“Liz Lemon isn’t funny.” That’s all it said. One text, lobbed like a grenade into a group text without any pretext. It was incendiary. It started a war. We’re still sorting through the carnage.
To be clear about which side I stand on, let me say this very clearly: Liz Lemon is very, very funny. And for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, please do as my wife and I have done repeatedly throughout this pandemic and fire up your Hulu memberships so that you may indulge in the weird comedy playground of 30 Rock, a show whose unique brand of joke-a-minute madness didn’t create huge ratings so much as it create huge fans.
30 Rock was a weird show about a weird woman who ran a different weird show staffed by weirdos. It was very much my kind of thing. Despite being at the center of all the show’s chaos, Tina Fey’s Liz was rarely the cause of it, often playing a type of inverted straight man, as she lampooned the insane scenarios that the characters around her were taking very seriously. Compared to the utter madness of Tracey Jordan, the inexpressible self-involvement of Jenna Maroney or the pompous aristocracy of Jack Donaghy, Liz seems almost minimalist which could be a poor recipe for comedy and is, I think, the basis for the opinion that started all of this. But Liz’s (relative) understatement is very much by design and by keeping her grounded, Liz remains the relatable heart of the show while still retaining a whip-smart sense of humor.
Unlike the caricatures around her, Liz was never going to go through a whole day Reaganing or get to play Jackie Jormp-Jomp or have her co-workers fake a space launch to fool her. She just wanted people to laugh at her jokes, a nice guy who didn’t try any funny business and some ham. It’s not too much to ask and, when Liz was doing the asking, it was always hilarious.