Voters impressed with Sarah Palin impersonation

Tina Fey is the entertainer of the year? You betcha.

Fey was voted The Associated Press’ Entertainer of the Year, an annual honor chosen by newspaper editors and broadcast producers across the country. Fey was selected by AP members as the performer who had the greatest impact on culture and entertainment in 2008.

The 38-year-old comedian bested runner-up Robert Downey Jr., whose comeback was capped with the blockbuster smash “Iron Man,” and the third-place vote-getter, Heath Ledger, who posthumously wowed audiences as the Joker in “The Dark Knight.”

But it was Fey who most impressed voters largely with her indelible impression of Gov. Sarah Palin on “Saturday Night Live.” Her cameos on her old show (where she had been a head writer until 2006) helped drive the show to record ratings and eventually drew an appearance from Palin herself.

“Tina Fey is such an obvious choice,” said Sharon Eberson, entertainment editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “She gave us funny when we really needed it and, in a year when women in politics were making huge strides, Fey stood out in the world of entertainment.”

Fey’s 2008 was a full year, though.

She also starred for the first time on the big screen in “Baby Mama” (which grossed $60 million at the box office) and won three Emmys for her critically lauded NBC sitcom “30 Rock,” which she created, stars in and writes. In the comedy series category, she won for best lead actress and best writing, and shared in the award for best comedy series.

“She simultaneously entertained us with her wit and put a mirror up to the nation during the election and made us think about what was going on,” said Scott Shive, assistant features editor at the Lexington Herald-Leader. “She is the epitome of the smart kid coming out on top for once.”

As soon as Palin was chosen as Sen. John McCain’s running mate, conjecture mounted that the similar-looking Fey would have to return to “SNL” to play her.

In an interview earlier this fall, Fey recalled watching early TV coverage of Palin: “That was the first time I thought, ‘Well, I kinda do look like her. I’d better really listen to how this lady talks.'”

Fey debuted the impression on the “SNL” season premiere and a sensation quickly followed. She made four more pre-election appearances as Palin on the late-night satire.

“From the winks to the nods to the accent, she nailed it,” said Marc Bona, assistant entertainment editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland. “And she did so at a time when it seemed the whole country was tuned in — both to the presidential race as well as ‘Saturday Night Live.'”

Her Palin impression has benefited “30 Rock,” too. The show premiered its fourth season to 8.5 million viewers, a million more than last year’s opener.

Recently, she was also nominated for a Golden Globe (for best performance by an actress in a TV series, comedy or musical), as well as a Screen Actors Guild award.

“The ‘SNL’ stuff has certainly changed things for me,” Fey said in October. “A lot more people seem to know who I am.”

Last year’s AP Entertainer of the Year also went to a comedian whose satire blended in with politics: Stephen Colbert.

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