Goddess of the Geeks

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Tina Fey made me steal a book. I told her that, fittingly, I had lied to Al Franken, the author of Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, about reading it. So Fey grabbed the book from the communal library of her swanky Manhattan apartment building and made me steal it. I say made because Tina Fey is the Farrah Fawcett of the world of geek boys, and in 1977, Farrah could have wiped out Barnes & Noble if she had wanted to. But I also say me because Fey would never do something like that herself. "The girls I know in comedy are all very earnest in person," she says. "We went to good schools and were obedient. The guys dropped out of college."

So it's not surprising that, unlike her male Saturday Night Live counterparts, Fey didn't make a movie in which she stars as a male gigolo or a former child star or a person with any kind of intestinal problem whatsoever. In fact, she didn't even make a movie in which she plays the lead. Instead, Fey wrote a script based on a nonfiction book, Queen Bees and Wannabes, by Rosalind Wiseman, who runs a nonprofit anti-rape organization for teens. And she somehow managed to beat Rob Schneider to the rights for it.


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It's a balance of Key Club president and ice-cold brutality that has made the SNL co — head writer and Weekend Update co-anchor so funny. It also allowed her to turn an investigation of the traumas of teenage girls into a Lindsay Lohan teen comedy. "Rosalind Wiseman's theory is that if girls don't have a support structure, they take drugs and get date-raped," Fey says. "I left that out to get the PG-13." Mean Girls, which opens on Friday, April 30, may be more well intentioned than clever, but it does attempt something more complicated than any other comedy Lorne Michaels has produced. "On one level it's a high school picture," says Michaels. "But her sense is close to where John Hughes was in the '80s." The film explores the insecurities that make girls cruel to one another and what they can do to stop it. Plus she gets to make jokes about practicing sex with a hot dog. That's the stuff that really warms our geeky-boy hearts.

In person, without her glasses on, Fey, 33, seems slight, shy and approachable. Maybe too approachable for her own good. She is moved, in the course of an interview, to pull her shirt down to cover her midriff and mention her husband several times. Back in high school in Upper Darby, Pa., before she was one of PEOPLE's most beautiful people ("In all the world!" Fey exclaims. "India! China!"), back when she was an honor student and a co-editor of the newspaper as well as a member of the drama club, the tennis team, the community-service corps and two singing groups, she was fascinated with the question of how some girls became popular.

But in case she forgot what high school catfights were like, her young co-star provided a case study. During filming, Lohan, 17, got into a public feud over a boy with fellow teen diva Hilary Duff, 16. Fey, whose day job is mocking celebrities, cuts the girls some slack. "Sometimes I think Us Weekly should leave them alone," Fey says. "They're just kids. If notes I wrote about some girl in ninth grade were in Us Weekly, I'd be really bummed. Actually, I'd be really psyched." It's that hint of cruelty, that gleeful leaking of darkness that makes Fey so compelling. And she uses it, as Eddie Murphy used racism, to make sharp points about sexism. When touting her film, Fey, winking at how its star is a bit tarted up for a teenager, says, "You don't have to be a girl to like it. You can bring a girl. Or you can just be a person who's into looking at young girls."

Though she has got lots of attention for performing, Fey doesn't plan to do much more of it. A former member of Second City, she says she goes out for auditions but has never landed an acting part — the closest she has come being a callback for Down with Love. So in addition to keeping the writing gig she has had for seven years at SNL, she's also working on a sitcom-development deal at NBC. And she would like to write and direct movies in which she has small parts. "My role model is Harold Ramis," she says, referring to the writer of such movies as Stripes and Ghost Busters, who also appeared in them. "I want to sneak into movies. I have no pretensions of thinking people will pay to see me." Fey, of all people, shouldn't underestimate just how many geeky boys are out there.