URBANA — Saturday Night Live’s Ana Gasteyer brings her comedic and musical stylings to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday, Dec. 6, for a performance of her Christmas album, “Sugar and Booze.”
During her six years as a cast member on SNL, Gasteyer gained fame for her impressions of celebrities like Celine Dion and Martha Stewart. Beyond her successful time in sketch comedy, Gasteyer has showcased her versatility, starring in sitcoms such as “American Auto,” movies like “Mean Girls” and “Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical,” and has considerable stage experience, including playing Elphaba in “Wicked.”
IPM arts and culture reporter Owen Henderson spoke with Gasteyer about her work. You can hear more of Henderson’s conversation with Gasteyer on “The 21st Show.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
OWEN HENDERSON: I was curious if you could tell me a little bit more about your sensibilities when it comes to mixing comedy and music.
ANA GASTEYER: I love that question. That’s actually has been sort of like the million dollar question for a long time because really my career lived in these two completely separate lanes. So I started as a voice major at Northwestern. That’s how I got into college was singing, and got to school and was a music major and really hated being a music major, and immediately met and befriended all the improv comedy people. And I was like, “Oh my god, this is the this is the tribe. Like I’ve found them. I found them I found the weirdos like me.”
So I sort of back-slid into the singing. It was always like a part of what I did comedically, but I kind of abandoned the idea of doing it formally. And then after SNL once I was in New York, I was like, “Oh, right, you know, I really love this.”
So I kind of came from it from a different angle. I kind of wanted to move in, you know, find my own place in it in my own place, and it led to this song book, which is very lyrically driven. A lot of great American songs are funny songs. I’m a storyteller; I’m an actor who sings — or I’m a comedian who sings, I guess.
GASTEYER: I love singing, and I love music, but I am not a very serious person. And I do kind of find humor in music. So, I guess I just sort of tend towards — I used to call it “ridiculous jazz.”
HENDERSON: I’m sure you get this all the time, but as a host at an NPR affiliate station, I feel a little bit obligated to bring up one of your your well-known recurring characters on SNL: Margaret Jo McCullen of NPR’s “Delicious Dish.”
HENDERSON: In this this recurring segment, you’ve got you and Molly Shannon as these wildly unaware NPR hosts. And then obviously there’s the very famous “Schweddy Balls” sketch, which was an iteration of this, but I was just curious if you could tell me a little bit more about how that bit came about.
GASTEYER: Well, I’m an avid NPR consumer. Not surprising, I write what I know. There was a cooking show in Los Angeles that was Mary Kay Milliken [sic] and Susan Feniger. It was called “Good Food.”
I think what I love about NPR and instead was tremendous affection for you, you know, it’s commercial free. It’s incredible, they have the privilege of being able to just kind of go off for a very long time, in a really specific way on an incredibly esoteric topic, which makes for, you know, very thoughtful radio, but not the most breakneck speed.
And we just had fun with it. And also, you know, sort of the quietness and the sort of, like you said, they were super un-self-aware, which is my favorite kind of character. They were very unaware of the fact that they were on the radio and that nobody could see see them or see what they were talking about.
HENDERSON: I really would be remiss if I didn’t bring up your Broadway and stage experience. You played Aunt Deborah in one of the early productions of the play “Kimberly Akimbo,” in its play version, and actually, the actor Bonnie Milligan, who played that same role in the musical version, just won a Tony for it. And I was curious what it’s like to see a piece of theater that you’ve got your fingerprints on, grow and evolve in this way.
GASTEYER: Oh, it’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful musical. I actually did a lot of the early readings for them and early recordings, and I was doing American Auto at the time. So I was very sad that I couldn’t be a part of that production. But it’s a spectacularly beautiful piece of music and piece of writing.
I love David Lindsay-Abaire’s writing. I do think there are so few original musicals. It’s just really hard to come up with something that has a story that people haven’t seen or that’s not some adapted movie or whatever.
So I was really thrilled to see that production. It’s very hard to get a musical off the ground and going, and she was phenomenal. She was fantastic. So it was kind of the happiest ending I think for them, which was great.
HENDERSON: You have played some iconic roles on the stage: Elphaba in “Wicked,” Magenta in [“The Rocky Horror Show”], Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl.” Are there any roles that you know you’re never going to play, but you would love to get a chance at?
GASTEYER: You know, I had couple of opportunities early on. And I had missed … whatever, I would get the opportunity and then I would end up getting a TV or movie or paying job. And I also auditioned very closely for “Guys and Dolls.” I would love to play Adelaide one day.
I’m too old, you know, but it’s that’s a great part. And then, of course, I want to play Mrs. Lovett, and of course I want to play Mama Rose, but I feel like I still have time on those.
The Krannert Center for the Performing Arts is an underwriter of Illinois Public Media.