You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Ana Gasteyer on Moving From the Groundlings Troupe to ‘Saturday Night Live’

After getting her start training with the Los Angeles improv-sketch group the Groundlings in the ’90s, Ana Gasteyer booked guest roles on quintessential sitcoms of the decade, including “Seinfeld” (in the infamous 1995 episode “The Soup Nazi”), “Mad About You” and “Just Shoot Me!” In 1996, she joined the cast of “Saturday Night Live,” creating iconic characters that included low-key NPR host Margaret Jo McCullen and impressions of personalities like Martha Stewart and Joan Rivers. She has continued to show off her comedy chops on such programs as “3rd Rock From the Sun,” “Suburgatory” and “The Goldbergs,” and is now starring in the TBS sitcom “People of Earth” as well as appearing opposite Maria Bamford in the offbeat Netflix comedy “Lady Dynamite.”

Gasteyer was first mentioned in Variety on Sept. 5, 1996, for joining the “SNL” cast.

At what point did you decide comedy was for you?

At Northwestern there is an improv comedy troupe called the Mee-Ow Show. That was my tribe. Jill Cargerman and I stayed up all night — that was the first time I ever knew I could write comedy. We were appalled by the material, and as females in comedy are known to do, we pulled up our bootstraps and wrote something crazy like nine sketches in a night and showed up for rehearsal with a stack of them.

What were your early experiences once you moved to L.A.?

The first agent I met with told me I would never work because I didn’t look like Courtney Thorne-Smith — and that’s a quote! [L.A.] was very blond and traditional. I was, hilariously, ethnic for [casting types]. I just had a sense that if I did comedy, I could find my own way.

How did you come to the Groundlings?

Kathy Griffin basically wagged her finger at me and said, “You have to do the Groundlings. Everything will open up for you if you do the Groundlings.” So I went to a show, and it was Lisa Kudrow and Mindy Sterling and Kathy Griffin and Jennifer Coolidge — so many funny women creating their own material — and it was such a strong showing of women for the ’90s in particular that I immediately enlisted.

What was the biggest adjustment between the L.A. and New York comedy scenes when you moved East for “SNL”?

I definitely had to develop the muscle of impressions. Guys like Darrell Hammond and Jimmy Fallon are savants. It’s a total extra talent. I also think “Saturday Night Live” is a uniquely branding experience. Overnight, you become culturally meaningful to people just by virtue of being a cast member. I had like 35 voicemails just when [Variety] first announced it. That was the first experience I had of people who had been openly disdainful of me in Hollywood calling to congratulate me.

What was one of the first moments or characters that made you feel at home at “SNL”?

When we did Martha Stewart, it was a palpable shift. I could feel myself belonging. I just had a sense that I would live on the show for a while. And I do have a memory of that “Topless Christmas” skit — it was so collaborative, and I remember loving the rewrite table. It’s so amazing for a writer-performer to sit down and have 14 genius comedy writers pitch jokes for your sketch and make it better.

More TV

  • Barry Killing Eve Pose

    'Barry,' 'Killing Eve,' 'Pose' Among 2019 Peabody Winners (EXCLUSIVE)

    “The Americans,” “Barry,” “The End of the F***ing World,” “The Good Place,” “Hannah Gadsby: Nanette,” “Killing Eve,” “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj,” “Pose” and “Random Acts of Flyness” have been named the entertainment winners at this year’s Peabody Awards, Variety has learned exclusively. Additionally, “Sesame Street” has been named the winner of the Institutional Award [...]

  • Les Miserables BBC

    BBC's 'Les Miserables' Recreates the Dark World of Victor Hugo's Novel

    Director Tom Shankland didn’t want his “Les Miserables” to be anything like the stage-musical version of Victor Hugo’s sweeping historical novel, nor like the 2012 Tom Hooper feature-film musical.  For the BBC limited series — a drama starring Olivia Colman, Lily Collins, David Oyelowo and Dominic West, which aired the first of its six episodes in [...]

  • PBS, Walter Presents Air Belgian Crime

    PBS, Walter Presents to Air Belgian Crime Drama 'Professor T' Nationwide (EXCLUSIVE)

    PBS Distribution and Walter Presents are set to bring Belgian crime drama “Professor T” to audiences across the U.S. “Professor T” will be the second international title distributed under the Walter’s Choice banner, the partnership between PBS Distribution, the home video arm of PBS, and streaming service Walter Presents, which brings non-English language drama to [...]

  • Wendy Williams' Husband Kevin Hunter Will

    Kevin Hunter Out as Executive Producer on 'The Wendy Williams Show'

    Kevin Hunter is out as an executive producer of “The Wendy Williams Show” on the heels of Williams’ announcement that she plans to file for divorce from her husband of 22 years. “Kevin Hunter is no longer an executive producer on ‘The Wendy Williams Show,’ ” said a spokesperson for the daytime talk show, produced [...]

  • Mueller Report Released: Networks Cut the

    Networks Curb Their Enthusiasm, William Barr Flexes as Mueller Report Goes Public

    The run-up to Attorney General William Barr’s news conference regarding the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the conduct of President Donald Trump suggested it was just one component part of a busy news day, something close to business as usual. And the broadcast — in which Barr stormily defended the President as [...]

  • BBC Studios, ZDF Form Development and

    BBC Studios, ZDF Form Development and Co-Production Partnership

    BBC Studios and German pubcaster ZDF have formed a strategic partnership to develop and co-produce “world-class content,” the two companies announced Thursday. The new long-term partnership will bring BBC Studios, the British pubcaster’s commercial arm, and ZDF together to co-develop scripted TV series, such as “The Mallorca Files,” created by Dan Sefton. Both companies will [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content