“She is a dream,” says one pal.
“OMG I LOVE HER TELL HER I SAID HI!!!!” says another.
“She is so fucking rad,” says a third.
“Seriously she is so talented,” says a fourth. “It’s so insane. I can’t even handle it sometimes.”
Well, now I’m not sure whether to be excited or intimidated. I wait outside the restaurant on a bench under a clear blue sky, and yeah, I’m a little nervous. But when Bryant walks up, she instantly puts me at ease: I go for a handshake, but she opens her arms wide for a hug. She’s sweet and welcoming despite being one hell of a busy bee. She’s just returned from shooting a short film in Los Angeles. “It’s called Darby Forever,” she tells me as we wait to order. “I wrote it last summer. And then I kinda spent the SNL season trying to figure out, like, OK, what would it take to make this?” While it’s a comedy, Darby Forever has a bit more emotional resonance than one might find in her SNL work. “And maybe a little more acting with a capital A,” she says. Bryant spent three days shooting with co-stars like Retta (Parks and Recreation) and Natasha Lyonne (Orange is the New Black). And from the way she talks about it, it seems like a truly life-changing experience. In fact, she sheds tears of joy on and off as she tries to recount the previous week. “I just couldn’t stop crying,” Bryant says. “I was just, like, lightly crying every hour and a half basically.”
She seems amazed to be living this life: “Especially shooting that film and then I’m here in New York today and tomorrow I’m going to Tokyo [for a role on Girls]. It’s a life that I could have never even imagined for myself. It’s so overwhelming.”
I observe that she’s also about to start her fourth season of SNL. “Isn’t that insane?” she says, her eyes widening. She may be joyful and grateful and even a bit stressed, but she seems to handle it all with grace, which is probably no easy feat for someone who nabbed a spot on SNL at such a young age. A theater kid from Arizona, Bryant grew up the eldest of two kids (she has a younger brother) with parents who actively encouraged her artistic endeavors. She attended Columbia College in Chicago and began studying improv when she was 18. By the time she was 25, she had a new boss named Lorne Michaels. I ask Bryant if she dealt with a lot of jealousy on her way up.
“I had only had experiences with horrible mind games with men.... I don’t want games or manipulation or trying to make each other jealous. I want full, comfortable honesty.”
“I would say by and large it really hasn’t affected existing relationships much at all,” she says. “What it does affect, though, are my new relationships. It’s weird because, you know, moving to a new city, you’re bound to meet new people. Most of them are great. I’ve made great friends here. But there are definitely moments where I’m like, Oh, I don’t think we can have just a normal relationship ‘cause I can tell you’re coming at it from, ‘This is SNL’s Aidy Bryant’ instead of just ‘Aidy Bryant, a human being.’’’ She pauses and reflects for a moment. “It’s hard to pinpoint what that is, but there’s a posture that’s different and a vibe that’s different. But it hasn’t affected my friends or family.”
Eileen Fisher, Striped Top, Available at Bloomingdale’s and bloomingdales.com; Diane von Furstenberg, Lip Print Eaden Scarf, Available at Bloomingdale’s and bloomingdales.com; Shoes: Miista; Pants: Karen Kane; Beret: Eugenia Kim; Fuzz the Dog’s Headband (shown as bow): Jennifer Behr; Girl paintings: Caitlin Royal; Stool: Rent Patina
Nor has it negatively impacted her relationship with her boyfriend of seven years, celebrated improviser and Late Night with Seth Meyers writer Conner O’Malley. (The two appeared together in a very memorable scene from the last season of Broad City in which Ilana doused Abbi in wine just to get away from Bryant and O’Malley’s re-enactment of an ejaculate-drenched performance-art piece.) They’re both hugely talented and well respected within the Chicago improv community, and they’ve both received ample attention on the national scene. They met in 2008 at the renowned Annoyance Theatre in Chicago when they were booked on the same show. Afterward, he complimented her on her work, and she hastily congratulated him on his own performance. (Which she’d missed, but didn’t want to be rude.) A couple of days later, she ran into him at the IO Theater, and he asked for her number. They went on a date, and boom! That was it.
I marvel at the fact that it was so straightforward and almost old-fashioned in a sense— no weird “are we or aren’t we” phase, no dragged-out friends with benefits lead-up to the relationship. They were both barely out of their teens, and yet they zeroed in on each other and made a commitment. “I had only had experiences with horrible mind games with men,” Bryant says. “But it was kind of perfect because I finally was like, that’s what I don’t want. I don’t want games or manipulation or trying to make each other jealous. I want full, comfortable honesty. And that is really what Conner and I have always had.”
Broad City Season 2 Finale - Dear Uncle
Another comfortable, honest relationship Bryant seems to truly value is her bond with best friend Kate McKinnon, SNL’s first out lesbian cast member and Bryant’s co-star in the show’s parody of a 1970s cop drama, “Dyke and Fats.” Bryant calls the sketch “one of my proudest moments” and expands on her friendship with McKinnon. “Pretty quickly, Kate and I were like, Oh, you’re for me and I’m for you. We’re for each other. Very quickly we were both comfortable being our best and worst selves in front of each other,” she says. “SNL’s so intense and the hours are so long that you get to know people really well. But I would say even beyond that, we just know each other like sisters. Really.”
Which is probably why they developed the inside joke that became “Dyke and Fats,” in which two veteran Chicago cops and best friends call each other by rather shocking nicknames—but get very salty when their boss, played by Louis C.K., attempts to do the same. “You don’t get to call us that! Those are our words,” Bryant shouts in his face. “Those are our words,” McKinnon adds. “We love each other and we get to say it. We’re friends!”
I tell Bryant that that sketch was the most subversive thing I’d seen on SNL in years—funny, political, smart, and daring, and she graciously receives the compliment. “Kate and I make each other laugh when we’re bold,” she explains. “We are both bold performers. We both kinda like to go big.” But in the writers’ room, they also mused on how to turn their idea into a sketch without being hurtful. “We also want to be on the right side of it. We don’t want to just say those words for shock value,” she says. “It’s really important to us that we’re saying it from a place of power and from a place of comedy. Shooting it that day was…I couldn’t believe that they had said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ And that’s Lorne. That’s him saying, ‘I believe in you two.’” She says the process of making the sketch was “surreal,” replete with cop costumes, stunts, and training for fight sequences. “And we were just laughing hysterically the whole day,” she adds.
Dress: ASOS Curve; Hair Bow: Jennifer Behr
Bryant hails from a family of artists—her mother, Georganne, owns a locally beloved boutique in Phoenix called Frances (named after Bryant’s great-grandma) and is an integral part of the arts community in Arizona. Her grandmother, Wylene, is a painter. Bryant calls them both “creative spirits” and talks about them with enormous affection. “I was raised by feminists,” she says, naming her mother, her father, and her grandmother, who is a “big-time” supporter of the movement. Being a feminist is “a no-brainer for me,” she says. “It was part of my upbringing.”
With such a supportive family, I ask if she ever wanted to rebel against her elders. Because while Bryant seems sweet as pie, I sense there’s a firecracker spirit in there. You can see it in many of her SNL characters—they often have a pleasant or unassuming demeanor that yields to reveal a coiled sexual intensity within. I tell her I wouldn’t be surprised if she was kind of a “bad girl” in adolescence.
“No, but I did go to an all-girls’ high school,” she says. “At the time when I maybe would have been rebelling against my parents, I went to a high school that was very strictly Catholic. I loved going there and it really solidified for me, like, Yeah, we’re all for one on this girl team. But I really, really, really, really struggled with….” She pauses for a moment. “They had a right to life club there,” she says. “And it was intense. They would put little crosses out on our quad and stuff [to represent abortions in the United States].” She fell in love with the theatre department and says the school was “academically excellent,” yet she still chafed at the school’s politics and the rules laid out by the nuns.
Being a feminist is “a no-brainer for me,” she says. “It was part of my upbringing.”
“I was just with my high school friend who worked on Darby Forever with me, and she was reminding me how I always used to get in trouble for being flip,” she says. “They always used to call me flippant. I think I was always like, Whatever, man. You guys are insane.” Bryant did the morning announcements on the school television station, where her attitude apparently provoked some consternation among administration. “One time, the dean stopped me in the hallway and was like, ‘The flipness isn’t gonna fly on the TV.’ I was like, ‘Alright, lady.’ But then when I got hired at SNL, I was like, ‘Ha, ha, the flipness is about to fly on the TV, baby!’”
Even when she giggles about her sometimes-sassy high school days, Bryant speaks about her hometown and community with obvious love. It strikes me as rather different from many artists I know, who were ostracized, bullied, or otherwise made to feel like misfits in their families or schools. I ask if she ever dealt with any harassment. “I was always pretty well liked,” she says. “I was prom queen…I wasn’t bullied, per se. I mean, I had a sense that I was different. I felt like what made me different is what made me prom queen. I’ve been lucky to, thus far in my life, feel like my size or my personality are assets to me that made me unique from the pack. And so far it’s been pretty easy for me to keep that perspective as opposed to being ashamed of those parts of myself. This is especially true when auditioning. Sometimes you’re like, ‘Oh, shit, what if because I look or sound this way, I just don’t fit?’ But with SNL, I’ve never had that experience. They’ve been nothing but encouraging to me.”
As our desserts arrive (insanely good strawberry shortcake and honey ice cream), I tell Bryant about a nightmare audition I had once where a casting director told me, “You’d be perfect if you were the same weight but maybe six inches taller.”
Trench: ModCloth; Top: Lafayette 148; Skirt: Simply Be; Shoes: Kate Spade New York; Ring: We Who Prey; Flowers: Teleflora
Bryant is properly horrified, then pauses to think. “In a weird way, I feel like I was magically able to circumnavigate a lot of that stuff,” she says. “I didn’t really go out and audition a ton. I just did stuff at the Annoyance or IO or Second City, these super-supportive communities of creatives. I kinda had my little tribe and we all stuck together. I do remember a little bit, the few times that I went to audition while I was in Chicago, I was probably 22 years old and they would always send me out for, like, ‘40-year-old mom.’ I was like, ‘I know this is because of my body, but I’m 21 years old. This is a fucked thing.’”
Her experiences on SNL, Broad City, and Girls, however,have been vastly different from those early auditions. “It’s very cool that their costume departments have been totally accommodating. And guess what? They should be.” The one time that size seems to become a problem—and Bryant emphasizes that this is rare—is when all the women of SNL do a photoshoot for a mainstream women’s magazine. “They’ll have two dress options for me and they’ll have 20 for Kate, Vanessa, Cecily, and Sasheer,” she says. “Those are the only times where I’m like, ‘This is wrong. I manage to dress myself in a cool way. A professional stylist could have figured it out.’ Those are the only moments where I occasionally feel like I’m ‘the other.’ But I’ve always ended up being comfortable in what I ended up wearing, even if it’s half my own clothes. That’s totally outside of SNL, totally outside of acting. It’s magazine world stuff.” (Incidentally, Bryant has received many online props for her personal style—she’s a big fan of ASOS and Rachel Comey.)
Unfortunately, I can’t hang out with Bryant forever, so I ask for the check. While we wait, she tells me about her recent drive from Los Angeles to Phoenix, after wrapping Darby Forever. “I’d had this very intense experience of shooting this film with my director Oz [Rodriguez] from SNL. I had actors in it who were from Second City and my friend from high school came and art directed it. It was like all of these circles of my life came together. And then I was just driving through the desert. And it had rained and so the desert looked really green, which is really rare. It was so beautiful. And I was just listening to music and crying the whole way. There was no one out there and I was driving my dad’s SUV that was loaded with weird confetti and fuzz balls and glitter from the shoot. I was really taking stock, like, I can’t believe this is my life, and now I’m going to Tokyo. It just feels really cool.”
Article by Sara Benincasa
Photography by Danielle St. Laurent
Styling: Brandy Joy Smith; Hair: Andrew Fitzsimons; Makeup: Stephanie Peterson; Nails: Miss Pop; Props: Cecilia Elguero; Stylist’s Assistant: Elizabeth Fonseca; Special Thanks to Vinegar Hill House in Brooklyn, NY
Look 1: Dress: ASOS; Tights: The Big Tights Company; Shoes: Chiara Ferragni Collection; Bracelet: Geoflora Jewelry
This article originally appeared in the October/November 2015 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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