Aidy Bryant’s ‘SNL’ Exit Interview: ‘I Was Worried I Was Going to Be Fully Crying’

Photographs by Jenna Greene

Aidy Bryant spent a decade of her life as one of the more recognizable players on “Saturday Night Live.” But on a recent afternoon, as she’s being photographed in Bryant Park (get it?), she manages to stump a stranger. This curious woman cranes her neck at Bryant, who is minding her own business, posing near the New York Public Library in a flowy black dress and silver pumps.

“What are you in?” the woman asks, spotting a familiar face.

Bryant, 35, is too polite to brush her away. She stops mid-pose to drop the name of her most famous job. “I love saying my credits,” Bryant says when the woman is out of earshot.

On “SNL,” Bryant became a household name by impersonating everyone from Adele to Rebel Wilson — and she had a special talent for playing polarizing political conservatives including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Meghan McCain and (most hilarious of all) Ted Cruz.

But last month, Bryant left “Saturday Night Live,” bidding farewell to her fans and workplace home on the NBC sketch show. It was a decision she made on her own, though it came at a pivotal time in “SNL” history; her departure felt more like an exodus, as it coincided with resignations from Kate McKinnon, Pete Davidson and Kyle Mooney.

“It hasn’t hit me yet,” says Bryant, who is a lot more mild-mannered than her more outrageous caricatures.

Now, she is eager to prove — to herself and Hollywood — she’s more than just the relatable bestie you’d want to run into on the street. It’s a persona she started to craft as the co-creator and star of Hulu series “Shrill,” a comedy about a journalist who slowly gains confidence in her body.

“I’m not comfortable waiting for roles because I haven’t had great success there,” Bryant says. “Everything that has worked for me has been by writing it myself.”

She’s still building the next chapter in her career, amplifying under-explored topics on TV, including developing the Peacock animated series “Cheeky,” a collection of funny first-person stories about the human body.

“I’ll probably always be writing to work through my own shame about my body or parameters of gender and womanhood,” she says. “Those are the things that interest me in ways I find funny and insane.”

Why did you decide to leave “Saturday Night Live”?

If it weren’t for COVID, I probably would have left a few years earlier. But it was such a huge change. When COVID hit, it was so jarring that we were all like, “I’m definitely going to come back next year.” And then I had to shoot “Shrill” for half of last season, and so I missed a lot. And then it was like, “Well, now I should go back one more.” I kept trying to seek one last normal year. This year wasn’t the normal year that I hoped for, but it was closer to that. It was like, “OK, it’s really time now.” And 10 felt like a nice, solid round number.

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Aidy Bryant is ready to take on fresh challenges and a new show. Jenna Greene for Variety

How did you tell Lorne Michaels you were leaving?

Maybe in March or April, I went to his office and was like, “I gotta talk to you.” I was scared because I feel close to him and so grateful to him. I didn’t want it to come off like I was leaving angrily. I am leaving with so much love. He was like, “I understand, and it makes sense for you.”

Compared to prior eras, it seems like “SNL” cast members have more flexibility to work on other TV shows and movies. Were there still things you felt like you weren’t able to do?

The “SNL” schedule is a whopper. I pitched, developed and made three seasons of a show [“Shrill”] that I’m super proud of, but there’s a part of me that wonders what it would have been if I didn’t have to split my time like that. Those years, it wasn’t uncommon for me to work a 12-hour day on “Shrill” and then continue to work all day at “SNL” — and all night! So it would be a 22-hour day. I can’t do that anymore. Maybe I could in my 20s. But now I’m in my 30s, and I’m like, “That’s a wrap on those days.”

How did you decide on your last sketch?

A couple of weeks prior, one of the producers was like, “Is there something you want to do?” But I was worried it would feel like I was at my own funeral. And I don’t feel like I’m dying. I’m onto the next thing. I was embarrassed about trying to do something big.

Why? You were on the show for 10 years!

I don’t know. It felt really final, and I don’t feel like my relationship with the show is over.

You ended up saying goodbye during a Weekend Update segment with Bowen Yang and Michael Che. How did you feel about the result?

I was worried I was going to really crack it wide open and fully be crying. It felt very joyful, and I felt incredibly fortified by having Bowen and Che next to me because they know me and know how considered this was for me to go.

Was the after-party rowdier than usual since several cast members were leaving the show?

Our end-of-the-year party is the biggest one. It’s kind of overwhelming because it’s four times the size of our regular after-party. Maya [Rudolph’s] band performed, which was fun. They are a Prince cover band. It was a lot of hugging and people being like, “No, but seriously. I love you so much.” Very end-of-summer-camp vibe. Sign-my-yearbook energy.

Looking back at your time on “SNL,”is there one sketch you’re proud you got on the show?

“Dyke and Fats” because Kate [McKinnon] and I were still new. It felt edgy to talk about ourselves in that way on a show on NBC. That was an early win.

Do you have a sketch that got away — something that never made it to air?

There was one in my first season called “Foam Party,” and they built a massive tank so they could fill the whole set with foam. I played a woman who lost all her belongings in the foam. People were dancing in a nasty club, and I was like, “Excuse me, have you seen my … whatever.” It ate complete shit [in dress rehearsal] because I was in a short little wig, huge glasses and covered in foam. The audience genuinely was like, “Who is that? What’s happening?” I think it would work now because they would be like, “That’s Aidy. We know; we trust.” That one haunts me.

Were there any hosts that surprised you?

Kim Kardashian did so well and was up for anything. It’s totally out of her wheelhouse, and it’s very brave and cool she did it.

What was your reaction when you saw she and Pete Davidson were dating?

I’m not going to talk about that, respectfully. I love him.

You seem very close with newer cast members like Bowen and Sarah Sherman. Did being a veteran make you want to take people under your wing?

I don’t think of myself as a mentor. When I started at the show, I was 25. I had been doing Second City, but I hadn’t written for television or been on TV. There was such a massive learning curve. I remember seeing Fred [Armisen], Kenan [Thompson], Jason Sudeikis and Bill [Hader] and being like, “Not only are they writing funny things, but there’s a whole level of technical knowledge to live television you have to learn.” There isn’t a lot of guidance. It’s a shared — I don’t want to say a trauma, but it’s like a trauma and a triumph. It took me a long time to find a healthy middle ground within that and not feel shot to the moon and shot down to hell every time.

How did you find that middle ground?

For a long time, I thought you just write a funny thing, and it gets on the show. But between it getting picked and it going to air, there’s hundreds of tiny decisions you have to make. It’s your job to protect your piece and work with production designers and department heads. That’s empowering. But when you first start, you’re like, “I can’t tell them what to do.”

How did it feel to join “SNL”?

It’s been around forever, so it doesn’t need you. It’s like a machine that’s already working without you. And you’re like, “Am I like a wheel? Am I a whistle? Am I a piece of coal?” Like, “How can I help this thing?”

What was it like to balance “Shrill” and “SNL” at the same time?

When I started “Shrill,” I wasn’t feeling I wanted to leave “SNL.” I was like, “This is a story I want to tell, and it flexes a different muscle.” It was Lorne’s idea that I do both. How could I say no? And then I didn’t sleep for, like, three years.

Did you know Season 3 would be the final season of “Shrill” before it was written?

No, they told us after it was shot. There were some things we ended up taking out that were cliffhangers. There were also editorial and music choices to help make it feel a little more finished.

Did you think your character, Annie, and her boyfriend, Will [played by Cameron Britton], were going to end up together?

I thought they wouldn’t end up together forever, but it would be one of those pivotal relationships where you learn a lot about yourself so your next relationship is better. I’ve had a couple of those.

Were you disappointed “Shrill” was canceled?

Yes, but I’m happy with how it ended.

What can you tell me about your new show “Cheeky”?

It’s my little sweet side baby. It’s based on this book that goes through each part of the body. Each episode takes on a different topic: boobs, butts, periods, food, getting dressed. It interviews comedians, kids, old folks and all kinds of people to weigh in. And it’s all illustrated.

Will you watch “SNL”?

I would be sad to not watch it. Also, I’m so excited for this cast. There are so many of us leaving, it’s going to create more space for people to shine.

Would you want to host one day?

Definitely. But that’s up to them.