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Years ago, a psychic told Kristen Wiig to move to LA. She left the next day

Wiig says her <em>Palm Royale</em> co-star Carol Burnett is a legend: "I grew up watching her show. It was really my intro into sketch comedy."
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Wiig says her Palm Royale co-star Carol Burnett is a legend: "I grew up watching her show. It was really my intro into sketch comedy."

Actor and comedian Kristen Wiig has a theory: If she looks directly in the mirror and asks herself a question, the truth will emerge.

Wiig tested her theory when she was living in Arizona in her 20s. She asked her reflection what she should do with her life, and her own answer surprised her.

"I just said I would move to LA and try acting," Wiig says. "And I was shocked, kind of, that that was what I was feeling. But that's what came out."

Wiig followed up the mirror test with a trip to a local psychic — who also encouraged her to move West to pursue acting and writing. "And I went home and I packed up all my stuff. And I left the next day and I drove to Los Angeles," Wiig says.

In LA, Wiig joined the improv comedy troupe The Groundlings, where she tried her hand at writing and performing sketch comedy. She went on to audition (twice) for SNL, eventually landing a role as a cast member in 2005. Wiig describes her early days at SNL as exciting — and terrifying.

"I knew it was going to be my family and I knew they were going to be my friends," she says. "And at the same time, I was very much like, 'OK, I'm the new girl. I just want to try to do my best.'"

Wiig was a cast member on SNL until 2012. She's also starred in films, including Bridesmaids, which she co-wrote, Ghostbustersand the Despicable Memovies. In the new Apple TV+ show Palm Royale, she plays a former pageant queen who wants to break into the upper echelons of Palm Beach, Fla., high society in the late 1960s. For Wiig, one of the highlights of the series is working with comedy icon Carol Burnett.

"She's a legend, and rightfully so. She's not just unbelievably talented and funny and fearless, she's so warm and so generous," Wiig says of Burnett. "For me, I grew up watching her show. It was really my intro into sketch comedy."


Interview highlights

Kristen Wiig plays a former pageant queen in <em>Palm Royale.</em>
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Apple TV+
Kristen Wiig plays a former pageant queen in Palm Royale.

On joining the LA improv comedy troupe, The Groundlings

I had never seen improv, and I love sketch. And I was like, "Oh my God, that's what I want to do." ... It was like, "Oh, they're improvising. They're making stuff up. There's no script. They're creating characters." It just seemed like I couldn't really figure out what I wanted to do until I saw a show there. ... You learn the rules of improv and it really teaches you how to be a scene partner and what it means to improvise. So as you're going through the school, you're really learning what works and what doesn't, because you're doing this stuff in front of your peers and teachers and you get feedback and you can either hear laughing or not hear laughing. So you learn that: how to make people laugh, I guess.

On auditioning for SNL twice

I was terrified because I had done sketch, and most of my characters were in scenes with other people. I wasn't a stand-up, so there wasn't a lot of just me on stage by myself at all. So I felt very nervous about that. And I just kind of was like, all right, this is my chance. And I just wrote a little thing [with] as many characters as I could do, any impressions that I had. It was mostly characters and [I] just crammed them all in there and had the audition and went home and didn't hear anything. So I just assumed that I didn't get it because no one was calling me. And then I heard, "Oh, they want to see you again." And my first thought was like, I literally did everything in that last audition. I've got nothing more. I don't have any other voices or characters. So I had to kind of come up with new stuff, which I think in the end ended up being good for me just as a writer and performer, just to be like, "Oh, maybe there's more in there."

On the rush of deadlines at SNL

The week goes by pretty quick. And there are a lot of little deadlines here and there. I do better with deadlines. Like Tuesday night, for example, you get in at like 2:00 p.m. and you stay 'till 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning and you want to write probably three sketches. So just knowing that that has to happen and scheduling with another writer or another cast member, it's sort of like this unpredictable sort of puzzle you have to put together and to get everything done by the time you get home. And then there's the rewrites and the time between dress [rehearsal] and air when you've got this eight-page sketch and if you want to make it on air, you have to cut 30 seconds, and cutting 30 seconds is really hard because each joke depends on the other one. And there's timing and things set up certain things. And if you don't have this set up, is this joke going to still work? And I loved that. There was something about that frantic panic between dress [rehearsal] and air and knowing that you were going to do the sketch on-air, different than you had done it all week. There was something so exciting about trying to figure that out. I do miss that.

On why she decided to leave SNL when she felt too comfortable

Comfort is not SNL, it's not what it is. I mean that in the best way, because I think when you're constantly trying new things and honestly nervous a little bit it works. Because you're not sort of resting on anything you've done before. And the nature of the show is you have to come up with new things every week for years – and that is really a scary concept. And you never know what the show is going to be really until it's over. Because you can have a great dress [rehearsal] and then literally not be in the show. So it's kind of like you just have to get used to that unpredictability. I guess I just always felt like once I really, really figured it out, that part of the mystery is what makes it magical. ... Leaving was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. ... I was kind of out of my body. [The on-air goodbye] was so emotional for me and sweet and bawled my eyes out after I got off stage. And, it was really one of the nicest moments ever.

On co-writing Bridesmaids with Annie Mumolo and exploring female friendship and feeling out of sync in your 30s

In that time, that sort of like 20s, 30s when people are finding their career and settling down, you do compare yourself to your friends and [think] like, "Wait, all of these people have this and I don't." You don't think like, "Oh, well, my time's coming. That's OK." You're just like, "What's wrong with me? I feel a little left out." People start different stages of their life [at different times] ... and I think also my age group, there still was that thing of like, you have to get married at a certain time and have kids by a certain time, and [if you didn't] you just kind of got looked at a little like, "Well, what's wrong with you? Why haven't you figured this out yet?"

On the narrative around Bridesmaids, that it was shocking that a raunchy comedy starring women was so successful

It was such a topic of conversation and I didn't understand it. I guess I understood sort of like the financial [aspect], like comedies with men made more money. It was sad to me because I could name a million female comedians and comedic roles in films and movies that have been successful. And it just kind of felt like so much [emphasis] was put on the female part of [the movie]. And it wasn't just seen as a comedy, it was so much about being a female comedy and like, "Oh, even guys will like it!" Well, yeah, why wouldn't they?

Phyllis Myers and Joel Wolfram produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Beth Novey adapted it for the web.

Copyright 2024 Fresh Air

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Ann Marie Baldonado is an interview contributor and long-time producer at Fresh Air with Terry Gross. She is currently Fresh Air's Director of Talent Development. She got her start in radio in 1997 as a production assistant at WHYY and joined Fresh Air in 1998. For over 20 years, she has focused on the show's TV and film interviews. She became a contributing interviewer in 2015, talking with comedians, actors, directors and musicians like Ali Wong, Kumail Nanjiani, John Cho and Jeff Tweedy. In 2020, Baldonado hosted the limited-run podcast Parent Trapped, about the struggles of parenting during the pandemic. She talked to Julie Andrews about encouraging creativity in your kids, and comedian W. Kamau Bell about what to watch with them.
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