In her new autobiography, Girl Walks Into a Bar…: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle, former Saturday Night Live star Rachel Dratch—the rubber-faced comedian behind Debbie Downer and Abe Scheinwald, to name two of her creations—comes clean about growing up, life behind the scenes on SNL, what happened with 30 Rock, dating possible cannibals, and her life now that she’s in her forties and a first-time mother.
When Dratch was performing with improv comedy troupe Second City in Chicago, her understudy was an up-and-comer named Amy Poehler, who would go on to perform with Dratch on SNL and star in NBC’s Parks and Recreation.
Poehler first saw Dratch on stage and was struck by her comedic ability. “I thought Dratch was the funniest person in the room,” she said, “keeping up with all of the guys while still being herself. We hit it off instantly, and we went on to become lovers, and then finally, we’re just friends.”
Last week, Poehler interviewed Dratch and asked her friend about why she wrote her memoir now, their children’s future plans, and whether she’s seen a ghost, among other topics. What follows is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Amy: As we start our interview, I need to picture where you’re seated in your abode.
Rachel: I’m in the back room.
Amy: In a fine leather chair? With a whiskey, and surrounded by the other books you’ve written?
Rachel: Yes, I just woke up.
Amy: Girl Walks into a Bar…: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle, by Dr. Rachel Dratch. OK, so Dratchy, I’ve got a lot of questions. They’ll be fun, they won’t be stressful. Let’s just start with the big, obvious one. Why did you decide to write a memoir?
Rachel: “We should do a comedy version of Downton Abbey where we are the maids.”
Rachel: I wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m going to write a book,” it was more that I wasn’t really working much and I’d be pissed if I was wasting my time. I usually only start to write after rock-bottom periods, so I was sort of forced into it. And then about a year after that, the whole pregnancy happened, with all the crazy circumstances, so then it was this is now the real wacky story.
Amy: You started writing the book before you got pregnant?
Rachel: Yeah. So all the dating stories, I had written all those before I knew where the story was going. I wrote those as a single lady writing weird stories.
Amy: There’s so much stuff in the book about you working for SNL and then there’s lots about the post-SNL. And what’s really cool about the book is you answer a lot of questions people came up on the street and asked you. How did you tackle that? Is that a frame work that you were thinking of when you wrote it?
Rachel: I thought maybe if I just wrote the whole story then all of the mystery would be gone and I could fully move on from people asking me what happened. I mean, it happens less now, but when I was writing the book, in the years that followed 30 Rock, I would get asked so often, “Are you gonna be back?” and I just figured I could put a lid on the whole thing. But I didn’t mean to write it this way. Like a movie, it starts at your low point; I guess I kind of accidently started at the low point, so I could get to the point of redemption.
Amy: Speaking of movies, who would you want to play you in the movie?
Amy: Great. Done. I mean we get mixed up enough. We both have big, giant crazy blue googles–you put a brunette wig on me. OK, so reverse. Whose life story or movie would you want to play?
Rachel: Oooh, my god. Wow. Good question. Maybe some historical figure.
Amy: Yeah, like a suffragette, or something.
Rachel: Exactly. I feel like I could look like I was of that time. Meaning—anything before now. I could see myself in some sort of pioneer bonnet, it’s my childhood fantasy, but I think I look too Jewish for the prairie.
Amy: Too Jewish for the Prairie, that’s your second book. You would have been an amazing silent film star; I’ve said this to you before. Because you have such an expressive face. You’re a terrible liar; you can tell immediately when you’re actually lying. A lie cloud passes over her face.
I think what was so cool about the book is you come from this perspective of someone who was not expecting to have children and you lived the life that a lot of single or childless people have, which is that they kind of have to deal with everybody else’s projection on them. It’s a book for people who have kids and don’t have kids because there’s just so much to relate to, you really live both sides of it.
Rachel: Yeah, it definitely has both sides to it. And you know when I was growing up, I knew I wanted to have kids, but I knew I didn’t want to do it alone. Then once I was 41, 42, I had to accept that I probably wouldn’t have kids unless I decided to adopt later on, but even then it would be with a partner. I also didn’t consider myself a huge baby person. It wasn’t like, “Oh my god! I want to hold every baby!”And some women just have that engraved in their minds.
Amy: And as the book goes on you find out, not to give too much away, but Rachel kind of has a chance meeting, a man walks into a bar and a girl walks into a bar, or a woman and a man walk into a bar, and his name was John and, um, later in the book…baby Eli is born!
Rachel: Just to clear this up, some people are under the impression that Eli was conceived at the bar, but we dated for, like, six months long distance.
Amy: What cute thing is Eli doing today?
Rachel: Well he was up ‘til 2 last night cause of his jetlag. He started saying his ABCs, which is pretty cute.
Amy: Eli and my little guy Abel are three weeks apart. They’ve been playmates, side by side. Abel is a red-headed giant, so Eli wears a lot of his hand-me-downs. And Eli and Abel, in 2050 are going to be the No. 1 script writing team. OK! I’ve got a few more fun, fast ones. Are you feeling good?
Amy: You’re working on something new right now, tell us about that.
Rachel: That’s so funny, ‘cause after all my no-work lamenting in the book, right when the book comes out, I get a pilot. It’s written by Kari Lizer who wrote The New Adventures of Old Christine. We just shot it the other night in L.A. and it’s with Minnie Driver and Andrea Anders and I think it’s really funny so, we’ll see.
Amy: So you’re working again, and now you’re working with a baby, and I know it’s kind of a cliché question, but how are you trying to balance it all?
Rachel: Hahaha, well, I haven’t had to balance much. I mean I’m not working all week, every day, so I don’t have that much to balance, but I always feel weird being away all week ‘cause I’m so used to being there. But yeah, not much to answer because I don’t have that much to tell.
Amy: It’s interesting that people always want to ask you and me and a lot of working mothers, how do you do it? And it’s like well, just like everybody else. It proves it’s a bad question.
How would you want people to explain this book to other people? If someone was, like, “Rachel wrote a book,” how would you love to hear them explain it?
Rachel: I loved your blurb on the back. I mean, that was all I could ever ask for.
Amy: Let’s read it out loud: “A hilarious look at how unpredictable and beautiful life can be. Like Dratch, A Girl Walks Into a Bar is honest, surprising, and always funny. Too bad Oprah isn’t on anymore ‘cause she would lose her shit over this book.” Oh god, it would be so good if you were on Oprah right now. I feel like she’s creeping her way back on, though. I feel like we can’t keep Oprah off for very long.
Rachel: Well, here’s what I set out to do: I wanted it to be funny and I wanted people in similar situations to be able to relate. It’s the book that when I was single, I was very anxious about the whole baby thing, and I would have liked to read this book. But then I don’t want people to think it’s just a baby book either.
Amy: When people do books once they’ve gained all this crazy amount of success and they look back and see what they’ve done right, how they’ve gotten there. And what’s cool is that in your book you’re figuring it out as you’re writing it and going along. And the surprise of Eli is a surprise to the reader, too.
Rachel: And it also ended like I don’t know where stuff is going, and I wasn’t thinking I’m going to write a memoir, I was just thinking I want to tell that post-SNL baby story, with a strange, unexpected twist.
Amy: If Oprah was still doing her talk show, what kind of question would you want her to ask you? What I would want Oprah to do for you…I would want her to not ask a question but instead grab your hands and say, “You seem happy, Rachel.”
Rachel: That’s a great ending to the article.
Amy: What was the first concert you ever went to?
Rachel: My first big concert was, oh my god, maybe The Police.
Amy: That’s a good first one.
Rachel: Yeah, it was pretty awesome.
Amy: Mine was New Edition. Have you ever seen a ghost?
Rachel: Well, I’ve claimed to have seen two ghosts in a hotel room. They were like 1950s, closeted gay men. And I got the impression they were on the down-low, and they were a couple. That was my main ghost sighting.
Amy: That’s a pretty good one. There’s some weird CBS show where it’s just like seeing gay ghosts. What’s your favorite meal? Like your last meal?
Rachel: A last meal? Probably a pizza. I should say a filet mignon and lobster tail, but it’d be New York pizza.
Amy: If you were to live somewhere else besides New York, anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Rachel: Well, the first thing that came to my mind on a practical level is Chicago because I love Chicago, and whenever I go back I’m like, this is so nice! But I also want to go the whole Vermont route, too. Everyone that lives in New York probably says Vermont, because it’s the opposite fantasy…
Amy: …Of slowing down, and just being surrounded by gay ghosts.
Rachel: Wait, where would you live? Just as a sidebar?
Amy: Oh, I dunno, I hadn’t thought about it, maybe, well, I have a fantasy about living in Ireland or Dublin or something, working in a bookstore.
Rachel: …or as a scullery maid
Amy: Or as a scullery maid.
Rachel: In the 1800s.
Amy: And having an affair with, like, Lord Worthington who lives upstairs. In all those Upstairs Downstairs kind of shows, all those Downton Abbeys, you and I would for sure be downstairs.
Rachel: We should do a comedy version of Downton Abbey where we are the maids.
Amy: We should, and with our short stature, big-eyed mugs we would definitely be scrubbin’ floors. OK and lastly, you used to work at a terrific ice cream place called Chadwick’s, and Chadwick’s was in Lexington, Massachusetts, and I believe it has the highest percentage of SNL cast members out of one restaurant, which is two, which is you and me. Now we should clarify, we didn’t work there at the same time, but we later found out that we both worked there. Do you remember what was your favorite flavor to scoop and/or what was the hardest flavor to scoop?
Rachel: Favorite is going to be coconut chocolate chip because it was soft and creamy. Least favorite, flavor of the month, Negative Chocolate Chip, with white chocolate chips, and it was hard as a rock. It took you 10 minutes to scoop out a cone.
Amy: Well, Rachel Dratch.
Rachel: We’re gonna end on that?
Amy: Oh, they’ll edit this shit. I’m gonna have them edit it and I’m also going to, weirdly, have them Photoshop it. Even though we don’t have our pictures in it at all I just want to know that we look good while we’re talking in it. I love you, Dratch, and congratulations on your great book.