Maya Rudolph


Happiness is:
Chicken skin and syrup
Drag queens
Men’s underwear, covered in dollar bills

Maya Rudolph creates characters that exude charisma and poise. But shortly after they captivate you, they begin to reveal just how tarnished and peculiar they actually are. While most comedic characters are outwardly flawed, Rudolph’s are more subtly bizarre. You wouldn’t want to be stuck in an elevator with these people. They’re the type that would stand too close, or stare too long, or hum softly in the corner—decidedly more unnerving than the obvious misfits.

Although Rudolph grew up wanting to be on Saturday Night Live, her sole focus in life wasn’t sketch comedy. A photography major in college, she considered a career in fashion before realizing she couldn’t sew. She dabbled in music, playing keyboards for the Rentals (with Matt Sharp of Weezer fame). Eventually, she enrolled in improv classes at the Groundlings Theater, the launching pad for many Saturday Night Live cast members.

During the past five seasons on SNL, Rudolph has become one of the company’s most versatile performers. She can play a variety of races and genders, and has a voice that’s often better than those of the recording artists she impersonates. She’s even made the risky leap from SNL to the big screen, landing her first starring role in Mike Judge’s Idiocracy (due in theaters this winter).

I met with Rudolph in Los Angeles at a Zen tea garden called Elixir, for no other reason than its convenient location.

—Carrie Clifford


THE BELIEVER: Have you had any weird run-ins with fans?

MAYA RUDOLPH: I’m still not used to people recognizing me from the show and then having a conversation with me. People approach “comedy people” very differently than a major film star or respected thespian from stage and screen. They come up to me in a very weird way and it takes me a minute and then I’m like, “Oh, you’re being funny.”

BLVR: So their instinct is to do a bit with you?

MR: I think so. People see us on the show and think, “Hey, it’s that person I’d hang out with.” I like strangers to be strange, but I will make an exception when people are lovely and polite. People give their opinions very freely. I had this guy come up to me in the Container Store in New York and he was like, [in a thick New York accent] “You’re on Saturday Night Live. What’s your name?” “Maya Rudolph.” “OK. I’ve seen you, you’re funny.” “Thank you.” “But the show’s not as funny as it used to be.” Everybody who feels this way has the same little speech they give you. [Again as the guy] “I thought the show went downhill when Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri left.” “OK, they’re great.” “I don’t think any of the women are as funny as Cheri.” Come on, man. I don’t come down to your fucking job and tell you how bad you are. “You’re a good attorney, but you’re not as good as the other guy before you, and your firm is dying a slow death because that other guy was way better.”

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Carrie Clifford is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles. She is half of the comedy duo Clifford & Kidd and half of the improv show Razowsky & Clifford. She also occasionally writes or performs on shows that do not contain her name in the title.

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