What It's REALLY Like To Be On SNL

Full disclosure: Vanessa Bayer is one of our favorite SNL cast members. Maybe it's her Miley impression, maybe it's her rendition of a Bar Mitzvah Boy on Weekend Update, or maybe it's just that we can see us being best friends. (Call us!) Regardless, Bayer, with her dimples and magnetic on-camera personality, has charmed her way into the hearts of SNL fanatics everywhere. Not to mention, she's the main reason we DVR the show every week.
So, suffice it to say, it was destiny a dream to meet with the up-and-coming actress and comedienne for an exclusive interview and photo shoot. We caught Bayer for a quick walk-n-chat in between dress rehearsals and writing for the show to discuss all the important stuff: Real Housewives (she's a fan!), dad jokes (who isn't a fan?), and breaking character (she swears it's never, ever on purpose).
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Obviously, we also had to pick her brain for tips on how to be funnier, how to bounce back from a misfired punchline, and, you know, how to land every funny girl's dream job. So, budding actors, comedic hopefuls, and fans alike, bookmark this tab, and read on.
Live from New York, it's Saturday Night! (Sorry, we've been dying to say that.)
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Photographed by Jen Ingvarsson.
Which comedians did you admire when you were growing up? And, what were your favorite TV shows?
"A lot of the comics on SNL. I was always a huge Chris Farley fan, and I always loved the people on SNL when I was little. I really loved Julia Sweeney and Melanie Hustle and Adam Sandler, Phil Hartman. And, I watched SNL a lot. And, I watched a lot of Saved By The Bell. And, 90210."

What about now? Which comics do you love and which shows do you watch these days?
"Now, I watch a lot of reality TV. A lot of Real Housewives, which I probably shouldn't be telling you, but you know, who doesn't. I watch The Mindy Project when I can catch it. I think she's so funny. I think Lena Dunham is so funny, I love Girls. I watch the HBO shows. I've been watching Hello Ladies. I made time for Breaking Bad."

Where do you get your inspiration? Does a lot of it come from reality TV and pop culture?
"I definitely look at that for inspiration, but a lot of stuff is from my life, from growing up. And, just day-to-day interactions with people. Not that I'm always [taking notes], but especially living in New York, you interact with so many people every day who will do such funny things. Just when you're grocery shopping or doing everyday things. Things from real life are the most relatable. Which is why, I guess — to the extent that reality TV is real — it's relatable and funny."

When did you first realize you were funny?
"I'm not sure. I think in maybe middle school or high school. My dad is really funny. He was always the jokester amongst his friends, and his friends were always asking him to do impressions. So, I think I sort of got that from him a little bit. And, then when I was in college I auditioned for an all-female sketch group called Bloomers, and that's when I really started doing comedy and thought this was something I could do for real."

How can other people tell if they're funny or not?
"To be honest, I think that everybody's funny, it's just the degree to which they know that they are. I think people are funny if they can laugh at themselves. But, sometimes the funniest people don't know that they're funny. Like administrators in my high school."
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Photographed by Jen Ingvarsson.
Do you think people can make themselves funnier? How?
"I think if they watch reality TV, especially Real Housewives, they will make themselves funnier, just from witnessing all of that. I think seeing comedy shows, improv shows, reading funny books, hanging out with my dad. Dad humor is making a real comeback."

Everyone has an SNL audition story. What’s yours?
"SNL was in Chicago scouting for talent four summers ago and I did five minutes of material and some impressions and some original characters. Then they flew me to New York to do a screen test and I did about five minutes of fairly similar stuff. They flew me back [again] to do some meetings and stuff with them...I found out a week later that I was hired. So, the process for me was pretty quick. It all happened within a month. But, it started in Chicago with me doing five minutes of material."

What were some highlights from your audition that we might not have seen? Any characters you still do?
"I did Miley Cyrus. I did a poetry teacher — I just did [it] on the show pretty recently — who was…based on one of my teachers when I was in middle school. The child actor is something I auditioned with. And, then I auditioned as this boy who loved Fool's Gold who is kind of like the Bar Mitzvah Boy, but with a slightly stronger speech impediment — like little kids who can't really say their Rs and is way more crazy than Jacob."

Do you have any crazy "scrambling to make the show” stories? Or, any wild production tips?
"There's always crazy stuff that happens. There have been a couple times — and this happens to everybody — that I've been put into a sketch and I've never rehearsed it. And, you do it for the first time on live TV, so that's always a somewhat exciting and terrifying thing. You’re reading cue cards, which helps. I've been in costume for one sketch and that will get cut and I'll have to get into costume for the next super quickly. That's pretty standard and goes along with the show. But, it adds to the excitement in a way because it's truly a live show and if that stuff didn't happen how could it be a live show?"

How do you keep yourself from laughing during a scene?
"I kind of pride myself on not doing it even though I think it's funny when other people do it. I just think I'll get in trouble. I feel like when other cast members do it, especially that are more senior than me, I feel like they're okay. But, I really try not to do it. I try to think of sad things. Other times, I try to think of the writers who wrote the sketch — especially if it's something I didn't help write. I just think of not trying to mess up the sketch that they wrote and getting the jokes right. I know it wouldn't be the end of the world, and I know the writers wouldn't be so upset with me, but I just try to think of the consequences, which truly are not very bad. I'm kind of a Goody Two-shoes."
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Photographed by Jen Ingvarsson.
What do you want your legacy on SNL to be?
"I think if I can have any legacy at all on SNL that would be great. I've been lucky enough to get to do a lot of different things and different characters, so I feel like if I have any sort of legacy at all that would be amazing."

How do you react to people asking you to be funny and do impressions?
"It doesn't really happen that often, and when it does happen it's mostly dads. I feel like there was a period when people asked me to do the Miley voice a lot, but people don't really do that."

Have you had any interactions with celebrities that you've spoofed? Have you had any negative reactions?
"I think that every celebrity that I've done an impression of that I've met, I've met at the show. Generally, they're pretty nice about it because we never try to have the impressions be mean or hateful or anything like that. I think it's all in good fun, and I think they're flattered that they're being impersonated on SNL. I think at the very least they don't mind. No one's ever been negative. I've had more instances of people liking it."

Do you have any comedy secrets that you keep in mind during the show? Or, live by in general?
"Not during the show. You sort of have to feel out the audience and time stuff according to that. I think the pauses and all that is based on what the audience is laughing at or not laughing at. But, in life I think that when you tell a joke and people don't laugh, it's a really good idea to quietly look at them in an awkward way, and then they'll start laughing. That's been my method."

Speaking of bad jokes, are there any ideas that you can't believe you pitched?
"One idea — and I hope I'm not burning it in case they ever decide to use it — I pitched to a host on a Monday was that we have a really upscale pasta company called Posh-Ta. And, one of the writers at the time, and now cast member, Mike O'Brien, would pitch it himself to make fun of me, in a kind way. It was one of those things where I was like, 'This is a fun play on words.' And, now I'm like, 'That's so stupid.' Again, it's not funny, but that didn't keep me from saying it to someone who's probably very famous."
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Photographed by Jen Ingvarsson.
What's one thing about working on SNL that you surprised you?
"I always really liked writing, but I didn't realize when I got hired as a cast member that the cast writes. There are writers, and they're so talented and funny, but I just figured the writers write and the cast acts. And, sometimes that's true, but the cast stays all night, too, writing the show. It's very collaborative and I'm usually writing with one other person. I didn't realize that the cast writes at all before I came to the show, so I'm very pleasantly surprised about that."

What's one myth about SNL that's not true?
"Going back to the laughter thing — the first thing that came to my mind [was that] some people told me before…[I started] that when people break on camera it was on purpose or something to that effect. But, really, it's really not on purpose. I can't stress that enough."

Do you ever use your humor as a coping mechanism?
"Oh, definitely, I think some of the hardest things that I've been through, humor has gotten me through them. And, it's actually such a good thing to use with any kind of difficult thing in your life, 100%. One of the reasons I do comedy is because it's helped me so much in my life and laughing just helps everybody."

Do you have a motto or theme song?
"The first one that came to my mind, I'm gonna be honest with you, was the Friends theme song. I wonder if it's because I do a stand-up bit about Friends, but I'm telling you, as soon as you said that, it's the first thing that came to my head. I'm trying to think about the sentiment, the words in it, so I'm gonna go with that I think. It has highs and lows in it, which I think is important. The theme is being supportive of other people and life's not always perfect, but you'll be there for other people when the rain starts to fall."

Do you have any other projects in the works?
"My brother and I...do a web series called Sound Advice, where I play this media consultant named Janessa Slater (which is a play on my name) and I basically talk to bands and give them notes on what they should be doing differently. We've released three of them and we're about to shoot some more. [You] can check those out on Above Average."
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