Ana Gasteyer Talks Mad Men, Martha Stewart, and Letting It Rip
You might remember Ana Gasteyer, the current star of ABC's Suburgatory, better as sweater-clad Margaret Jo McCullen, whose NPR spoof show Delicious Dish featured Pete Schweddy sharing his delicious trademark Schweddy Balls and Betty White giving the ladies a taste of her "dusty muffin." Or if that doesn't ring a bell, you might have fond memories of Lilith Fair protest singer Cinder Calhoun's passionate diatribe against pantyhose, "Leotarded," or Marty and Bobby Culp's awkward middle school music instruction that regularly received the finger from students.
The six-year Saturday Night Live veteran will revisit her comedy sketch roots on Friday in Aventura for a one-woman show, "Elegant Songs from a Handsome Woman." We spoke to Gasteyer about her favorite SNL characters, why humorless people are hilarious, and how to do elegant the right way.
New Times: So what exactly is "Elegant Songs from a Handsome Woman"?
Ana Gasteyer: It's not so much musical theater as just a good time. Kind of a throwback to a Mad Men era: Have a good time, have a cocktail, and enjoy some songs that you may or may not have heard before. I have a really fun band. I've got bongos, I've got a horn player. It's much more than just hearing a bunch of songs from Carousel. I'm on a one-woman mission to stop stuffiness.
But I hear you'll be sporting elegant evening wear?
Yes, elegant evening wear. I'd like everyone to get as dressed up as possible but have one thing wrong with them. Maybe have a little flask in their back pocket. It's all about trying to maintain your dignity.
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Dignity is important. But aside from that, it will be show tunes and comedy?
You know, honestly, it's like the confusion of my entire career, which is that I was on Saturday Night Live for a long time, and now I work back on television comedy, on half hour comedy on Suburgatory and things like that. And you know, I was also on Broadway for a long time with Wicked and Threepenny Opera and those sort of more formal things.
So repeatedly I was asked to put together a little evening, and I kept finding one thing to be more earnest than the other, but I've come up with this show that has a really fun band and a really silly groove and it's basically what I would call a club act designed to marry the two personalities of Ana Gasteyer.
And we kept trying to make it this classy evening and it seemed ridiculous after a while. So we kind of admitted to what it was, which was the effort of elegance more than the actual elegance.
Was it difficult to transition from Saturday Night Live to Broadway?
They're such different animals. It was like being an entirely different person in some ways. One is sort of very disciplined, organized way of performing. And I did it on purpose because I was sort of interested in trying something a little more disciplined. I was a music major in college in Chicago and that's the home of comedy improv. And then I kind of went on this totally different road in my career and when I left SNL, because I was in New York and I love the theater I went back in that direction and embraced that part of my training. It ended up being a really great. The show is the first time I kind of feel like it married the two.
It's definitely not me to be really serious and wear a long gown and sing art songs or something. It's much more me to sing songs that make me happy and give me joy and make people dance and stand up and laugh and clap.
That's interesting that you were a a music major, because one of my favorite characters that you played on SNL is the music teacher. Was that was drawn from real life?
Yeah, totally, it's drawn from all the incredibly over-serious people. Half the people I played on SNL are people that I find funny because they have no sense of humor... the NPR lady, the music teacher, and Cinder Calhoun, my folk singer character at Lilith Fair who has no sense of humor whatsoever. I think it's really fun to pull from that world because to me, music can be such an uplifting and freeing medium, and I think people can be terribly serious in it.
I read an interview in which someone asked whether you toked up as research for the Broadway show Reefer Madness and you responded that you consider yourself incredibly square. Is that really how you see yourself?
More of the square thing just comes from being a mom and having to get up early in the morning. Pretty much, if you have kids, you don't have time to party anymore because you're exhausted all the time. That said, my show, I'm all about having a big, fun cocktail, and I've actually only done it in nightclubs so far so this will actually be a bit of a departure performing in an arts center. I'd really like it for people to kick back and have a nice time and have a supper club environment. If it were up to me, everybody would have some kind of cocktail in their hand.
Yea, that Mad Men-esque environment you mentioned. Would you have wanted to live in that era?
Totally. Especially as a singer, I have to say to me the great songbook era of Ella Fitzgerald, Bessie Smith, Sarah Vaughan, women in front of a big band with guts and balls, is a really powerful time musically for women in particular. And so many of the songs -- maybe because women weren't so powerful back then, are about trying to find a certain freedom and power in what they did. It's just really fun to play as a result. It's about getting in front of a band and letting it rip and not caring so much about how good it sounds, but how good it feels to be there.
Ana Gasteyer will perform in "Elegant Songs from a Handsome Woman" at 8 p.m. on Friday, November 4, at Aventura Arts & Cultural Center (3385 NE 188th St., Aventura). Tickets cost $56.50 to $66.50. Call 305-466-8002 or visit aventuracenter.org.
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