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SNL’s Vanessa Bayer on Sound Advice, Hillary Clinton, and Doing Improv With Drake

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 06: Vanessa Bayer attends LOL With LLS: Jokes on You, Cancer! on May 6, 2014 at New World Stages in New York City. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for The Leukemia & Lymphona Society)
Vanessa Bayer Photo: Monica Schipper/Getty Images

Since being cast on Saturday Night Live three years ago, Vanessa Bayer has steadily evolved into one of the show’s go-to performers. Many know her for the signature characters she plays on the show — Miley Cyrus (“That’s, like, so cool!”), Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy, and Rebecca Stern-Markowitz, co-host of J-Pop American Fun Time Now — but the Cleveland native recently reaped online success with her solo project, Sound Advice. Now in its second season on the Broadway Video–owned web comedy network Above Average, Sound Advice was dreamed up by the actress and her music-journalist brother Jonah and stars Bayer as the supremely inept “image consultant” Janessa Slater, forever eager to dole out God-awful, awkwardly hilarious advice to musical acts like TV on the Radio and Drake. Future guests this season include Haim and NOFX, and today, Bayer returned to assault Tegan and Sara with Slater’s unique brand of advice. Vulture spoke with the 32-year-old about how it feels to insult Drake, what’s next on SNL, and, um, Minnie Driver.

How did you come to start making Sound Advice?
Jonah and I really thought of it together. And I think part of it is because he’s always been so involved in the music industry. There’s this idea that comedians always want to be musicians or think that musicians are the coolest people, and musicians kind of like comedy. I think that’s true? Also, just because of Jonah I’ve met all of these different bands, and they’re so funny. But a lot of times when they’re performing they have to be more serious because they’re not doing a comedy show.

Janessa is such an absurd character. Is she based on any interactions you’ve had with real-life image consultants?
I don’t know that I’ve personally worked with an image consultant. But I certainly know that they exist.

So where do you draw inspiration from when writing out the scripts?
Well, I’ve had some pretty rough interviews. And it’s funny when people are interviewing you and they sort of don’t really understand what you do and they kind of insult you. And you’re like, “I think you just insulted me.” But they don’t even know that they did it! So some of that stuff. Jonah and I write them together. And the fact that he really does interview bands, he’s really good at writing realistic questions or comments. But of course in a way that they’re things that you’d never actually say to real bands.

The Drake episode has gotten a positive response, to say the least.
It was so fun! He’s such a natural. And he’s such a funny guy. It was like improvising with someone who’s great at improv. His responses were so great and so funny, and he was so good. it was so fun having him host SNL too because he’s such a great team player. You sort of forget … you don’t see him on Degrassi anymore, you know what I mean? He’s rapping all the time. So you forget that it’s a skill that he has and that he’s really good at.

I know you have an upcoming episode of the show with Haim. Similar to Drake, they also seem to be natural-born goofballs.
I mean, they were just great. They’re such fun, outgoing girls. I met them when they were on SNL, and they were so fun to be around. You just felt you were hanging out with girls that were your friends. It was the same thing [as with Drake], where you could throw anything at them, and they were super funny and they had great reactions to everything.

In a recent episode with TV on the Radio, you played on the fact that, much like their fellow Brooklynites, the band members resemble baristas.
My brother actually told me that some of them used to be baristas. Which is a real insider fact.

I did not know that. Still, I get the sense that you find great joy in making fun of the hipster community.
When Jonah first lived in New York, he moved to Brooklyn. It was just so crazy because we would stop on every block and he’d like run into someone that he knew. I’d be like, “Who is this person? Is this person okay?” And Jonah would be like, “Oh, yeah, he’s like the bassist for whatever band.” It’s such a culture there. I was always like “Oh, I’m not cool enough to fit in here.”

Any artists on your radar for future episodes?
There’s a lot. I feel like there’s so many bands that we’re trying to still get. The thing is, bands travel a lot [laughs]. Which I think I knew, but I didn’t understand. Especially a band that has more than two people in it: To get them to sit down with you is a lot of work. Either they’re touring or they’re not touring and they’re all doing their own thing. But there are a ton of bands that we would love to get that we’re still after.

Um … yeah. I’ve gotta keep it on the DL.

Switching gears a bit: It’s been really exciting to watch your evolution on SNL, going from a new, bit player to one of the most-used cast members. Has it gotten any easier?
I still think that Lorne is still the only person who completely understands how the show comes together every week. But the longer you’re there, the more comfortable you get, and the more you get how things work. When you start out, I remember there were times when I would have a scene coming up and I didn’t know when to go onstage. That kind of stuff. It seems so basic. But things like that you take for granted. There’s things when you’re new that you just don’t know to do. I think the longer you’re there, the more you’re like, “Oh, so this is where I go to get my wig put on.”

How did you feel about the previous season? It must have been challenging with so many new faces, and longtime cast members like Seth Meyers and Kristin Wiig departing.
Obviously the thing that was a bummer about it was that people left that we loved. But the thing that was great was to get those new people. Because they were all so great and also so excited. But it’s like going to college or camp, where you get used to having certain friends and then you get new friends. And you’re happy. But it’s always interesting when it’s a transition year like that. It usually turns out great, though.

One of my favorite impressions you do on the show is Hillary Clinton. I’m guessing you’re pulling for her to run in 2016 so get to take on her character a few hundred more times?
Oh, yeah! I definitely hope that she runs for president. For a lot of reasons — not just because I impersonate her. It’s just a role, let’s be real.

Before I let you go, I must tell you: My favorite line you’ve ever said on Sound Advice was during your interview with fun. where you yell, “Can we get an age check on Minnie Driver!?”
[Cracks up] I don’t know why we thought about Minnie Driver! I don’t remember why one of us thought, We have to put Minnie Driver in there! I don’t know if we ever did get that age check.

SNL’s Vanessa Bayer on Sound Advice and Drake