Ana Gasteyer and Rachel Dratch on the Highs and Lows of Life After SNL
In this extended conversation on The Last Laugh podcast, Ana Gasteyer and Rachel Dratch open up about the challenges they faced after SNL compared to their male counterparts.
After spending six and seven seasons respectively in the cast of Saturday Night Live, Ana Gasteyer and Rachel Dratch will always have a home at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. The rest of the show business world hasn’t always been as welcoming.
On this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast, the pair of SNL alums, who co-wrote and co-star in the new Hallmark Christmas movie parody A Clüsterfünke Christmas on Comedy Central, open up about what it was like to enter the show as unknowns, emerge as icons, and still struggle to find their way in the entertainment world—especially compared with their male castmates like Will Ferrell or Jimmy Fallon.
“Not that they’re undeserving,” Gasteyer stresses in reference to the massive opportunities that came to the “boys” after they departed SNL.
Both women have returned to the show numerous times since they left in the early-to-mid-2000s, whether it was making cameos as Bobbi Mohan-Culp and Debbie Downer on the SNL40 anniversary special in 2015 or showing up to support host Betty White alongside a parade of SNL women for Mother’s Day in 2010.
Gasteyer describes the latter experience as somewhere between a “true family reunion” and a sense of “you can never leave the mob,” explaining that she feels “such a profound kinship” with the other women who came up through SNL’s ranks.
More recently, Dratch was called up from the bench to play Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) during the 2020 election season. “I got the call on Thursday night, like, ‘Are you in town? And can you be here?’” she recalls. “It’s basically like, ‘Because you kind of look like her.’ It’s not like I had some burning Klobuchar impression.”
She says it was “super fun to go back” especially when she no longer had all of her “hopes and dreams” wrapped up in the show. When she was in the cast, Dratch was constantly worried about her sketches being cut or that she wasn’t in that week’s episode enough. “But all that stuff, that’s not there when you come back to just do a fun little thing like that,” she says.
And yet, bringing back so many big names to play political figures, whether it’s Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, Maya Rudolph as Kamala Harris and on and on, inevitably limits the opportunities for current cast members to shine. So I asked them how they would have felt if that had been the case when they were just lowly cast members and not surprise celebrity guest stars.
“It did cross my mind,” Dratch admits. “Like, oh, this could be a bummer if you’re on the show.”
But while SNL has “total ups and downs,” she says it’s still “this rarefied dream job where, of course you’ve grown up watching it and then, oh my gosh, you’re on it! I still would pinch myself after years of being on the show.”
Below is an edited excerpt from our conversation and you can listen to the whole thing—including hilarious stories about their most iconic recurring characters, stand-out memories from the SNL40 after party and more—right now by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts and be the first to hear new episodes when they are released every Tuesday.
I believe you both had very strong female cohorts at the Groundlings and Second City. And then also at SNL, which kind of goes against the idea that comedy is a boys’ club. It seems like that really wasn’t the case for you in either of those places or SNL. But how do you think about it?
Rachel: Yeah, we get asked a lot about SNL, was it hard for women? I think maybe before my time, I can’t speak to that because maybe it was, but I feel like it was always pretty equal ground. I mean, it’s a hard place to get your scenes on, no matter your gender. But if your scene killed at the table, it had a shot of getting on. It wasn’t like, “That’s lady humor!” And then the women are so strong the whole time through. When I was there, I felt like I was working with very strong women comedians. And then even afterwards, the cast now.
Ana: Yeah, I don’t want to get too political about it, but look, after [you leave the show] is probably where the rubber meets the road on some sexism.
Rachel: That’s true.
Ana: The opportunities afforded to our peers, not that they’re undeserving—but that’s one of the reasons I did Broadway, because I was like, I don’t really want to fight for the three parts that are going to be out there. I left the show in 2002. It was a very different world before Kristen [Wiig] wrote Bridesmaids. And even for a few years thereafter. I think opportunities like this movie that Rachel and I have written are becoming more and more prevalent all the time, but I’m not sure, honestly, that we would have been able to sell it 15 years ago. I think the landscape’s changed significantly, but I’ve been off the show now for 19 years. So I would say just graduating from the show, I was really blatantly told—just to get dirty about it—by a big male comedy manager, “You’re not going to work in film, we need to try to get you a TV deal.” And frankly, it was all wives at that point. So it has changed. It has changed partially because of people like Tina [Fey] and Amy [Poehler] and our colleagues who have pushed that boulder uphill.
Yeah, I mean, when you think about the kind of opportunities that came to Will Ferrell and Jimmy Fallon when they left the show, it was very different.
Ana: And again, they’re not undeserving. They’re phenomenally deserving, but I would say that yeah, those opportunities came fast and furious to boys.
Can we go back to when you two first met each other? Was it at SNL that you met for the first time?
Rachel: Yeah, Ana was already on the show and had been for a couple of years, and then I came on as a new hire. And when you first get hired at SNL, my experience was like, you’re tiptoeing in, trying to learn the ropes and you’re kind of thrown into the pool.
Ana: There’s no orientation.
Rachel: But yeah, Ana was always one of my favorite cast members when I was watching the show as a mere citizen before I got on. She always makes me laugh and I just always love her comedy. We didn’t have anything like some big sketch together. We tried. We wrote a few things that died.
Ana: We wrote a lot of duds. They were bombs!
Rachel: We tried to do one where we were at a garage sale.
Ana: Yeah, that was a flop.
Rachel: We thought it was hilarious. We were two ladies sitting in lawn chairs. Oh, wait!
We did do a scene where we played a gay couple. It would probably get us canceled now.
Ana: It had good politics! It was about the way guys look at women on camera. We’ve done a lot together since the show actually. Partially just by nature of the fact that we’re a small little tribe of women and we tend to all populate the same projects and stuff like that. But Tina put us in her show, Great News. We played Kathie Lee and Hoda. And of course we did Wine Country. So we’ve actually done a fair amount of just goof-around collaboration.
Do either of you have a particularly memorable interaction with an SNL host that either went well or not well?
Ana: We always got the best version of people because they’re terrified and they’re sort of at the mercy of the cast and they are hoping that you can help them through. It’s not easy hosting SNL. You have to have a ton of blind faith. You can’t be a control freak. You have to trust that the material’s good, trust that the cast is going to take care of you, trust that Lorne [Michaels] is going to take care of you. And it’s brave, you know? So it was very, very rare that you would see anything remotely resembling bad behavior. And even if you did, it tended to be masked terror. I had people of enormous stature tell me they threw up on the plane because they were so nervous. Because it’s terrifying! And also, by the way, they get judged and criticized for how well they do or how well they don’t in real time. It’s not for the faint of heart.
It’s funny—it does create some weird power dynamics where there are these massive celebrities, but they’re in your hands to make it work.
Rachel: Yeah, one other thing I noticed is sometimes the people that were the best actors, people that had won Oscars, they wouldn’t tend to do as well as someone that was a politician or an athlete.
Ana: Athletes do incredibly well.
Rachel: Because they’re like, I don’t care, I know I’m not good at this. So then they have no fear about it. So they often would have the best shows.
Ana: Yeah, like Christina Ricci came in and she had been famous since she was seven years old. And she was this celebrated actress. And it was her first time ever in front of a live audience, she confided in me. And Rachel’s right, someone like [Derek] Jeter, he was amazing and just charming and lovely. And of course everybody’s complimenting him, “You’re doing so great.” And I remember he leaned over to us, and it was a sketch that Emily Spivey wrote where he had gotten a perm and he was super confident about his perm, so funny. Anyway, he was like, “You guys don’t have to compliment me. People tell me I suck every day, it doesn’t bother me.” You could tell it almost bothered him. He was like, how can I improve? Because he’s an athlete, he’s just used to operating under pressure and operating well.
You mentioned that there were challenges after you left the show. And I’m always curious about the decision to leave. Obviously, now there’s someone like Kenan [Thompson] who has been there for like 20 years. And I also know it’s not always your decision to leave, so for each of you, was it your decision to leave the cast and how did you come to that decision? Was it a difficult one?
Ana: I would say now, as has been widely reported, it’s culturally much more acceptable to come and go. We were really like, you either had to go do your projects or be on SNL.
There wasn’t room to do both.
Ana: Lorne was very protective of the brand and didn’t even really like people to do a lot of commercials and things like that. Now, every cast member has endorsements
Rachel: And shows on the side, going off and doing other projects.
Ana: So if you wanted to spread your wings a little bit or figure out who you were a little bit, it was very much an either-or. The cast was smaller. It was just a more exact decision. And I definitely have come to accept about myself that I am this person, I’m in the tribe, but there is a sense when you’re doing a last-minute show all the time, year in and year out, that you’re just sort of pulling it off all the time. The best you could do is to not fail, if that makes any sense. And I really was very drawn to theater, to New York theater in particular, because it was highly ritualized. It was about perfection. You could go in, you could make something better every night. And I was more interested in my singing career at that point too. And I wanted to do Broadway shows. So I had an opportunity that I just didn’t want to pass up on. Now we probably could have hung around. But I didn’t want my work to peter out over a four-year period. Sometimes I wish I’d stayed longer.
Yeah, I mean, it seems like a show that you’d have to give 150% to.
Ana: I just didn’t know how to phone it in there. I think some people are really capable of it. And I mean that in the most complimentary way. They get written for, they come in, they land it, and they leave. But during our time, if somebody did the odd movie during it, like Will [Ferrell] did Old School, it was very stressful on those people and it seemed hard to do. So that was my decision, for better or worse.
What about you, Rachel?
Rachel: Mine was kind of muddy, but I don’t mean this in some sort of evasive way. But I think if I had been there now—like now people stay for years and years and that’s a thing. But back then it was kind of like seven years and out. And I mean, a few people were rolled out [the red carpet], like, “Please stay.” And I wasn’t one of those people. Now I’m sort of envious of these people that are there for years and years. It seems kind of cool to me, but it just wasn’t really like that back then.