What [Gilda] had about her, and what she shares with Amy, is the ability to laugh at herself… When you see those clips of Gilda [on “SNL”], you just knew she couldn’t contain all the creativity and humor and joy inside of her. I met Amy in 1999, when we were both cast in a Judd Apatow pilot called “Sick In the Head” that Fox didn’t pick up – I’m sure they’re kicking themselves now, – but I felt the same way about Amy [as I did when I first met Gilda]. It was her first TV show, she had just done Upright Citizens Brigade and she was just a force of nature; I was in awe, really. She had so much confidence and would do different takes without worrying about what people were thinking and I just sensed inside of her this, “Oh, my God, this is so much fun! I just love doing this!” What it is, really, is a vibration that Gilda had and [Amy] has. It’s a vibration that everyone feels, and you just want to be at that party. You want to be in her vortex. I wish Gilda were here tonight, and I wish I could have seen Gilda and Amy perform together. It would have been a volcano of comedic brilliance.
Andrea Martin presenting Amy Poehler with the Gilda Radner Award For Innovation In Comedy at Gildafest ‘15 (x)
What did you think of the three who were with you in those final rounds [for best SNL star]? It was you, Will Farrell, Eddie Murphy and Phil Hartman.
No women. I don't know about that. There's some really funny women at SNL, man.
What woman would you put in there?
Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Gilda Radner, Larraine Newman, Jan Hooks, Nora Dunn, Molly Shannon, Molly Shannon, Molly Shannon, Molly Shannon! I mean, come on! I don't know about that. That's very flattering. But yeah, there should be a woman in there somewhere.
Who are the women on TV you’ve looked up to?
So many people: Lucille Ball is the earliest incarnation of a woman I thought was funny, Joan Rivers, Roseanne, Carol Burnett, Gilda Radnor, down to current times, where you have Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Kristen Wiig. There are so many hilarious women which is why I think that whole thing where every year there’s an article like, “Can Women Be Funny?” and it’s like, 'Wait a minute, it’s been proven!' I just hold onto that chronology in my head and think, ‘This is ridiculous.’
Alan [Zweibel] talked about Gilda and Andrea [Martin] talked about Gilda and none of us got to meet her. She died at my age, right now. She died at 42. I’m 43, whatever. [Laughs] But to get to talk to people that knew here and worked with her and have Gilda’s name on your lips, not only is Gilda’s Club an amazing organization for people who are struggling but it’s also just a great way to keep Gilda’s name alive, which is very important in this very [difficult] world.
Gilda Radner was my favorite, my number one. She was the person whose voice was in my head, the woman my mother was laughing at, the person that seemed kind of like me, the first Jewish woman I think I ever met… I truly wish I was Jewish but I’m too lazy to convert. I love how Gilda was just as funny as the boys and they knew it. They treated her like an equal. And I love how she was a benevolent captain and took joy in other people’s success. You could just tell. I wanted to be that way. I wanted to live in the light and enjoy and celebrate life and try to also be funny, and that’s hard to do, but she did it so well. I like that she had a lot of pain – you could feel it – but she rolled around in pleasure. She was just like a pleasure cat. You could tell by how she moved her body and she abused her body in a way, for our entertainment, which at times got kind of dark but was also beautiful. [When I was on “SNL”] we just tried to do that. We just copied it. People always ask, what’s the secret to success? It’s like, just do exactly what your heroes did. Just copy them and no one will notice. [Laughs]
But I did that, I just tried to do what she did, which was look fearless and look elastic. She had no boobs, and I had no boobs… [Laughs] And then there’s Andrea and Catherine [O'Hara] and before that, Carol [Burnett], these women who I love, but there weren’t many [of them]. People always ask me what it’s like being a woman in comedy, but those women were there when there were NO other women around. They were doing sketch on their own. Gilda was always doing it with grace; you never caught her “working.” She was never trying too hard. You never worried about her on stage. She was just infectious, and I remember looking at her on TV and thinking, “I want to be that, I want to be her, that’s the kind of entertainer I want to be.” I’m just so completely honored to be included in any way, in any sentence, that has Gilda Radner in it. Beyond, so thankful.
What Gilda did, and what you guys are doing at Gilda’s Club, is she accepted that life is ridiculous and just said well, fuck it! What else are we going to do? It’s beautiful, it’s crazy, it’s disappointing, it’s lonely, but maybe what we should try to live while we’re still alive – and congratulations, everyone in this room is alive – Why don’t we try to live? And as a wannabe performer I watched Gilda and thought, maybe I could do that. I have never had cancer, I can only imagine the loneliness you feel when you have it, but if there’s someone at [Gilda’s Club] that’s going through something similar or has, and you can look at them and say, “Hey, they’re alive, they’re doing it, maybe I can do it?” It’s very simple how community works, and to be a part of the comedy community is something I feel very honored about. There’s no other club I’d rather be a member of. it’s the best to be around people who make you laugh when you’re in pain. Man, I’m lucky.
I think if Gilda was here tonight she would probably say, “There’s a black guy doing Update?” [Laughs] But, if she were here, I would say to her… Can you get me some coke? Because the real tragedy of tonight is that I’m too famous to buy my own coke, and I think I really missed out! [Laughs] No, I would genuinely thank her for lighting a fuse that turned into a fire that is now this blaze that I get to stand next to, and I commend all of you who are doing the same thing, taking two sticks together when things are really tough, and waiting for a spark, and letting it catch and warming yourself by it. So to all of you guys who are struggling out there I say stay warm, stay strong, and thank you so very much.
Amy Poehler, 2015 winner for the Gilda Radner Award for Innovation in Comedy
These names are more than just names to me. They are women who left an indelible mark on my soul. They are women who helped me grow up. They are women who taught me how to be who I am today.
The 40th anniversary special of Saturday Night Live had me feeling incredibly nostalgic, as I wrote earlier. I remember the moment I discovered SNL. I’m pretty sure, actually, that it was around this time of year. In late January 2004, Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachay hosted (what a throwback to the early-aughts MTV era…). I was 12 years old. It was the first episode I remember being able to keep my eyes open for the whole way through.
Shortly thereafter, I was hooked. I was lucky enough to have grown up during an era where, not only could I look forward to watching the show live every weekend, but I could come home from school and see reruns on Comedy Central and E!. I had the best of both worlds: I could simultaneously watch a great current cast and great casts of the past. I was almost immediately obsessed. When I love something, I love it 150 percent. It’s not amateur hour.
I decided that I had to learn everything there was to ever know about SNL. I borrowed every book I could from the library, watched every special I could get my hands on. I was a smart kid, and my grades were good, but my mother has always told me that if I had had the same passion and dedication to my academic studies as I did to my SNL ones, I would have graduated valedictorian.
As a middle school girl caught up in the awkwardness of mean girls, boys, and growing up, I found myself drawn to brilliant women. I was the oldest of three girls, and aside from a few older cousins who lived hours away, for several years, I didn’t have many older women to inspire me, so I looked to the media for my lady heroes. When I discovered SNL, I didn’t only discover a pop culture phenomenon. I discovered a new group of amazing women to identify with.
They all are unique in their own ways, but they all have one thing in common: they weren’t here for your shit. They were bitches in the best possible sense of the word: they were bossy, they weren’t going to be told what to do. They were going to get on air and be seen, and they didn’t care if you liked it or not. They were loyal: best friends, sisters even, who stuck by each other’s sides through and through, never throwing the other under the bus or creating a rivalry. They were one of a kind.
Tina taught me to work hard. Tina was my girl; I recognized such a kindred spirit with her that is hard to describe. She was me: geeky and intelligent, a smartass through and through, awkward and shy, but ambitious and stubborn to boot. Her accomplishments gave me such hope for my future. Here was a girl who was just like me, only grown up and doing it all, slowly but surely building an empire. If I worked just as hard as she did, if I was just as fiercely committed, the same could happen for me.
Gilda taught me to be brave. Have you ever seen more fearlessness in a person? She flung herself around like a rag doll on stage, completely uninhibited. Which, given what we know now, about her inner anxieties and her eating disorder, is even more awe-inspiring. On stage, she was a completely different person. She didn’t care what she looked like. One of my favorite stories is how she broke a rib during a dress rehearsal run through of the now-iconic Judy Miller Show sketch. She taped it and went on to the show, commiting herself to the act even more.
Gilda died on my birthday, two years before I was born. When I was younger, sometimes I imagined that I was Gilda in a past life, that that’s where I got my goofiness from, only I was cursed with not being nearly as funny this time around. Today, I work a few blocks from Gilda’s Club, and sometimes I find myself walking by that red door. I pause, smile, and think of that beautiful spirit gone far too soon. I wish she was here for me to thank.
Amy taught me to be myself. Where do I begin with Amy Poehler? So often I was either running around pretending to be Kaitlin, the preteeen goober who was constantly, endearingly, annoying her stepfather, Rick, or aspiring to have the same sort of friendship with someone as she had with Tina Fey. Amy is all about celebrating other ladies — seeing her work with smartgirlsattheparty now is just further proof of that — and standing up for who she is. She made herself an equal player in a boys’ club and stayed true to herself.
I will never forget the anecdote from Tina Fey’s Bossypants. Amy was vulgar at a table read — she often is, unapologetically so, and as someone else with an affinity for swear words, I appreciate that:
“Jimmy Fallon, who was arguably the star of the show at the time, turned to her and in a faux-squeamish voice said: “Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it.”
Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. “I don’t fucking care if you like it.” Jimmy was visibly startled. Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit …”
Jane taught me to that smart was sexy. Jane Curtin was not goofy. She was the woman with an acerbic wit, who could match Dan Aykroyd’s barbs point for point. She also challenged the notion that women couldn’t be funny and pretty. Jane didn’t have to play dumb or make herself ugly or weird looking to get laughs. She came in and did her job pointedly. When her bits were over, I felt such an understated confidence radiate through the screen. She knew she was smart and she knew that it was intimidating, and she went with it. She was better than the boys in more ways than one, and she knew it and embraced it, though never in a pompous way.
These women meant everything to me growing up, and they still do to this day. I say this so often, but I will repeat it until I am blue in the face or until it sticks — whichever comes first. Young women need strong female role models. We need to see that we can succeed without dumbing ourselves down or sexing ourselves up. We need to see that we can accomplish just as much as men, that we can go from awkward duckling to beautiful, confident swans. We need lady heroes. We just do.
These women are such a rad group that 1200 words doesn’t do them enough justice. Go out and read Bossypants, Yes Please, Live From New York, and It’s Always Something. Go on YouTube and pour over clips of these amazing women. If you don’t understand their importance now, maybe then you will.
Gildafest’15 honoring Actress & Comedian Amy Poehler SOLD OUT!
After a rocky start with Hurricane Juno forcing us to postpone our first Gildafest in January, we are happy to say that we’re back on track! The sold-out Gildafest’15 has a new date and promises to be jam packed with lots of laughs and an obscene amount of fun.
Hosted by SNL Alums, Rachel Dratch and Ana Gasteyer, Gildafest’15 will honor actress and comedian Amy Poehler with The Gilda Radner Award for Innovation in Comedy for her sketch and improv talents, specifically at Second City, Upright Citizens Brigade and Saturday Night Live, as well as her extensive accomplishments in film, television and writing, which exemplifies the comedic spirit of Gilda Radner.
Special guests for the evening include: Vanessa Bayer, Aidy Bryant, Michael Che, Ilana Glazer, Abbi Jacobson, Colin Jost, Andrea Martin, Bobby Moynihan, Cecily Strong, Kenan Thompson, players from the Upright Citizens Brigade, and Michelle Wolf.
Gildafest’15 will be held on Monday, April 27, 2015 at Carolines on Broadway.
“From trailblazers Gilda Radner and Jane Curtin, who paved the way for female comics in Season 1, to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who anchored the "Weekend Update” desk with confidence and flair — here are the 23 ground-breaking moments of women on “SNL.”