When the famously host-less 2019 Academy Awards kicked off, three of comedy’s most revered players — Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph — took center stage and truly turned the drama preceding the telecast into a laughing matter. Without missing a beat, the women took turns hilariously playing off one another to bring a lighthearted look at hot-button topics like original host Kevin Hart’s absence — and even playfully roasted a few of the night’s most celebrated nominees, too.
Their collaborative monologue and seemingly effortless banter would’ve been Oscar-worthy in and of itself — only it really didn’t involve much acting, if any. The reason? Fey, Poehler and Rudolph have been close friends for years, and their performance was as real as it gets.
Poehler taught Fey her 'first real beauty lesson'
Fey and Poehler first met in 1993 at a Chicago ImprovOlympic Theater class, where the latter has joked that she got her “first real beauty lesson” from her now-close pal. “I was 22 or 23, and I had only recently learned that you can pluck your eyebrows or have a lady put hot wax on them and remove portions of them and shape them,” Fey has said of the wisdom she supposedly imparted to Poehler.
In reality, the improv theater’s co-founder Charna Halpern introduced the women to one other. As Poehler explained, “[Charna] said there was another new improviser in another one of her classes whom she thought I would really like. Her name was Tina and she was like me but with brown hair.”
Their connection was instant. When writing her 2014 memoir, Yes Please, Poehler further reflected on the beginning of her friendship with Fey: “She was sharp, shy, and hilarious. We took classes together and sat in the back… When we did scenes together, they weren’t particularly funny or interesting. There was absolutely nothing pointing to the fact that anyone on our team would be successful in any kind of comedy career.”
It took years for Fey to convince Poehler to join 'SNL'
She couldn’t have been more wrong. In 1996, Poehler left her spot in Chicago’s Second City improv comedy troupe (which Fey would ultimately earn) to establish her sketch group, the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York City. The following year, Fey followed suit, moving to the Big Apple, taking a job writing for NBC’s Saturday Night Live — and, of course, also reuniting with Poehler to perform with the Upright Citizens Brigade from time to time.
After years of trying to recruit Poehler for SNL, Fey finally succeeded in 2001. “I was so happy,” Fey wrote in her 2011 autobiography, Bossypants, of her eventual "Weekend Update" co-anchor. “Weirdly, I remember thinking, ‘My friend is here! My friend is here!’ Even though things had been going great for me at the show, with Amy there, I felt less alone.”
Poehler admires Rudolph for always looking like she's 'having fun'
It was during this time that Rudolph came into the mix, joining Fey in the cast of SNL in May 2000. She also clearly remembers the first time she met Poehler in September the following year. “I walked into the writers’ room, and I feel like you were sitting on the table and everyone was just gathered around like, ‘Ahhhh, finally: Amy’s here,’” she recounted to Poehler in a joint interview with Vanity Fair.
For her part, Poehler found herself leaning on Rudolph, noting that her naturally calm demeanor was a much-needed balance for the pressures she experienced as a new SNL cast members. “So much of live performance is faking that you’re not scared,” Poehler has said. “Maya never seems scared — she always seems like she’s having fun.”
Rudolph says she's 'very lucky' to have Fey and Poehler in her life
Working with Poehler and Fey was equally beneficial for Rudolph — and the experienced ended up being the impetus that helped forge a lasting bond and camaraderie. As she recently explained: "I’m very lucky that over the years I have had these women in my life — when we first started, we were working at SNL in our 20s and 30s, and in a lot of ways, we were kids. I moved to New York City right before September 11. I was a single gal working crazy hours. I didn’t know how to take care of myself, and I learned a lot from these women."
The trio, along with fellow SNL alums Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer, Paula Pell, and Emily Spivey — all of whom star as an ensemble in Poehler’s directorial debut, the 2019 comedy Wine Country — even participate in a daily group text to this day. Rudolph echoed her earlier statement regarding their friendship. “We all went through something so significant together,” she has shared. “I always say SNL was the comedy army.”
True to form, Rudolph has also joked that they’re truly together for the long haul: “These ladies are gonna change my diapers.”