On your left -- that's house left, not stage left, but we'll come back to that -- Tina Fey, writer, comedian, star, producer and newly minted bestselling author of "Bossypants." On your right, Steve Martin, a man who is also a writer, comedian, star, producer and bestselling author -- plus he's won a Grammy for playing bluegrass banjo. "Why no banjo?" Martin asked.
"Not many people know this, but my parents were brutally murdered by Earl Scruggs," Fey replied.
The meeting of the comic minds happened onstage at the Nokia Theatre on Tuesday night in front of about 5,000 people. "I want to thank Steve for agreeing to do this," Fey said as the event neared its conclusion; it is the only appearance Fey is making on her "Bossypants" book tour that includes Steve Martin.
Martin, who has his own book out -- the novel "An Object of Beauty," set in the art world -- played the role not of comic genius but of low-key interlocutor, flipping through Fey's book, taking out a sheet with a list of questions. Admittedly, the perfectly timed question he asked about working with Alec Baldwin brought big laughs (too Mamet-esque to repeat here), but for the most part Martin pointed the metaphorical spotlight at Fey. He even read excerpts of "Bossypants" aloud partway into the event to show the audience how funny her book can be. It worked: The passages he read built the night's laughter to new peaks.
Fey took the stage in a black dress that revealed her baby bump and high leopard-patterned heels. Martin asked if she was pregnant. "I've been told," Fey answered, smoothing her hand over her belly, "that this is a hysterical pregnancy that comes from a desperate need to sell books."
"Do the breasts go down?" Martin asked.
"I hope not," Fey replied.
The breasts, however, became something of an issue with ambient noise and her microphone -- eventually Fey decided it would be easier to hold the mike in her hand. It was one of a handful of moments -- another was when Martin suggested adjustments to their onstage monitor -- that showed that Fey and Martin, although performing roles for us on stage Tuesday night, are also working entertainers who understand not just how to get laughs but also the complexities of live performance, including issues of sound quality, lighting and stage direction.
And offstage direction, like how to distinguish left from right, particularly during the audience question-and-answer session: Stage left = performers' left, house left = audience's left. OK, everybody knows that -- at least one questioner did. But Fey, who talked extensively about her improv years in Chicago, which are covered in her book, certainly is used to taking audience questions.