With Letterman, Tina Fey picks the best 'SNL' players, and admits a big mistake

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Tina Fey and David Letterman on Netflix’s My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. (Photo: Netflix)

After the slightly awkward interview David Letterman did with Jay-Z last month, the white-bearded host gets back on track with a far cozier Tina Fey interview on a new edition of his Netflix show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman. Letterman and Fey have an easy rapport that loosens up both of them: They’re fun to watch, riffing off each other. Fey asks, “Do you want to hear my Trump story?” and indeed we do. She also says she’s glad she’s not working at Saturday Night Live now because of the poisonous atmosphere Donald Trump has let loose in the land. “It’s a hard time: The level of outrage is so high, it feels like talking to anyone, anywhere, in 2018 is just land mine hopscotch.” Letterman asks her the kind of question most interviewees would dismiss as unfair — pick the eight best Saturday Night Live cast members to do a sketch with — and Fey gives him a serious, thoughtful answer. Fey also admits to a mistake she made in executing one of her most famous SNL sketches, issuing a surprise apology.

The interview is timed as a promotion: Fey’s Broadway musical version of Mean Girls has just opened, and Letterman gives her plenty of time to plug it. But one purpose of these hourlong interviews is to go over the entire career of the guest, so we also hear about Fey’s youth and her early performing days in Chicago’s Second City improv group. This leads to a slight detour into Chicago food, which leads to the odd moment that occurs in all of these Netflix Letterman shows: the cutaway from the interview to a taped segment. This one finds Letterman eating chicken in a Chicago restaurant with blues guitarist Buddy Guy. No, it has nothing to do with Fey.

Anyway, when Letterman asks her to pick eight SNL players she would like to do a sketch with, her choices span the history of the show. I’m not going to spoil her list, but I will say that she says she’s “scared” of Bill Murray: “I feel like he can just smell how uncool I am.” In the most revealing and intimate moment of this interview, Letterman brings up her viral “sheet cake” moment on SNL this past August, when Fey addressed the racist demonstrations that occurred in Charlottesville, Va.

You may recall that Fey’s commentary was both widely admired and widely criticized. With Letterman, Fey says, “Here’s what’s wrong with it” and acknowledges that the skit could have been interpreted as loftily privileged. Or in her words: “I chunked it.” “The implication was that I was telling people to give up and not be active and to not fight,” says Fey. “That was not my intention, obviously,” but she owns it, albeit with some justifiable defensiveness: “But at some point, I have decided that the culture of apology is not for me, so I promise, I swear to God, anyone who is mad at me, I hear you, and I will keep learning, but I’m also not gonna stop trying.” She also reveals the line she would insert into the sketch, “if I had a time machine, if I could insert one sentence digitally.” Again, I won’t spoil this; check out the interview.

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman is streaming now on Netflix.

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