler were embarking on a tour Thursday, essentially converting their critically acclaimed awards-show banter into a comedy show.

“Maybe,” Fey said, “we could come here.”

Ryan quickly responded, “We’d be glad to have you.”

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