Tina Fey vs. Amy Poehler: Who’s Funnier?

Point/Counterpoint in a crucial debate

On Sunday, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will co-host the Golden Globes. Both women cut their teeth doing improv at Second City and both are comedic geniuses, but for the sake of argument, we’ll try to pick one. Weighing in are Tina Fey devotee Nancy Miller and Amy Poehler fangirl Elina Shatkin.

Round 1

Elina Shatkin on Amy Poehler: She isn’t the obvious choice. Tina Fey is probably more famous and has more clout, but for me Poehler wins it hands-down in part because of the characters she plays. Comedians typically develop characters — whether or not they know it — by exaggerating their most fundamental personality traits. Fey’s go-to alter ego, as epitomized by Liz Lemon, is an uptight, neurotic, undersexed, upper-middle class professional woman whose emotional repertoire runs from harried and overwhelmed to insecure and dissatisfied.* Poehler, in contrast, veers toward characters who are earnest, earthy, unsinkable, and utterly unironic — a.k.a. Leslie Knope. Compare 30 Rock with Parks and Recreation: It’s no accident that Fey plays a New York writer who has a coveted, high-profile job but is nonetheless unhappy, while Poehler plays a small-town public servant who believes that she, like Candide, lives in the best of all possible worlds. If you had to spend five days at Burning Man in a broken down trailer without air conditioning, who would you have more fun with? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

*On a side note: Liz Lemon is so judgmental and unfun, it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to date her let alone a parade of hotties that includes Jon Hamm and Matt Damon. And don’t get me started on the 30 Rock leitmotif of how “unattractive” Liz supposedly is. Only in TV land.

Nancy Miller on Tina Fey: For sure, nobody needs to enlighten the world about the comedic talents of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and to your point, their intertwined background and flavor of humor is so similar, this argument is kind of like Coke in a can vs. Coke in a glass bottle taste challenge. It’s a matter of consistent preference and, well, Fey is my glass bottle. Given the choice, she’s the one I reach for when I want a laugh with some carbonated burn on the back of the throat. I’ve watched and re-watched 30 Rock more times than I can count, while Parks and Recreation sits forlornly in my Hulu queue. The few times I’ve watched it, I found Poehler’s character, while earnest and unsinkable, fundamentally insincere. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein and Liz Lemon (and possibly Yoda): “There’s No There There Me Want to Go.” Knope may be Candide living in the best of all possible worlds, but for me the absence of a believable character who reacts like a “real woman” would makes that world a Potemkin village. Fey is ballsy enough to place herself and her series close to her “real self,” which is as likely a construction as Louis CK’s, but that verisimilitude is why she’s core funny, enduringly funny, and not a quirky character who I can take or leave. I totally agree with you about the unlikely parade of hotties like Jon Hamm, but hey, guys on sitcoms have been dating outside of their league for decades.

But I guess what it comes down to is: Tina Fey could host the Globes by herself and hold her own with Poehler as a hilarious highlight. Can’t say I can see the other way around. I guess that’s power-funny?

Round 2

Elina Shatkin on Amy Poehler: Her awesome acceptance speech at the Time 100 gala in which she thanks the nannies who help her raise her kids.

Nancy Miller on Tina Fey: After attending the Emmys last year in the requisite gown and heels, she padded around the party in a pair of fuzzy animal slippers. Because that’s what most women are dying to do.


The gauntlet has been thrown. Who do you think is funnier?