By Vanessa Bayer, photographed by Danielle St. Laurent | February 25, 2019 | People Feature
After seven years as a standout player on Saturday Night Live, Chicago comedy veteran Aidy Bryant steps front and center as the star and co-creator of new Hulu show Shrill.
During her seven years on Saturday Night Live, Columbia College grad Aidy Bryant has proven to be an ensemble MVP with her hilarious takes on characters like Martha Washington, Elton John, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Paula Deen. Now, the Emmy-nominated alum of Second City and Annoyance Theatre has her most high-profile role yet, starring as Annie, an unapologetically overweight young woman, in the Hulu comedy Shrill. Gearing up for the show’s March 15 premiere, Bryant chatted with close friend and fellow SNL veteran Vanessa Bayer about Chicago theater, the adrenaline rush of performing live, and what makes Shrill must-see TV.
VANESSA BAYER: So, Aidy, how long have you and I known each other, without aging me up?
AIDY BRYANT: I've been on SNL for seven years, but we worked together before that. Ten?
VB: I think it's more than that. I started SNL nine years ago, and you and I had already been friends for two years, so I would say 11 years.
AB: This is an incredible math problem. You’ve got to be right.
VB: I was performing at iO, and you were on an all-female group at Annoyance Theatre, which would sometimes ask me to understudy but never fully embraced me. And if you think I care, I don’t. I respect all the women on it, but also I didn’t necessarily need to do it, you know?
AB: Absolutely, and you seem chill and relaxed about that for sure.
VB: You were still at Columbia College. I always tell people you were the most mature, funny person I’d ever met. You were also the youngest person I was friends with.
AB: I always thought you were immature. You know those people who are like, ‘My best friend is 15’? You’re one of those people.
VB: Yeah, hanging around the high school. Everyone always says, ‘Grow up, Vanessa.’ And I’m always like, ‘You grow up.’ That’s my go-to line, as you know.
AB: You’re so cool.
VB: So we worked together in Chicago and had a lot of fun. I think the funniest sketch I’ve ever been a part of was the sketch we did together in this show called Swear Jar at the Annoyance Theatre where you pretended to get your period all over everything.
AB: I have to say, even of everything I’ve ever done at SNL, that’s my favorite sketch.
VB: I think I hold some kind of record at SNL for not laughing until the last show of my sixth season, and that sketch you did, I literally think I broke every single time.
AB: Oh, you’re a true friend.
VB: It’s the truth!
AB: You did so many great sketches in that show, too. I feel like that was the origin of our love, watching each other perform and hanging out backstage. Don’t you feel like it was an omen that we would do it together in New York, too?
VB: I never thought about that, but it’s true. When you got hired for SNL, it was so exciting.
AB: I was totally terrified. I’m going to New York, I gotta find an apartment, I’m going to be on TV, and my guiding principle was always you, because I knew and loved someone who had done it already. Even when I was looking for an apartment, I just told the real estate guy, ‘Here’s where my friend lives—anywhere within a mile radius of her.’ That’s how I found my place.
VB: And now we’re friends forever.
AB: Now we’re friends forever.
VB: This is your seventh season on SNL, and as someone who was there for seven seasons myself, great job.
AB: Thank you. You’re really the only person I can take a compliment about the show from, because no one else knows what it’s like.
VB: My first two seasons were great, but then to have this friend from Chicago join the cast was so special. And I know that now you have other friends there, but I assume they’re not as meaningful relationships as we have.
AB: Of course.
VB: Not many people get to be on SNL, and to get to do it with one of your closest friends was amazing for me. Am I tearing up on this call, Aidy?
AB: No, it’s true. In any normal friendship you have [memories] like, I remember that bad boyfriend or this or that, but this is a whole other level where we know the pure adrenaline of being on live TV together and looking at each other in the wings and writing together. We’ve been in the trenches for a long time, including when we were cutting our teeth in Chicago. It’s cool.
VB: It’s really cool. And speaking of cool and special—and this is what I call an amazing segue—you have this show Shrill coming out on March 15. I watched a few episodes and I have to tell you, Aidy, it is such an amazing, special, funny, heartwrenching, wonderful show, and I can't wait for people to see it. What has the experience been like?
AB: That’s so nice, Vanessa. That means a lot coming from you. The experience has been literally a dream come true. It’s been such a wholly creative process where I got to help write it and produce it, cast it, edit it, choose the music, and then obviously I was acting in it, so it was a chance to use all the skills I learned in Chicago at the Annoyance or Second City and that I learned at SNL. I was like, I’m ready to do this. I know how to do this. And I’m excited for people to see it, because it’s a different side of me—it’s not the same vibe as SNL—but it’s also a subject matter that’s close to my heart that I feel will resonate with a lot of people, not just plus-size women.
VB: I agree with you, and I think you’re such an amazing actor. When you do SNL, you use a lot of acting skills, but the point is to get a laugh, so the characters are bigger. In Shrill, you’re following this character’s journey, and you want to connect to them. You’re not just looking for a laugh. Not like you’re just looking for laughs on SNL, but it’s different.
AB: It's a different muscle. SNL is big and broad and it’s for all of America, and there’s music and it’s a party—it’s a true old-school variety show, and this is a subtle streaming show. But all the things you learn at SNL end up applying in different ways, but almost at a different caliber, where you turn down your level so it’s more subtle.
VB: I also think this is a show that people have been waiting for. It’s not just for women, but it’s also such a strong portrayal of a woman that I think is important—a woman who is trying to better her life, but isn’t caught up in bettering her body. To have a woman be focused on the right things, and show that things aren’t easy all the time. I think it will inspire people, and it’s also funny and fun to watch. And to have you be the person who’s getting this message out, that’s a win for everybody.
AB: That’s so nice, Vanessa. This is too intimate and personal! We were striving to make a story that was grounded and honest and still funny, a comedy where you see a fat character who has dignity and some sense of self, but she’s at a pivotal moment where it’s about to step into high gear. It’s a personal story to me; for years, mostly in my teens, I chased losing weight through a million different ways, and nothing would change. I wasted time, money, energy, and it distracted me from where I found value in myself, which was my writing, my creative brain, my acting—things I could contribute with, rather than fixating on the width of my thighs. And in a weird way, it’s a lie we’re sold from a young age through the media and all different ways where, both this character and myself, you reach a breaking point where you’re like, is this how I want to live? And that’s the story we were trying to tell.
VB: So in Chicago, I lived by the Montrose stop in Ravenswood. Where were you?
AB: My husband, Conner, is from Lincoln Square, so the bulk of my time I lived there and loved it. When I think of Chicago, that’s my zone. You know who else is still in Chicago that I love to see when I’m there is our director and a great teacher when we started, [Annoyance Theatre founder] Mick Napier. Have you been to the new Annoyance? It’s so great.
VB: I went with you and Conner when it opened. We did a show, and then I got to see him at your wedding. What an amazing teacher he is.
AB: That’s the thing I miss the most. At SNL, you’re collaborating with your writers and directors, but it’s not the same. I miss having that guru or teacher—I guess Lorne [Michaels] is that to us now—but that one-on-one workshopping where Mick would give us notes and help us.
VB: Mick was invaluable. I can be snobby about improv, because in Chicago it is truly an art form, and Mick is such a good teacher of that. He’s good at the micro of it and the macro.
AB: He taught me how to behave like a professional, too. He also taught me not to apologize, which was huge—it was a foreign concept to bring ideas to the room and not be like, ‘OK, this is stupid and I didn’t get to look at it a lot, but what I’m thinking is whatever.’ He’s like, ‘Don’t apologize, just say your idea.’ That helped me so much at SNL, to not hedge my bets and call myself dumb before I put myself out there. Those were some of the best pieces of advice that I still use today.
VB: I remember some of the exercises we would do in his class; they opened my eyes and made me realize I’m good at auditioning, as much as I try to make myself small sometimes. When I’m performing, I don’t do that. He taught some empowering stuff.
AB: I tried to put those same lessons into Shrill, things that Mick told me that were so fortifying as far as becoming an artist and being like, this is my profession, and I treat it with respect. And I love that we did that through creating material about getting my period on everything or eating shit—a lot of dark, disgusting material that bordered on performance art and was like punishing the audience for coming. But still treated with integrity.
VB: [laughs] Punishing the audience for coming. We did that a lot.
AB: That’s what was punk about it!
VB: I still remember that cancer rap we did in Swear Jar, and I didn’t know if I should pitch it. I did it for you and you were so supportive.
AB: It was badass.
VB: You’re my little badass.
AB: Oh my god, what more can we even talk about? This was the perfect interview.
VB: It was so fun talking to you. Even in an interview setting, I love to talk to my friend Aidy, whenever, wherever.
AB: Thank you so much, Vanessa. When they asked who I’d like to interview me, you were the first person who came to mind—my friend who’s been through it all with me in every place, in Chicago, in New York, and to infinity and beyond, my little angel.