Saturday Night Live sophomore featured player Vanessa Bayer found her signature role last season with a spot-on Miley Cyrus impression, one that she reprised when Miley grabbed headlines for sort of admitting to being a stoner. But there’s more to Bayer than her ability to channel a 19-year-old pop star. This season she’s played one half of a possibly racist anime-obsessed Michigan State student and a childhood best friend of Muammar Qaddafi, among others. We spoke with Bayer about what it’s like being an SNL newbie, keeping up with Cyrus, and Google alerts.
I read that you developed your Miley Cyrus impression before SNL and actually performed it at your audition. Was “The Miley Cyrus Show” your invention too?
That was actually Seth [Myers]’s idea. He thought we should make a show of it. At one point I think we were going to call it “Pretty Cool, with Miley Cyrus” but we decided on “The Miley Cyrus Show.”
Do you have Miley Cyrus on a Google alert?
I don’t have her on Google alert. To be honest, I don’t even exactly know how to set up a Google alert. My brother has me on Google alert. So do my parents. But I’m not even sure how it works.
So your family tells you what’s going on in your life?
Yes, they do. Well, not as much anymore. The longer you’re on a show like SNL, the less frequent the Google alerts become. But if it’s something fun they usually tell me about it.
The recurring sketch “J-Pop America Fun Time Now,” where you and Taran Killam play J-Pop-, anime-obsessed college students — I’ve read that some people find it a little racist. Do you think it is a little racist, or a lot?
I don’t think it is at all. We’re obviously making fun of a certain kind of person that loves that culture so much and is sort of ignorant about it. That’s why we have Jason [Sudeikis] there to put us in our places a bit. It’s certainly not meant to be racist. I hope the majority of people don’t think of it that way.
As the presidential election heats up, is there any figure you see yourself impersonating?
We’ll see. I do a Hillary Clinton impression on the show. I guess it’ll depend how things play out.
Maybe Mitt’s Romney’s wife?
You have a role in an upcoming comedy, Sin Bin. Do you eventually want to get into movies like many of your castmates?
Yeah, that’s a really exciting thing. The show itself is so much fun and really, I feel like I’m sort of wrapping my head around being on SNL. So that’s been my focus, and remains my focus for now. But it’s amazing to see people on the cast in movies.
You did improv when you were with ImprovOlympic and Second City in Chicago. Do you still dabble in that?
I do. Sometimes I’ll do improv at UCB here. That was a huge part of my training, doing improv in Chicago. It’s similar to the show in that you’re with a group, working together, coming up with jokes. Bobby [Moynihan] is real involved in UCB. Some of the writers are as well.
You and Fred Armisen have played Qaddafi’s childhood best friends who quietly talk trash about him on “Weekend Update.” How do you think those characters took the news of Qaddafi’s assassination?
Well, they are his best friends. They’re probably really bummed.
How did that bit come together in the first place?
One day we were talking quietly about something, or someone, like we do in the sketch. I don’t remember what about. But it evolved into a skit. We thought it would be good for an update and Qaddafi just happened to be the topic we applied it to.
Who do you consider a mentor among the cast and writers?
Everybody, honestly. Everyone who’s been there for longer than I have, which is really a lot of people — they’re all mentors. The longer that you’re there the more comfortable you get.