Live from New York, it’s…the best birthday party ever, as the legendary women of Saturday Night Live reunite (accompanied by a few of this season’s dudes). All this female greatness in one place? We’re not worthy!
When the first episode of Saturday Night Live aired on October 11, 1975, the show’s three female cast members—Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, and the late Gilda Radner—played, perhaps expectedly, nurses and housewives. Not expected? How weird, bold, and fearless they were—after all, they were nurses to bees and any bimbo housewife was a foil to bad-boy behavior. They showed women as smart, funny, complicated, and real. It was so addictive that SNL became TV worth staying in for, and the female power players were as big a draw as the guys. Over the decades SNL‘s woman power grew, and so did the instant-classic female characters born on Lorne Michaels’ stage. There was Molly Shannon’s self-confidence champion Mary Katherine Gallagher, Rachel Dratch’s Debbie Downer, and, of course, Tina Fey’s epic Sarah Palin. To celebrate 40 years of SNL, Glamour got 17 extraordinary female alumnae together to talk about everything that happens before and after the lights go on at Studio 8H.
The Groundbreaking History
AMY POEHLER: I was such a huge fan of Gilda, Jane, and Laraine. They paved the way for me in my formative teen years. There were the men too. I can’t remember their names, but they were great.
JANE CURTIN: We were brazen, and women were not brazen prior to SNL. We portrayed women as people, which is huge.
KATE McKINNON: Growing up I thought Cheri [Oteri], Molly [Shannon], and Ana Gasteyer were the best women ever. I still do.
CASEY WILSON: When I was little, I would take copious notes about SNL. My dad found one that said, “I really want to be on the show one day.” He photocopied it, and had the concierge put it in my hotel room the day I auditioned.
The Tryouts—and the Terror
KRISTEN WIIG: Auditioning for SNL is the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. It was terrifying.
CHERI OTERI: I got food poisoning the night before my audition. But even with no sleep, I could’ve danced with two broken legs. It’s that adrenaline!
SASHEER ZAMATA: I was about to move to L.A. when I got the audition call. I did Nicki Minaj and Rihanna at Thanksgiving, and Destiny’s Child in a three-legged race where they just argue and sing. I didn’t hear anything for a month and didn’t leave my bed. My roommates got me food.
LARAINE NEWMAN: Lorne came to The Groundlings [the comedy troupe she cofounded] when I was performing. I didn’t know that I was auditioning, which is a good thing because I suck at auditions.
CECILY STRONG: When I was told I got it, I was sobbing. I’m an over-dramatic crybaby.
LESLIE JONES: This is the first job I’ve had where I can actually be myself. I mean, in what other job can I just be a crazy person?
The Incomparable Friendships
RUDOLPH: I moved to New York specifically to work on the show. I was looking for a community, and most of us women huddled up together. Drinking is always a helpful way to bond at SNL.
CURTIN: The women on the show were very tight—we respected each other’s talents. And we understood that we were going to have to work harder than the guys.
FEY: When I look back on Amy doing Hillary [Clinton], pregnant, with all the attention on those [political] sketches, she was like Derek Jeter batting in the World Series with a screaming crowd. She was never distracted by the noise. She just did it.
AIDY BRYANT: Kate and I are best buds, and we started calling ourselves [Dyke and Fats]. We’d be like, “Sorry! Dyke and Fats are late.” We knew it was touchy, but it felt powerful to put it [in a 2014 skit], like, We don’t worry about this stuff, so neither should you.
POEHLER: Every time I did a scene with the other ladies, it felt like a highlight. And if it was a stinker, it was almost more fun to think about how we would laugh about it later.
ANA GASTEYER: My SNL peers are the ones who understand me best today. The show isolates you from real life for years, so for all of us to now have dogs and children—it feels like a victory.
WIIG: Leaving was a punch-in-the-gut sadness. It still lingers. I don’t think it will ever go away.
WILSON: The best advice I ever got was from Amy Poehler. We were backstage, and she said, “Whenever [announcer] Don Pardo calls your name, just take a second to be grateful. You’re getting to do what you love.”