Monday, February 28, 2011

Vanessa and Paul talk SNL

In the Chicago Tribune, featured cast members Vanessa Bayer and Paul Brittain talk about their experiences so far on Saturday Night Live.
When "Saturday Night Live" returns March 5 after a two-week hiatus, the host will be Miley Cyrus, a celebrity who has recently been the subject of repeated mockery on the long-running NBC comedy series. A recurring sketch called "The Miley Cyrus Show" debuted on the second episode of the season, featuring new cast member Vanessa Bayer playing Cyrus as an incomprehensible teenage motormouth talk show host who rolls her eyes whenever dad Billy Ray pipes in with a lame comment.

In an uneven season, it is a head-turning performance that stands out, and it got Bayer — who joined the show a few months ago after an audition at iO Theater here in Chicago — noticed early on. Cyrus' appearance next week on the show will no doubt be the culmination of Bayer's nascent career in television.

"She's so fun to do," Bayer said, talking by phone from her East Village apartment in New York on Tuesday, midway through her brief vacation from the weekly grind. She has spent the last several days mostly catching up on sleep. This is the first in-depth interview that she has given since joining the show. Even six months into the new gig, she said, "There's always a part of me that's, like, freaking out."[...]

Halpern only gives 15 performers a slot in the showcase. "Vanessa had about five different characters ready to go, including Miley Cyrus, and I could see that they were things that Lorne could take and use tomorrow," Halpern said. "That's what he wants — he wants to see characters and pieces that he can use right away and put into the show. When he's here, the new season is literally just a few weeks away, so he wants to see something where he goes, 'There it is. I got something we can use for the show.'"

Among the rookies this season, Bayer seems to have had the most airtime, playing characters featured prominently in a large number of sketches. The same hasn't been true of Brittain, who tends to show up in most sketches as human filler. (Bayer honed her comedy chops locally at iO and the Annoyance Theatre, and both she and friend Brittain are veterans of Second City's four-month Norwegian Cruise Line tours.)[...]

As for the disparity in airtime, there doesn't appear to be any tension between the Chicago rookies. "I don't know who has gotten more or less airtime, but I will say that it is so luck of draw what scenes get in," said Bayer. "There will be scenes that make it to dress rehearsal but get cut for the show, so it's such a random thing. Like, I remember when I used to watch the show, you think there's 10 scenes that are written for the show, when really there are 40 or 45 scenes that are written; 12 get picked for rehearsal and then 10 get into the show."

Brittain's patience is likely to pay off, colleagues said.

"He's a real easygoing guy," said Bayer, "which is exactly the energy that I need as someone who can be a little high-strung." And in the opinion of iO's Halpern: "Paul is going to be the dark horse if Lorne uses him right. He's a real ball of energy, but he's not pushy. He really can play anything."

Cast member Jason Sudeikis (who also trained at iO and Second City) said: "Paul just has a quiet confidence to him that I wish I could steal a little bit from, and Vanessa, I don't think I've ever seen her not smiling. They're both doing great. But it's so interesting, it's only like their first six months — and yet they probably feel like it's been three years."

The Chicago connections help. One of the biggest challenges for new performers, Halpern said, is "getting the writers on staff to write for you. And I think because Vanessa and Paul already know some of the writers from Chicago" — the aforementioned Gossman and Flanigan, as well as Michael Patrick O'Brien, who was hired from Second City in 2009 — "they probably have a slightly easier time of it."

On the Russell Brand episode this month, Bayer worked with Gossman and Flanigan on a sketch called "Livin' Single" that featured Bayer as an upbeat talk show host/single gal enthusiastically grinding against Brand.

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