'SNL' impressions make for baked Alaska

When he was casting about last year for a running mate, John McCain might have saved himself a lot of trouble had he simply noticed that Sarah Palin — his eventual choice — was a dead ringer for one of America’s funniest women.

Palin can be funny herself, even if unwittingly, but her sometimes tortured syntax and mangled manifestos were a comedic gold mine for Tina Fey, whose already ascendant career reached stratospheric heights on the strength of her pitch-perfect impressions of the then-Alaskan governor, resulting in a an Emmy for guest performer on “Saturday Night Live.”

In fact, one of the great imponderables of the presidential election was not so much whether Barack Obama would win the White House but whether Tina Fey would keep doing Sarah Palin.

Fey’s impressions were the hottest latenight TV ticket of the fall season, prompting the kind of news media scrutiny normally reserved for actual candidates. Fey energized the ratings for both “SNL” and, ultimately, “30 Rock,” her primetime sitcom, which had won numerous kudos — including 12 Emmys over the past two years, three of them for Fey — but which previously had struggled in the ratings.

Fey was suddenly a fixture on red carpets and talkshows and, by January, was displaying a knockout pair of legs (who knew?) on the cover of Vanity Fair, which dubbed her “A New American Sweetheart” and the AP named Fey 2008’s Entertainer of the Year.

By the time she appeared backstage to face reporters at last year’s Emmys, she’d had enough. “If anybody can help me be done playing this lady Nov. 5,” she said, referring to the day after the election, “that would be good for me.”

IN A NUTSHELL

Job titles: Creator, chief writer and leading lady of “30 Rock”

Mentor: Lorne Michaels, executive producer of “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock”

Leisure pursuit: “I work, and then whenever I have any other time, I’m with my daughter, and then I go to sleep,” Fey told the London Sunday Times. “I think you basically have to abandon the dreams of having any other adult activities in your life.”

Philanthropic passions: Autism Speaks, a group that promotes research into autism; Global Envision, which fosters knowledge about poverty around the world; and Love Our Children USA, which fights violence against children.

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