‘SNL’ alum Ana Gasteyer comes home to DC for Arena Stage show

March 24, 2023 | (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — She grew up in D.C. before making us laugh on “SNL.”

Now, the hilarious Ana Gasteyer comes home for a special show at Arena Stage on Monday night.

“An Evening with Ana Gasteyer” will feature the actress/singer/comedian performing jazz renditions of “One Mint Julep,” “Proper Cup of Coffee” and Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats.”

“It’s their annual gala to raise money for this amazing theatre and organization,” Gasteyer told WTOP. “I’ll be doing my act, which I tour the country with, and singing a bunch of ridiculous songs from my ridiculous jazz album and telling stories, I’m sure, about growing up in D.C.”

Born and raised in the nation’s capital, Gasteyer learned violin at age 5, became a classically-trained singer, studied at Washington School of Ballet and starred in high school musicals at Sidwell Friends.

“I was a classical vocalist and violinist throughout my childhood there,” Gasteyer said. “My professional debut was as a child chorus girl in the Washington Opera. I was definitely from a more classical training bent as a kid, and then I sang my way into Northwestern University in Chicago.”

There, she joined Northwestern’s improv group “The Mee-Ow Show” — and her life changed.

“I knew I was a good, funny performer just from plays and stuff like that,” Gasteyer said. “But when I got to college … I auditioned for [Mee-Ow], got in and immediately realized these are my people.”

From there, she moved to Los Angeles and joined The Groundlings sketch and improv company, which has churned out numerous stars, including Phil Hartman, Lisa Kudrow and Jon Lovitz.

“It’s kind of a huge gateway to ‘Saturday Night Live,’ and that’s how I got seen for ‘SNL,” she said.

So, she moved to New York City and joined the “SNL” cast from 1996-2002. Her Washington background made her the perfect choice to play politicians like Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Dole, not to mention recent Internet buzz about her supposed resemblance to Ted Cruz’s wife, Heidi.

“Kate McKinnon does a killer Hillary,” Gasteyer said. “I did ‘Hillary 1.0’ when she was the first lady and the first lady only, so there wasn’t so much meat there. I think right in my last season, she was running for senate. … An impression is only as interesting as the work that’s someone’s doing.”

Most famously, Gasteyer and Molly Shannon starred in the recurring “NPR Delicious Dish” sketch, which became a timeless classic when Alec Baldwin guest-starred for the “Schweddy Balls” edition.

“I grew up in an NPR household and have a conflicted love-hate relationship with them, as all people who love NPR do,” Gasteyer said. “I’d done the sketch at The Groundlings, then did it repeatedly at ‘Saturday Night,’ and then when Alec was hosting, the joke came up … and we ended up writing it.”

She said she couldn’t have imagined the lingering legacy of the “Schweddy” sketch.

“You never know when you’re creating anything if it’s gonna take,” she said. “That sketch in particular has had half-lives. It was incredibly successful in the moment, people loved it, people thought it was hilarious, ha ha ha, but then you went on with your life. … It hasn’t been that much time, but the Internet has changed everything. … You wouldn’t have things show up on the Internet the next day.”

“A lot of the stuff I did was musical, so it’s harder to find, because nobody wants to pay for the rights, so they don’t want to re-air it. So the Culps are actually really quite hard to find,” Gasteyer said.

She, of course, is referring to her and Will Ferrell’s duo Bobbi and Marty Culp, a married couple of middle school music teachers who enthusiastically perform unhip versions of modern pop songs.

“Oh my god, it was so fun,” she said. “I actually tweeted about them yesterday because it was National Music Teacher Appreciation Day. … It was always like a labor of love. … The songs were always like this afterthought. … The hardest thing was finding the story and creating the disasters that would befall them en route, and then we would jam out those medleys to involve something modern.”

But after all the successful years in comedy, she craved a return to her musical theatre roots.

“After I left ‘SNL’ … I had to make up for a lot of time. Musical theatre is really hard and takes a lot of discipline and training. So I just put my nose to the grindstone and I did four Broadway shows and I did a bunch out of town and a couple off-Broadway, so that’s where I had to catch up,” she said.

Her theatre return included major roles in Broadway’s “Wicked” and “Threepenny Opera.”

“It was a cool extreme to go to after ‘SNL,'” she said. “Everything on ‘SNL’ is about getting it out and working quickly, spontaneously and under enormous pressure, whereas ‘Wicked’ is the same amount of pressure, but it’s all about refinement and exactitude. … All Broadway shows, all theatre is done in this very elaborate and specific and tracked way, because you have to do same thing every day.”

She has also spent the past decade starring in ABC’s “Suburgatory” (2011-2014) and the movie “Mean Girls” (2004), where she reunited with “SNL” alums Tina Fey, Tim Meadows and Amy Poehler.

What many forget is that she made her TV debut on the “Soup Nazi” episode of “Seinfeld,” where she was turned away from the soup counter just before Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ famous final scene.

“It was my first TV job,” she said. “I was so excited. … It’s like a legendary episode.”

For all this, Gasteyer has become a household name, routinely tapped to fill in on ABC’s “Live,” where she recently stepped in for Kelly Ripa during the network’s drama over Michael Strahan’s departure.

“I really like Kelly, I really like Michael,” Gasteyer said. “I’ve done that when they go on vacation and stuff, so that’s why they called. I’m here in New York and undaunted by drama. … But it wasn’t my drama, you know? I knew I was just there to help out and smooth things over for the day.”

While morning TV viewers will recognize her from occasional talk shows, prime-time viewers will remember her role in FOX’s “Grease Live!” (2016), where she played Principal McGee, source of the memorable high school P.A. announcement: “If you can’t be an athlete, be an athletic supporter.”

Likewise, if you can’t be a theatre star, be a theatre supporter Monday night at Arena Stage.

“I grew up deeply connected to the Arena Stage,” Gasteyer said. “My parents were members there and … I think I saw 30 shows or something there growing up. It had such a huge influence on my becoming a performer because it was just smart, interesting, interpretive theatre.”

The event kicks off at 5:30 p.m. with a VIP cocktail reception, followed by a dinner presentation of Arena’s inaugural Beth Newburger Schwartz Award to its namesake Beth Newburger Schwartz.

The main event brings Gasteyer’s show at 8:30 p.m., followed by dancing and dessert.

“I like it when people have a couple cocktails while I’m performing,” Gasteyer said. “It’s got a supper club, nightclub vibe to it. I always enjoy a drunk crowd more than a not drunk crowd. They tend to be out to have a good time, and that’s the only reason I perform — for people to have a good time.”

Tickets cost $150 for young professionals (age 35 and under), $500 for patron sponsors (tax deductible portion is $850) and $1,000 for ensemble sponsors (tax deductible portion is $450). All proceeds support Arena Stage’s award-winning Artistic and Community Engagement Programs.

“I’m looking forward to seeing who comes out of the woodwork from D.C.,” she said.

Click here for more ticket information. Listen to the full interview with Ana Gasteyer below:

March 24, 2023 | (Jason Fraley)
March 24, 2023 | (Jason Fraley)

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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