Maybe you’re wondering why we felt the need to pit these besties against each other, seeing as they are both wonderful and awesome and undeniably “the best” at different moments. Well…no comment. Let this be a celebration of both comediennes rather than a bloodbath, though of course there will be a winner and a loser and death threats and excommunications! As with our other debates, the categories will be varying degrees of arbitrary with vast room for interpretation and argument. You don’t like it? I’m sorry to hear that, but I’m the one whose name is in the site name. What’s that? My name isn’t there? HEY, YA DON’T SAY THAT!
Saturday Night Live
For the sake of brevity, I decided to cover all of their SNL work together, rather than splitting into separate sections debating “Weekend Update” and other work. Some difficulty lies in the fact that they often produced great work together, but both women still managed to carve out individual places in the show’s history. Fey became SNL‘s first female head writer in 1999 after Adam McKay left the show and joined Jimmy Fallon at the “Update” desk the following year. We never saw much of her besides her always impressive co-anchoring, but she led the writing for the show until leaving for 30 Rock after the 2005-2006 season, bringing home an Emmy in 2002. Poehler joined the show in 2001 and stayed until 2008, with some guest appearances following. She co-anchored “Update” with Fey before Seth Meyers stepped in, and though she was often less zany than her BFF, Poehler managed to bring a unique blend of raunch, wit, and delivery to the desk. Both stole the occasional sketch away from the confines of the anchoring desk, but their best work came when staring directly into our eyes. One could go back and forth choosing which anchoring style they prefer, but let’s leave it as two hilarious but distinct methods of skewering our notable news and people. Considering that, we have to look to their overall contributions to the show in order to determine a winner. Fey was not only the first female head writer but also a pioneer for women on the show, ushering in a decade of SNL largely dominated by individuals like Kristen Wiig, Poehler, and now a bevy of stars including Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong. For all of this, she tops Poehler. First blood!
This category makes for perhaps the most difficult decision. Neither star has made their name in film, but they both have made their mark when they find their way onto the bigger screen. Forgetting Admission (as we all should), Fey has built up an impressive collection of comedies, including Date Night, The Invention of Lying, and the woefully underrated animated treasure Megamind. Poehler has a little heftier of a history, scoring highly for Wet Hot American Summer and the GWW favorite Blades of Glory, in which she teamed with Will Arnett to make figure skating super racy. From there it gets murky, as the pair starred together in Baby Mama and showed up in Mean Girls, for which Fey of course also provided much of the hilarity. In Baby Mama, however, credit must given to Poehler as wild card Angie to Fey’s uptight Kate. Poehler gets the meta-nod for the movie due to the ridiculousness her character presented. BUT LO, Fey can push back with Mean Girls, or so you may assert. Her fantastic script was shocking then and stands up well now, and her performance solid as well, so we’ll go ahead and call it even after this development. BUT WAIT, what about Poehler’s moments as Mrs. George, you ask? Oh, I don’t know, she was just uproariously funny and troublingly spot-on. For redefining and modernizing “bad parenting,” Poehler breaks the tie within the category and ties the match!
Television (besides SNL)
Fey became an Emmy mainstay with her work for 30 Rock while Poehler is quietly racking up her own collection of nominations for Parks and Recreation, and this debate essentially comes down to these two shows. Both programs will forever be in my personal pantheon of television comedies, but I’m afraid Fey may gain a slight edge for her all-encompassing work on the megahit NBC sitcom. Creating, producing, writing, and starring makes for a full slate, and Fey did a fantastic job in each role. Even Poehler joined the fun! Poehler does have the added perk of a wonderful guest turn on Arrested Development as “Wife of Gob,” but that still leaves her lagging just a little. Her Leslie Knope may be more likable than Liz Lemon, and Parks and Recreation goes down a little smoother, but I cannot deny Fey’s work to help make 30 Rock one of the most successful television shows of all time. Perhaps Poehler can close the gap with her producing and other work for Broad City, but for now Fey has this category in hand. How bout a lil pep!
Both are about as awesome offscreen as on, often making it seem as if little difference exists between their characters and selves. Each makes for an entertaining interview, especially on the late night shows, since they know/admire/mock whoever sits behind the desk. As outlined above, Fey is the more cerebral performer, and she makes some fascinating comments about balancing that with a more slapstick attitude at about the 6:00 mark of this clip, all of which is worth the watch (after you finish reading this post, of course). That Google Talk, and all of her offscreen chats, shows just how in touch Fey is with her place as a woman in comedy and a modern star drawing on the history of television. This makes for fascinating introspection and insight, far different than what we often see from Poehler in real life. Amy and Will Arnett have two children together that will surely become comedy geniuses, and now that they have parted ways, she is dating yet another funnyman in The League’s Nick Kroll. While living in this constant aura of laughs and smiles, Poehler constantly seems to be having fun. Like Fey, she seems to know and be beloved by every fun celebrity in Hollywood, and her easygoing nature bleeds into interviews and appearances, squaring up this hotly contested category. Recent developments, however, have managed to tilt the ice in Poehler’s favor. Billy Eichner may turn away some people with his loud brand of comedy, but regardless of your opinion of him, he has helped show off just how willing and able Poehler is to turn anything into comedy, from singing carols to pretending to be Pitbull. Fey is sharply intelligent and has a incredible eye for society, but I have to go ahead and reward the infectious fun-loving nature Poehler brings to the party.
Awards Show Hosting
Ah, yes, our tie breaking final category. A fierce battle tied at two, but someone has to be the loser. Why? Because I say so. You might suggest an unbroken tie considering that the buddies tend to share the stage, killing it together. This is a rather substantial conundrum, but I believe it can be rectified. As with Baby Mama and even their time together on “Update,” their hosting gigs cast Fey as the straight man to Poehler’s willing wild card. Even in the Golden Globe monologue above, you can see the gap growing between the two, with Poehler standing out thanks to her “I Dreamed a Dream” moment and her general comfortability next to Fey’s steady but at times flat presence. We will probably see plenty of these two in many awards shows yet to come, but for now it seems Poehler has the edge, managing to enjoy her time onstage more than Fey, who has always thrived behind the scenes anyway. In a nail-biting, stomach-turning, teeth-grinding, foot-rubbing finish, Amy edges Tina to take home the overall victory.
Thus, in the clash of the titans of female humor, Poehler stands tallest. Now don’t forget, this debate is by title unnecessary and by nature ridiculous, so don’t take it too personally. Fey may have the fuller repertoire, but Poehler squeaks it out because of her ability to please audiences of all kinds, whether dwelling onscreen or not. Until next time, may your days be merry and your debates impossible to solve.
Overall Winner: Poehler, 3-2