Kristen Wiig on Her Journey From Beverly Hills Hot Dog Server to One of Hollywood’s Brightest Stars
Actress, “Saturday Night Live” veteran, and Oscar-nominated comedian makes her Stern Show debut ahead of “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar”February 9, 2021
Kristen Wiig worked a variety of unusual and sometimes awful jobs in Los Angeles before landing some of the most coveted gigs in Hollywood. Before bringing audiences to tears in “Bridesmaids” and on “Saturday Night Live,” the now superstar sold peaches at a farmer’s market, answered phones at a law office, babysat celebrity children, and even shilled wieners at a gourmet hot dog restaurant in Beverly Hills. It was there she had her first brush with fame—well, second if you count running into Joey Buttafuoco at CVS.
“One of the first celebrities I ever met was Jon Lovitz when he came in there,” Kristen told Howard during her Stern Show debut Tuesday morning. “He came in and he had just bought a new camera or something. He was just kind of figuring it out and we talked about it, but I was freaking out.”
Those odd jobs helped Kristen pay her bills while she pursued her true passions (acting and later comedy), but success didn’t come overnight. At times, she wondered if she’d chosen the wrong career path. “You do feel like, ‘Am I making a mistake?’” she said. “But … you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else, so you just can’t help it. You keep going.”
Her trajectory changed after getting involved with L.A.’s famed improv school and comedy troupe the Groundlings. It was there she met Annie Mumolo, the woman with whom she co-wrote “Bridesmaids.” The Groundlings was also where she made a friend who eventually hooked her up with a side gig babysitting the children of actor-comedian Bob Odenkirk and his wife Naomi who worked as a producer and talent manager. Wiig soon grew close with the Odenkirks and after Naomi saw her perform a few shows with the Groundlings she helped Kristen take the next step in auditioning for “Saturday Night Live.”
“Naomi was a huge part in that whole process,” Wiig told Howard. “We even had conversations of like, ‘I don’t want to send your tape in yet. I don’t think it’s ready yet. Let’s get your tape to where it needs to be,’ which I really respect and agree with.”
Naomi served as Kristen’s manager for some time, but these days Wiig is flying solo. Considering they’d gone through so much together, Howard imagined ending the managerial relationship might’ve been difficult.
“It’s a breakup. It was horrible. You’re both crying. Your life changes and you go in different directions,” Kristen said. “I’m so eternally grateful for her, everything she did.”
Even after getting her foot in the door with an “SNL” audition, she still had her work cut out for her. The show’s creator Lorne Michaels made her try out twice before finally casting her in 2003. “A lot of people say it and it’s really true, [just auditioning was] a highlight of my life,” she recounted before explaining Lorne called her into his office after the first go-round just to tell her the cast didn’t have room for her.
“I got a call after that saying they wanted me to audition again, very soon, and in my mind I was like, ‘Do I have to come up with all new things?” she continued. “After that audition I went home and like didn’t hear anything and then the season premiere started.” Kristen assumed the show going on without her was a bad omen, but three episodes into the season NBC called her up and asked her to start immediately.
Howard wondered if joining the cast of a historic show like “SNL” ever felt intimidating.
“It’s terrifying,” she admitted. “Everyone’s so close and it’s like a family. It’s like you’re going into a living room filled with people who have lived in this house forever and you’re like, ‘Uh, I don’t know where to sit.'”
Her situation was further complicated by the fact she was a mid-season hire. “It’s kind of like going to a new school mid-year where people are like, ‘Wait, do you work here? Where did you come from?’” she explained.
If Wiig was scared she didn’t show it on screen and she quickly became one of “SNL’s” most beloved players, thanks in part to memorable homegrown characters like Target Lady and Sue as well as her spot-on impressions of stars ranging from Liza Minnelli and Ann-Margaret to Drew Barrymore and Kathie Lee Gifford. She told Howard she did her best to make her impressions funny without being overly critical of the subject. “I don’t want to be mean spirited and, also, you know, you run into people,” Wiig said.
Good-natured though they may be, performing impressions in front of the people she lampooned was tricky. “I do remember one time I was doing Suze Orman … and I knew she was coming to the show and I could just see her right above me in the audience and that made me feel very intimidated, but she was like so nice,” she said.
Kristen’s favorite guest hosts to work with during her epic “SNL” run included pop star Justin Timberlake and past Stern Show guest Scarlett Johansson. “I think I was there the first time Scarlett hosted and I was like, ‘I love her,’ because she’s really fucking funny and just good instincts,” she said.
“The best host is just someone who’s like, ‘I’m game. Let’s do it. What do you want me to do?’” Kristen explained. “People who don’t have acting backgrounds—like athletes—they’re some of my favorite hosts. They just want to try and they know it’s not their area of expertise.”
Kristen left “Saturday Night Live” in 2012 and her farewell episode was one for the ages. Her long goodbye at the end of the show featured dancing and heartfelt hugs with the other cast members and a cavalcade of special guests, including the Foo Fighters, Arcade Fire, Steve Martin, Jon Hamm, and the night’s host Mick Jagger who sang her off with “Ruby Tuesday.”
Howard said he had chills just thinking about it.
“I know. Oh, I have little chills now too,” Kristen responded, explaining Colin Jost wrote the piece which almost got cut for time.
“It was one of the best moments of my life, and saddest too,” she said, adding, “I didn’t watch it for a long time because I was scared to watch it. I knew I would cry.”
She didn’t say goodbye forever, of course. Since leaving the cast Kristen has returned to host “SNL” on four separate occasions, including just this past December to promote her recent comic book film “Wonder Woman 1984.” Howard wondered what hosting felt like after spending so many years as a regular player.
“The last time I did it it was very weird because of COVID … but it ended up being so fun,” Wiig said. “It’s weird being on that side of it, sometimes I kind of want to just be in the cast instead.”
Propelling her from beloved “SNL” veteran to veritable Hollywood heavyweight was her starring turn in the raunchy blockbuster “Bridesmaids,” which she and Mumolo co-wrote specifically for Judd Apatow, who Wiig had first worked with on “Knocked Up.”
Though Mumolo and Wiig created plenty of great comedy together at Groundlings, their expertise was in sketch comedy, not screenplays, and the two were absolute novices when they began working on the first draft of “Bridesmaids.”
“We literally bought screenwriting books,” she told Howard with a laugh.
Those must’ve been some books because Wiig and Mumolo were ultimately nominated for Best Original Screenplay and “Bridesmaids” became one of the top-grossing R-rated comedies in cinema history. At the time, of course, the duo had no idea their film would be a hit and she told Howard the test screenings made her more anxious than anything else.
Kristen’s next movie with Mumolo is next month’s “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” a fish-out-of-water buddy comedy they scripted and star in alongside “Fifty Shades of Grey” actor Jamie Dornan. “He was sort of like the prototype when we were writing it. We wanted this sort of like James Bond-y, someone who is known for more serious acting,” Wiig said of casting Dornan. “We sent him the script‑and it’s like, ‘Oh my god, he’s reading it? We were like embarrassed … When we found out he was doing it, it was like, ‘What?’”
In real life, Wiig’s leading man is her longtime partner Avi Rothman. The two welcomed twins in 2020, so Howard wondered if Kristen found it tricky to balance the responsibilities of motherhood with those of Hollywood.
“I am very lucky about having these two babies and my husband and they make it all better. They’ve changed my life,” she told Howard, though she admitted her “Barb and Star” press tour has given her less time than she’d like with her children. “It’s really hard because I’m always convinced they’re going to like forget who I am if I’m gone for a day,” she joked.
“I am nervous about actually leaving and going to work when that happens because there’s something really nice about being home with them all the time,” Kristen continued. “The time is coming and I’m going to do my best to balance and they will come first.”
“Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” opens Friday, Feb. 12 on demand.