the pulse

'Rock,' hard place not so bad for this funny, pretty 'Mama'

Tina Fey sounds tired on the phone. Not that anyone can blame her. Between playing catch-up after the writers strike on her brilliant NBC comedy "30 Rock," promoting her feature "Baby Mama" that opens wide today (it's Fey's first star vehicle on the big screen) and caring for her 21/2-year-old daughter, Alice, the woman's got a lot on her plate.

"I feel a little bit like Loretta Lynn in Act III of 'Coal Miner's Daughter,' " Fey said during an interview last week. "I'm liable to just break down onstage."

Such is the price of being in demand. It points irrefutably to the fact that Fey's "big moment" is at hand. We'll know within a few days — indeed, a couple of hours — if "Baby Mama" has catapulted her beyond recognition as the preeminent smarty-pants queen of comedy to something resembling mainstream appreciation.

Or, if the film, which co-stars Fey's onetime "Weekend Update" co-anchor Amy Poehler on "Saturday Night Live," fails to smack it out of the park, it would add further fuel to the argument that, in tandem with the middling ratings generated by "30 Rock," she is more hipster phenomenon than mass-appeal breakout. Or, it could mean nothing at all.

"It's a movie we made with care," Fey said. "(Director) Michael McCullers did a great job. I have to think this film is a nice night out for people. There are a lot of good jokes. There are also a lot of kick-ass explosions and car chases, so you've got to see it big — no downloading onto your laptop!"

Even if the film tanks, it probably won't do a lot to impede the prodigious rise of Fey's star of late. She took home an Emmy in September for top comedy series as a producer on "30 Rock," then followed that up in January with SAG Award and Golden Globe triumphs for her performance as the show's Liz Lemon.

Beyond the official kudos, there resides the understanding in comedy circles that Fey is the real deal, embodying intelligence, wit and effortless charm in a decidedly non-threatening package. Women see her as their brainy best friend. Men perceive a hot librarian. She manages to be both geek and chic.

Not that Fey is buying into the idea of an imminent Tina Fey explosion.

"I can't really put a lot of stock into any of it," she said. "Having worked at 'SNL,' I see how the media cycle works. They love you. They hate you. You have to inherently know that this stuff is all cyclical. As someone once said, 'You can't get high on your own supply.' Although I'm not sure they were talking about press.

"The upside is that I'll have some nice clippings for my kids someday. It was definitely nice to win all of those awards. And I find I'm getting a better stack of hate mail, which is nice. But it's really not possible to think you're all that when you spend all morning trying to get someone to poop into a bucket."

Yet what Fey is quick to dispute is any impression that because she was the first woman to serve as head writer on "SNL," she is somehow a whole lot brighter than her comedy contemporaries.

"There are no dumb chicks in this racket," Fey said. "In order to succeed in comedy, you need to have some understanding of what's happening in the world around you. You at least need to be able to identify your shapes and colors. I'd say that's really the main thing."