This Film Reunited Some of the Greatest Minds in Comedy

This Film Reunited Some of the Greatest Minds in Comedy

Baby Mama posterBaby Mama (2008) stars Tina Fey as Kate Holbrook, a single professional whose focus on her successful career has left her little time to consider starting a family. Now approaching 40, Kate has decided that the time is right to become a mother. However, a trip to the doctor reveals that her own chances of conceiving a child are severely limited, and Kate finds that her status as a single woman would severely draw out the adoption process.

To get the child she wants, she hires a working-class woman named Angie Ostrowski, played by Amy Poehler, to serve as her surrogate. After learning that Angie is pregnant, Kate immediately begins making extensive preparations for motherhood, but her structured lifestyle receives an unexpectedly early interruption when Angie shows up on her doorstep. Kate has no choice but to take in Angie, who has recently dumped her irresponsible boyfriend. The two women soon find themselves locked in a hilarious battle of wills as each advocates for her own version of the ideal expectant mother.

Produced by Broadway Video and Michaels-Goldwyn in association with Relativity Media, Baby Mama is a 2008 comedy starring longtime comic collaborators Amy Poehler and Tina Fey and showcasing the work of well-known comedic writers and producers.

The latest partnership between two well-known comediennes

Baby Mama is one of many collaborations between longtime comedic partners Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. After starting out at Chicago’s famous The Second City improv group, Tina Fey followed in the footsteps of many Second City alums and launched a successful career at Saturday Night Live. She rose through the ranks to become the show’s first female head writer, eventually trying her hand in front of the camera as the co-anchor of the show’s Weekend Update segment and, when current events called for it, serving as SNL’s resident Sarah Palin impressionist. In addition, Tina Fey is well known as the creator, writer, and star of 30 Rock, a comedy loosely based on her time at SNL.

Amy Poehler
Amy Poehler | Image by Rubenstein | Flickr

Another alumna of The Second City, Amy Poehler later performed with the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy troupe, which eventually became a sketch show on Comedy Central. Since the conclusion of its three-season run, Poehler has enjoyed a successful film and television career that has included fronting the talented ensemble cast of the critically acclaimed Parks and Recreation (2009), guest appearances on Arrested Development (2003), and an early role in the cult classic teen comedy Wet Hot American Summer (2001). Poehler’s resume also includes a seven-year stint as a cast member on Saturday Night Live, during which time she developed a wide repertoire of impressions that included Hillary Clinton, Katie Couric, Kelly Ripa, and Tonya Harding.

Poehler joined Tina Fey as co-anchor of SNL’s Weekend Update following Jimmy Fallon’s departure in 2004. That same year, she played a supporting role in the hit comedy Mean Girls (2004), which Tina Fey also co-wrote and appeared in. The actresses partnered to co-host the 70th, 71st, and 72nd annual Golden Globe Awards, and they recently co-starred in the 2015 comedy Sisters.

In addition to being excited to reunite onscreen with her good friend and frequent collaborator—with whom she’s described sharing a shorthand of sorts—Fey was also enthusiastic about the story that they were telling. “We’re very excited to be doing something together that is a story about two women who are not somebody else’s girlfriend in a story…they’re really the center.”

A reunion of SNL Alumni

Saturday Night Live served as a launching pad for both Amy Poehler and Tina Fey’s careers, and the actresses partnered with two former SNL collaborators for their 2008 feature film. One of these was the project’s writer-director Michael McCullers, who had previously shared an office with Tina Fey while both wrote sketches for Poehler and the other SNL cast members. In addition to writing for the popular sketch comedy show, McCullers co-wrote Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) and Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002).

Tina Fey
Tina Fey | Image by David Shankbone | Flickr

Over a series of creative meetings, McCullers, Poehler, and Fey gradually developed the idea for their female-fronted comedy, starting with its most basic concept. Said McCullers, “We hit on the idea of a surrogate mother. The simplest form of it was Amy having Tina’s baby, and that made us laugh.” All three believed that this situation would offer comedic potential, especially because it offered a chance to pair up two extremely different characters in a rather personal situation.

Baby Mama marked Michael McCullers’ first foray into directing, giving him an opportunity to use his extensive on-set experience from the Austin Powers films. He also served as the movie’s sole screenwriter, developing the story and characters specifically with Fey and Poehler in mind. This was a welcome change for both actresses, whose time at Saturday Night Live had given them plenty of experience in writing and performing their own material. According to Poehler, their long history of collaboration allowed McCullers to write in accordance with both of their comedic styles.

After completing his first draft of the script, Michael McCullers recruited famed comedy writer and producer Lorne Michaels to provide guidance on the project. The winner of 14 Primetime Emmys, Michaels has garnered widespread acclaim for late-night talk shows including The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (2014-present) and Late Night with Conan O’Brien (1993-2009). Of course, he is best known as the creator and producer of Saturday Night Live, which has brought together many of entertainment’s greatest comedic minds under one roof since its inception in 1975.

The Power of Improvisation

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler drew on their shared history of improv comedy performance to inject an extra element of creativity and spontaneity into Baby Mama. Before filming began, they made their own edits to dialogue and continued to bounce ideas off one another as the production ensued. Writer-director Michael McCullers was a fan of their improvised choices, noting, “Every day on the set, they added a little something that made it better, which is a luxury for me.”

Amy Poehler noted that the cast’s experience on collaborative productions such as SNL prepared them to improvise several scenes in the movie with hilarious results. According to the actress, the ability to pitch to one another and develop the ideal version of each joke “comes from mutual respect, boundaries and a shared language that you only get from working together so much.”

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