Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Reverend's Interview: Ana Gasteyer Has Pride

Don’t expect her to appear as a topless Martha Stewart, as she occasionally did during her six seasons on Saturday Night Live, but Ana Gasteyer is promising a sure to be memorable mix of comedy and music when she performs at Orange County Pride on Saturday, August 9th. This free event will take place from 12:00 noon-10:00 pm in downtown Santa Ana.

“I’m a singer so I’m coming with my Good Time Band, but I’m a good time girl so we will keep it light,” Gasteyer said during a pre-Pride interview. “I try to draw people to me like the North Star; I’ll be dressed in glitter and am packing all my false eyelashes.”

She is fondly remembered for a number of hilarious characters she played on SNL from 1996-2002, which also included Celine Dion, music teacher Bobbie Mohan-Culp (with Will Ferrell as her fellow teacher/husband) and the co-host, with Molly Shannon, of the fictional NPR food show Delicious Dish. In one holiday-themed episode of the latter, Gasteyer, Shannon and guest host Alec Baldwin unforgettably discussed “Schweddy Balls,” somehow managing to keep straight faces throughout.

I asked Gasteyer if she will ever live that sketch down. “No, I never will, which is delightful,” she replied. “It’s great that it’s so out there (on YouTube and other websites) and people can still watch it. It’s the Christmas gift that keeps on giving!”

The comedian developed her skills during the early 1990’s as a member of The Groundlings improv group in Los Angeles. Perhaps less known to West Coasters, though, is that Gasteyer is also an accomplished singer. She originated the role of the crusading, green-skinned witch Elphaba in the Chicago production of Wicked and later reprised her performance on Broadway.

“It’s just been amazing,” Gasteyer says of her career accomplishments to date. “To sing in Wicked and to be on SNL are just mountaintop events. I’m really, really proud of my work on both of them, and so grateful to have had those opportunities.”

Appropriately, this year’s OC Pride theme is “Pride is YOU.” I inquired as to how Gasteyer’s upcoming appearance came about. “I honestly don’t know. My agent called and Pride is always one of my favorite events,” she recalled. “The crowd is always so joyful and ebullient and, as a girl diva, I love my gay audiences (laugh). I think there is a lot to celebrate and acknowledge in the gay community, especially in terms of the growing recognition of marriage equality.”

Gasteyer performed at Indianapolis Pride last year but is excited that OC Pride will mark her first chance to sing outdoors at a Pride event. “What’s it like?” she asked. “Do people actually stay in front of the stage, or are they walking around and I have to beg for their attention? Because I will!” I assured her she will have an admiring audience assembled before her.

The chanteuse is also excited about her new CD, I’m Hip, which will be released in September. “It’s really a throwback to the Big Band sound and style of the 1930’s. I’m hoping it’s the kind of CD people will put on and have a martini while they listen to it.”

I asked Gasteyer to share some of her musical and comedic influences. “I was very influenced by jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Eartha Kitt and Dinah Washington. Also Nat King Cole and that Shirley Bassey sound. I love the idea or image of a woman singing in front of a band.” And comedy? “Lily Tomlin is such a legend, and Gilda Radner of course. I’m also influenced by Bob Newhart and his quieter approach to comedy, and Tim Conway’s.”

Since her run on SNL ended, Gasteyer has continued to make ‘em laugh through such TV series as Suburgatory and Girls as well as movies including Mean Girls, last year’s LGBT-themed Geography Club and my personal favorite of hers, Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical (2005). She was audibly delighted when I mentioned my appreciation of her turn as Mae, the drug dealer’s lingerie-loving girlfriend, in the latter. “Oh, thank you! It was incredible and a dream job to play that campy style of melodrama. It’s rare to have that many opportunities in one part or character. It was great, great fun, even though I spent the last three weeks covered in fake blood, which was totally sticky and gross.” (See her extoll the virtues of "The Stuff" in this clip.)

It will surely be a Pride season treat to have the multi-talented Gasteyer in Santa Ana (courtesy of La Mirada Theatre) all the way from her current home in Brooklyn, New York. “I’m really looking forward to singing for everybody and keeping the party moving,” she said in closing. “I’m also schlepping a bunch of straight boys along to play behind me, so that should be entertaining for everybody!”

For more information, visit the OC Pride website.

Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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