Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 35 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member each week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.
Known best for using her killer singing skills to parody divas like Whitney Houston, Christina Aguilera, Diana Ross, and Liza Minnelli, Maya Rudolph is the daughter of music producer Richard Rudolph and soul singer Minnie Riperton (of “Lovin’ You” fame). Her collection of SNL characters and impersonations include the boy-crazy Megan from the Wake Up Wakefield sketches, Britannica of the Destiny’s Child parody group Gemini’s Twin, and of course the chain-smoking, hot tempered Donatella Versace, who always has a glass of champagne in her hand and a troupe of greased dancer boys by her side (“GET OUT!!!”). Rudolph wasn’t just a consistently funny SNL player — she’s also multi-talented, versatile, and always in full command of any role, whether as a talky Bronx housewife, pretentious and vaguely European art dealer, or 70s soul mama theme song performer on Gays In Space.
Rudolph studied photography at UC Santa Cruz and briefly played keyboards for The Rentals (fronted by Weezer’s Matt Sharp) before pursuing a career in comedy by joining The Groundlings. She appeared on Chicago Hope, Gattaca, and City of Angels, the latter of which she initially accepted over an SNL offer. She joined the SNL cast three episodes before the end of the 1999-2000 season, and together with Ana Gasteyer, Rachel Dratch, Cheri Oteri, Molly Shannon, and Tina Fey, Rudolph helped usher in one of the best times for female cast members on SNL.
Rudolph’s singing talent inspires many of her characters and impersonations in sketches where the humor just wouldn’t be as good coming from a less talented singer. The National Anthem sketch below sums it all up perfectly; Maya is the perfect marriage of music and comedy, and she’s not afraid to be the only one pulling it off so well. She also always struck me as one of the friendliest SNL players — even when her characters are angry or cruel, she manages to always keep a supportive, upbeat, and above all, kind stage presence throughout everything she does, whether in an ensemble or all by herself.
Maya’s versatility extends beyond being a good singer — she’s a complete chameleon. She channeled old ladies (Glenda Goodwin, Attorney at Law) and little girls (in a Vinny Vedecci sketch) and played Michelle Obama, Paris Hilton, and everyone between. Her chemistry with Fred Armisen, who like Rudolph not only is musically gifted but can embody any race, ethnicity, age, or gender, makes for some awesome SNL moments as well, like their subdued but hilarious performance in the Bossa Nova sketch with Alec Baldwin as well as their Art Dealers sketches, where the two play a bizarre modern art-obsessed couple from an identifiable part of Europe who invite guests over to sit on their weird art piece sitting devices.
Since her time on SNL, Rudolph has appeared in films like A Prairie Home Companion, Idiocracy, MacGruber, Away We Go, and most recently Bridesmaids, and her new show Up All Night premieres September 14th on NBC. She also stars in the upcoming film Friends with Kids alongside Megan Fox, Kristen Wiig, John Hamm, and Adam Scott, set to release in 2012. Rudolph is married to director Paul Thomas Anderson with two daughters and their newborn son Jack, who was born on July 3rd.
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.