DON‘T CALL IT A COMEBACK
How Abby Elliott Moved On From ‘SNL’ and Became Summer’s Breakout Comedy Star
Three years after she was unceremoniously showed the door at Studio 8H, Abby Elliott is starring on Bravo’s Odd Mom Out—and is one of the funniest women on TV right now.
It’s a rare blessing when a person enjoys his or her job. “I really like playing a bitch,” Abby Elliott says, accordingly.
On the new Bravo comedy Odd Mom Out, which finishes its breezily quotable and sharply funny first season next week, Elliott plays an Upper East Side terror of a mother, a trophy wife masquerading as a philanthropist with as much veiled interest in raising her own children as she does in her farce of a charity, N.A.C.H.O. (It stands for New Yorkers Against Childhood Obesity—the ‘Y’ is silent—which funds prophylactic gastric bypass surgeries for at-risk children of morbidly obese parents.)
“She’s such a bitch,” Elliott says of her Odd Mom Out character, Brooke Von Weber. Exhibit B: her reaction after giving birth to her new child, who she deemed to be not small or cute enough to be featured in his own baby announcements. “You can Photoshop one of Shipley’s newborn pics in later, right?” Brooke asks. “She’s more classic looking.”
“It’s so clear on the page how nasty and terrible she is,” Elliott says. “I really wanted to bring her to life and make her vulnerable. I wanted people to see how she truly is at the core of it. How she masks her insecurity in her type-A perfection.”
That’s the crux of Odd Mom Out, which ruthlessly skewers the brigade of blonde Mombots with their $1,500 strollers and vicious glares of judgment peaking from behind their oversized Gucci sunglasses—all while ultimately revealing that life inside the gilded cage isn’t as wonderful as it seems. It’s from the punchline-a-minute, Carrie Bradshaw-esque mind of writer Jill Kargman, who created and stars in the show.
And it’s giving Elliott the role of her still-young, though already storied career. With the Connecticut native stealing just about every scene of the show, Odd Mom Out provides a bit of redemption for the actress, who is now at the top of her game just three years after what many ruled to be a career low point: getting fired from the cast of Saturday Night Live.
The 28-year-old actress is best known for her quiet run on the venerable late-night sketch series from 2008 to 2012 (well, at least as quiet as a five-year run on SNL could be). The daughter of former cast member Chris Elliott, Elliott was one of the show’s youngest cast hires—and one of its most awkward fits.
She quickly became known for her impressions, which were as spot-on (Rachel Maddow, Zooey Deschanel, Anna Faris) as they were random and excellently specific (Laura Linney, Chloe Sevigny, Jewel). The small issue—the one that perhaps plagued her SNL run: She never really wanted to be the show’s go-to mimic.
“I think when it started I sort of got pigeonholed into being the impression girl,” she tells me. “I wanted to do characters and I tried out a bunch of characters, but for some reason they saw me as doing impressions and that was my strength—which I was totally fine with and I tried to cultivate that more and more. But now I’m not as interested in doing impressions as I used to be.”
Elliott arrived at 30 Rock at just 21 years old. She had grown up in Connecticut, where she was, as the daughter of artists, part of the odd family out in a sea of overbearing clans—much like the one she skewers now each week on Bravo. “Five-year-olds speaking Mandarin,” she laughs. “Totally absurd.” And then reiterating: “We were never like that.”
She remembers when her father was starring in the 1998 comedy There’s Something About Mary, and finally starting to understand what exactly it was her father did, and what it meant to be a successful actor. Suddenly, her own bug to be a performer started to make sense. And it made her parents’ refusal to cart her to Manhattan to audition for Broadway shows as a child absolutely infuriating.
“I was so annoyed that I wasn’t Annie,” she says. “I was so mad. That’s all I wanted. It killed me. It ate away at me. And then my parents would tease me even further by taking me to see Les Miz and then I wanted to be Cosette. It was torture.”
She enrolled for a semester of college at Marymount Manhattan, but would skip class in order to stay at home and mope. Seeing the writing on the wall, her parents allowed her to move to California and try her hand at acting. A few years later, at just 21, she arrived at Studio 8H.
We talk a little about her time on her show, and quickly the conversation moves back to the accolades she’s receiving for her work on Odd Mom Out. It’s such a strong showcase of her comedic talents that, especially after years of being squandered on SNL, it’s almost a surprise to see her be so…funny.
“I got into this wanting to be an actress first and foremost, and a funny actress,” she says. “With SNL, obviously I wanted to do it and I couldn’t say no. But I consider myself more of an actress than a comedian.”
“I was young on SNL,” she continues. “Twenty-one. I’m glad I did it. I’m happy that it’s over. I like being older. I like being more secure in my strengths and weaknesses. I feel like, respect wise, I know what I need and deserve. At SNL going in and being 21 and not really having had 10 years of Groundlings experience under my belt, I didn’t have the confidence that I do now.”
The week before she was let go from SNL, her NBC ID came off her keychain, which she took as a sign of what was about to come. When her departure was announced, Variety’s co-editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein wrote, “It’s hard to recall an example of an SNL cast member who displayed as much talent as she did on the show yet remained woefully underused.”
Wallenstein pointed to her lack of original characters—the kinds that have seen the likes of Kristen Wiig and Amy Poehler soar previously on the show—and also cited the website Splitsider, which helpfully, and arguably cruelly, has been breaking down the amount of screen time each cast member receives each season, revealing that Elliott was among the least-used of the 2011-12 season.
Elliott knows about those charts.
“I remember Rachel Dratch referred to it as emotional cutting—going online and looking at that stuff,” she says. “And it really was. The earlier seasons it was in the trades, but there wasn’t that opportunity to pick on certain people or certain sketches or call someone out. There wasn’t that outlet for it.”
Did she ever look?
“It was really hard not to go online after a show on Saturday,” she admits. “Especially after an after party where you’ve had enough to drink and you wanted to see how people responded to an impression you did or whatever. It’s hard. And it’s hard not to take whatever people are saying seriously, too.”
Elliott does want to make sure one thing is explicitly clear, especially after a self-aware conversation assessing in hindsight the struggles and triumphs of her SNL run: that she is thrilled to have worked there. She’s also aware that once you’re on SNL—and then not on SNL anymore—people will constantly be asking about what it was like to be on SNL—and then, you know, not on SNL anymore.
“I’m proud to be part of that institution,” she says. “People will probably always associate that with my career.”
There’s a bizarre kind of blogosphere handwringing over the career of every SNL alum. So watching Elliott on Odd Mom Out will elicit a deep sigh of relief. She found her niche. And, holy hell, is the niche funny.
“In terms of life after SNL, I always felt like I was in this business for the long haul,” she says. “I never felt like I was going away.”
And, finally, she’s no longer the odd one out. “It feels great to be on a show that I enjoyed shooting and felt respected by the cast and the crew and the writers.”
Perhaps she’s already mastered her character’s penchant for saying things with meaning between the lines, because it’s hard not to read into her words. “That feels amazing.”