Rachel Dratch has come a long way since her days as a downer.
Though the Saturday Night Live alum says Debbie Downer is still the role for which she’s most often recognized, Dratch has kept herself busy over the past year, popping up in a slew of movies and TV shows alike. In addition to bits on SNL, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, you might have caught the comedian opposite Adam Sandler in the Netflix original The Week Of, or maybe in her memorable dual role on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as a fancy-pants philosophy professor and her wife. (The latter, which serves as a kind of spiritual reprise of Dratch’s unforgettable SNL “love-ah” alongside Will Ferrell, should not be missed.)
On Friday, Dratch is back with a second season of Rachel Dratch’s Late Night Snack, a weekly block of original short-form comedy segments incorporating music videos, animation, and, of course, good old SNL-style scripted sketches. In between bits, Dratch, dressed as a retro waitress at a diner, passes out menus and serves up cups of joe—a literal “host” for our late night snack at a greasy spoon. Dratch also appears in various clips throughout the segments, including one with fellow New York-based comedian Bridget Everett in which the pair belt out a song simply called, “Titties.”
When The Daily Beast catches up with Dratch on a Thursday morning phone call, she has just made her way out of a longer-than-expected Trader Joe’s grocery line. (Relatable.) Reflecting on her varied career, Dratch demurs at the suggestion that there exists a distinctive Rachel Dratch brand. Her general professional strategy, she says, is not to have one. “When I was starting out, you try to control your career, like, ‘I want to do this, I want to do that,’” she says. “That works for some people—that whole goals thing. For me, it just didn’t really work that way. Things just sort of float down the stream at me. Then I sort of Zen out about the whole thing.”
Though that stream is flowing pretty steadily these days, things were quieter for Dratch just a few years back. It was then, after wrapping up her run on SNL, that Dratch took the opportunity to switch gears to a more literary project, writing up “little funny stories” from her life that she would eventually compile into her hilarious 2012 memoir, Girl Walks Into a Bar. Recalling that time, Dratch says, “That was a whole other sort of brain space for me, because writing a book is obviously a solitary act instead of collaborating on sketches.”
After finishing up the first half of the book, Dratch recalls her agent asking, “‘Okay, but where does it all go? What’s the arc of the whole thing?’ And there wasn’t one. And then in typical me fashion, I was just like, ‘Okay, forget it,’ and let it sit on a shelf for a year.” As fate would have it, the arc arrived not long after: Dratch discovered herself unexpectedly pregnant at the age of 44, a happy, if complicated, surprise that she details in her book’s second half. “I always admire when people are really open in their storytelling,” she says. “So I decided, well, because I admire that in other people I’m going to try and do that too. Now it’s sort of like having my diary out—my diary from like six years ago. It’s kind of weird. I don’t look at it.”
Even so, drawing amusing inspiration from her own life is a talent that dates back to Dratch’s SNL days, though the ideas and anecdotes were a little less intimately personal back then. When developing her Boston-based sketches—including the Denise character she played alongside Jimmy Fallon—Dratch says, “We’d name actual teachers from my junior high, or the class ski trip, or the prom.” Even the famous love-ahs professors were grounded in some reality, she says: “They were very loosely based on this professor at college—but very loosely based.”
In the ’90s, Dratch belonged to a core crew of SNL women—including Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph—who have maintained a close-knit friendship over the years since their “live from New York” era. Most recently, the group collaborated on an upcoming road trip comedy called Wine Country, based in part on a Napa Valley vacation they all took for Dratch’s birthday a few years back. Though the movie represents a heightened, fictionalized version of the real story, the team incorporated “little flavorings” of their actual trip and group dynamic into the plot, including sequences involving a tarot card reader and paella chef.
These days, Dratch remains a dedicated SNL watcher and fan. When asked for her thoughts on the way the show, and other late night hosts, have covered Trump and our interminably frenetic news cycle, Dratch is energetically admiring: “I think it’s necessary right now… I think it’s sort of cathartic to watch it and to be like, ‘No, I’m not going crazy,’” she says. “It used to be that in election years SNL becomes really the thing to watch, because they help you process the candidates, [like] Will Ferrell’s George W. or how Darrell Hammond did Al Gore—he sort of defined Al Gore, for better or worse.”
She continues, “I think it always kind of becomes more of the talk of the town in election years, and then now, it’s almost like that’s every week. Like that energy of, ‘What’s SNL going to say about this?’… It makes it sort of like your group therapy session.” The show does serve as an immutable force of influence, both in Dratch’s era and today. But comedy doesn’t have to be overtly political to be therapeutic—making something funny out of the everyday is helpful, too.
And for this, we’re lucky to know that Dratch won’t ever be too far away.
Rachel Dratch’s Late Night Snack airs Fridays at 11:30 pm ET on truTV.