The Best of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey Before They Were Famous

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This week, as you might expect, Flavorwire is devoting extensive coverage to the biggest and most anticipated movie of the year: Sisters, the new big-screen comedy starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler! Follow our coverage here.

Fierce lady friends, accomplished comedians, and all-around swell gals Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are doing their sister act thing again for the big screen — and the duo will also appear as hosts on the December 19 episode of SNL , their former stomping ground.

The BFFs first met in Chicago during the early ‘90s while studying and performing at comedy giant ImprovOlympic. “They were not the typical women who get steamrolled by men. They were bold and ballsy and fearless,”ImprovOlympic’s co-founder Charna Halpern told the New York Post in 2012. Poehler and Fey have been inseparable ever since. We’re celebrating the sisters from another mister with a look back at the best of Amy and Tina before they were famous. Everybody’s gotta start somewhere.

When Amy Poehler moved to Chicago in the early 1990s, she joined the troupe at Second City to study improv. A freestyling, baby-faced Poehler starred in this never-before-seen pilot from 1995 that surfaced online earlier this year. RVTV co-starred Matt Dwyer and Del Close (who coached the likes of Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Harold Ramis, and other bright stars). Splitsider spoke with Dwyer about the clip in February:

I honestly do not recall where the concept came from. I know it was written by Adam McKay and Tom Gianas, who both went on to write for SNL and of course film and TV. Tom co-directed it. We shot it for a week up in Toronto. Also, Del improvised constantly and was throwing in tributes to old greats like his Ken Nordine. I think Amy and I may have improvised less, but as with any group of improvisors working together, improvisation is going to happen. Del was constantly throwing in references to Lenny Bruce and the others of that era. The target audience for that show probably would have no idea who he was talking about, but I personally loved it. It was a a great deal of fun and I remember both Amy and I were thrilled to be working with Del. Del was an icon to all of us.

Before Poehler joined the cast of SNL for the 2001-02 season, she was a regular on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, playing Andy Richter’s little sister, Stacy. With orthodontic headgear, pigtails, and a lispy coo whenever Conan was in the room (at least until her rage took over), Poehler’s Stacy was a demonic spitfire who demanded the audience’s attention.

Also during her pre-SNL period, Poehler studied improv with Del Close, Charna Halpern, and other members of the original improv group from the Upright Citizens Brigade and eventually joined them. After moving to New York City, the group scored a Comedy Central series. The show ran through 2000. This clip from a music-themed episode features Poehler as a werewolf-like folk singer, a shawl-wearing musician (with a lisp, again!), an elderly country gal, and a switchblade-carrying heavy metal fan.

“I look like a sociopath who’s going to smother a man with a pillow,” Poehler told Jimmy Kimmel about some old stock modeling photos that popped up a few years ago. She posed for the pictures in order to make money as a broke 20-something. Watch the video on Jezebel.

Judd Apatow’s post-Freaks and Geeks project Undeclared, set at a fictional California university, starred Poehler as a not-so-innocent head RA in the school’s dorm. In this episode, she gets it on with nerdy Steven’s (Jay Baruchel) father Hal (Loudon Wainwright III), who experiences a midlife crisis.

Here’s some great footage of Fey working her comedic chops with Second City in a look back at her early days with the improv troupe (doing sketches with fellow SNL-er Rachel Dratch). “I’m an improviser first,” Fey says when recalling her career.

“In 1995, we cast a terrific young Second City cast member for this spot. It was her first commercial. She was very nice, very nervous, and very funny. Look closely, it’s Tina Fey!” writes broadcasting and media production company Purple Onion.

Fey performed the voices of the “Opera Singer” princess and the “Cockney-talking princess” for the 1997 pinball game Medieval Madness by Williams Electronic Games. From an interview with Vanity Fair:

Did she ever use the Sarah Palin voice to entice her own First Dude? No, she said, but once, when she did a voice-over for a pinball machine in Chicago, she used an Elly May Clampett voice. “These critters need some attention,” she says in a soft southern drawl, giving her husband a sexy glance. She’s as pitch-perfect channeling Elly May as she is channeling Palin. “And that was the only time Jeff has kind of hinted that maybe I should talk like that all the time.”

You can watch a promo for the game (above) and listen to Tina’s role over here.

Fey and friend Cady Garey played “pinheads” in a 1991 college production of The Elephant Man at the University of Virginia. “We were the pinheads — circus freaks who appeared in a dream sequence,” Fey told UVA Magazine. “The costumes were loose-fitting burlap with heavy padding underneath. If that wasn’t humiliating enough, the director of the show could never, never remember our actual names.”

The same year that Fey started appearing in sketches on SNL, while working as the show’s head writer, she performed with fellow cast member Rachel Dratch in an off-Broadway, two-woman show called Dratch & Fey. “Comic Duo Splits Sides,” was the headline for the Wall Street Journal review of the production. “Indeed, the fun part of watching these two perform together is seeing how comfortable they are with each other, as if they are in somebody’s basement putting on a show for a bunch of friends. It’s also interesting to see two very funny women working as a team. Interesting because there have been so few two-woman comedy teams.” In this interview, Fey discusses working live versus scripted (“You can be a little darker in a live show”) and has to answer a lame question about playing different men in the show (after the doofus host interrupts her several times).

Bonus:

Watch Poehler play an obsessed, semi-Satanic ex of Amanda Peet’s character’s current crush in the MTV short film Zoe Loses It (2000). It’s like the original Girls we wish existed in series form, complete with women who eat cheese, women who talk on the phone while taking a crap, and women who wind up in jail.