While discussing my recent rewatch of Mean Girls, I found myself accidentally stumbling on a major pop culture debate that I think is worth having, and may be a future theme in American comedy:
Who's recent projects are funnier, Tiny Fey or Judd Apatow?
Both of these talented indivduals slaved away behind the scenes of funny/doomed or under-appreciated projects. Both had major influence on American comedy before they had even reached their personal breakthrough successes.
Fey was the head writer on Saturday Night Live for years, and if 30 Rock is any indication, I think we can attribute almost all of the show's best moments from 2000 to 2004 to her. She didn't really get the attention she deserved until she worked on weekend update with Jimmy Fallon, but Fallon still seemed to get the credit for the chemistry between the two. Mean Girls was Fey's first noteable non-SNL success, and I am willing to call it the best teen comedy since Clueless, without much hesitation. And that is an enormous compliment from a Clueless fan such as myself. Her next major sucess was 30 Rock, which started shakey, but is now an Emmy winning success, and has cemented her position as a major voice in American comedy. The best part about Fey's success and public embrace is that her humor is unapologetically "female." Her self-guided projects feature female leads and diverse female characters, which is a rare site in the modern, male-centric world of comedy. Fey often seems to make an effort to provide opportunities and roles to gifted comediennes who suffer from the unfortnate lack of funny females in American comedies. Not only are Fey's characters mostly female, but many are also funnier and smarter then the men who surround them. Fey's character Lemon on 30 Rock is a wonderfully full person, with insecurities, humor, and subtle depth; she is perhaps the most well-rounded protagonist in modern comedic television, gender aside.
Judd Apatow is also a talented writer/director, but his projects seem to stand as the phalocentric counterpoint to Fey's. I have deep love for Apatow, stemming from the incredible Freaks and Geeks (still some of the best shit I've ever seen, anywhere) and the sweet and well-meaning 40-Year-Old Virgin, but I have begun to wonder about the effects of his particular brand of humor on the advancement of female comediennes and actresses. Like Fey, Apatow did not have his fame and influence handed to him. His early labors of love were critical successes, but were treated poorly by studios and networks. But while Apatow may have suffered more early industry humiliation than Fey, his penis helped him out a bit more in the end. Apatow's most successful attribute may be his bevy of famous and hilarious friends, who are both peers and disciples. Apatow was credited as writer, producer, or director on the following titles: Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Knocked Up, Superbad, Underclared (TV), Heavyweights (yeah, he wrote THAT Heavyweights), Kicking and Screaming, The Cable Guy, Fun With Dick and Jane, Celtic Pride, The TV Set, Walk Hard, Drillbit Taylor, Pineapple Express, Don't Mess With the Zohan, The Ben Stiller Show, The Larry Sanders Show, and The Critic (yeah, the cartoon TV show). So this guy has some influence, and some connections. His cast from both Freaks and Geeks are a virtual who's who of young Hollywood...dramatic and comedic, TV and movies.
So, Fey or Apatow?
Female-centric or phallocentric?
Phoeler or Ferrell?
I'm a fan of both of these individuals, and Freaks and Geeks is my favorite thing that either of them has produced, but while I was watching Mean Girls today, I couldn't help but notice that Fey's film (made in 2004) was somehow fresher, funnier, and more insightful than ever. It has aged beautifully, and I'm fairly certain that is is considerably funnier as a whole than Superbad.
There. I said it. I think Tina Fey's recent stuff kicks Judd Apatow's recent films' (other than 40YOV) asses.