After earning her drama degree from the University of Virginia, Fey moves to Chicago, where she joins Chicago's legendary comedy troupe Second City (right) in 1994. She becomes friends with future Saturday Night Live alums Rachel Dratch and Horatio Sanz and meets Jeff Richmond, a director for Second City, whom she begins dating. "I was so happy," she tells CosmoGIRL! in 2008. "I was doing comedy with the best people in the field."
After sending sample sketches to SNL's producer Lorne Michaels, Fey joins the series as a staff writer. By 1999, she becomes the first female head writer on the show. "The skill you need for it is not necessarily to be the funniest person in that group," she tells Parade of her groundbreaking position. "What you need to be is a kind of conduit between the producers and the writers." A year later, she joins Jimmy Fallon as co-anchor of "Weekend Update."
After seven years of dating, Fey and Jeff Richmond marry in a Greek Orthodox ceremony. "I fell in love with her very quickly," Richmond, who is 10 years Fey's senior, tells PEOPLE. "She has this caustic, biting wit that pops out occasionally, but she really does have a little-girl-from-the-suburbs kind of ambience."
After writing a film script based on Rosalind Wiseman's book Queen Bees and Wannabes, Fey makes her first movie pitch to Lorne Michaels, who agrees to help produce Mean Girls. The film, which stars Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams, is a hit. "I was cowardly mean," Fey admits to EW of her days in high school. "I would be home with my friends, just endlessly talking about whoever left the room."
Fey welcomes daughter Alice Zenobia Richmond and takes a 43-day maternity leave from SNL. "I had to get back to work," she tells Parade. "NBC has me under contract; the baby and I only have a verbal agreement." That same year, New York Magazine reports that Fey makes an impressive $1.5 million for performing and writing on SNL.
Fey quits SNL to write, produce and star in her own TV show – a sitcom about a comedy sketch show. She watches a lot of The Mary Tyler Moore Show to inspire her writing, and tells EW that the idea for the show is to make it relatable to "anyone who works in an office." That fall, 30 Rock airs on NBC, with Fey and Alec Baldwin in the lead roles.
30 Rock, which is fledging in the ratings, is nominated for 10 Emmys. It takes home the prize for Outstanding Comedy. In her acceptance speech, Fey thanks the show's "dozens and dozens of viewers."
The Writers Guild of America goes on strike, and Fey joins the picketing writers. Although Fey is contractually obligated to continue acting on 30 Rock, she says, "My staff and I are wholeheartedly supporting the strike...I hope they realize we're quite serious. I think they need to know we're very united." After 100 days on the picket lines, members of the WGA accept a deal with producers in February.
Fey, who appears on the covers of Vanity Fair and Marie Claire, and longtime pal Amy Poehler star in Baby Mama. The comedy, about a businesswoman (Fey) who uses a surrogate (Poehler) to have her baby, opens at No. 1 and grosses $17.4 million in its opening weekend.
Fey returns to SNL as Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin. As Palin, Fey famously says, "I can see Russia from my house." The New York Times says Fey's "winking, girlish, folksy impersonation of Ms. Palin has been called one of the most pitch-perfect in political satire." Her multiple appearances through the campaign season raise her profile and increase ratings for 30 Rock.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Courtesy of Second City; Everett Collection; Mathew Imaging/FilmMagic; Everett Collection; LUIS GUERRA/ramey; NBC; Vince Bucci/Getty; EZIO PETERSEN/landov