In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people the same 11 interesting questions.
Vanessa Bayer is busy. The Saturday Night Live vet has just delivered a scene-stealing role in the new insta-cult classic Barb & Star Go To Vista Del Mar, has been popping up up in guest spots all over network television, and is developing her own show, I Love This For You, about a woman who, like Bayer herself, overcomes childhood leukemia before finding a career on television. On the show, it’s a home shopping network and not a long-running and somewhat legendary comedic sketch show, but you get the picture.
Still, Bayer wasn’t too busy to give thoughtful consideration to every one of our 11 questions. Below, she reminisces about a childhood ranch vacation, conjures up visions of the Cleveland mainstay she frequents when she’s back home, and schools us how she learned how to say no. But first, we had to talk to her a bit more about her recent Watch What Happens Live appearance, where she performed a one-woman scene as two of the Real Housewives Of Salt Lake City’s biggest personalities.
Listen to our full conversation with Bayer on this week’s episode of The A.V. Club’s podcast Push The Envelope—which also features editor-in-chief Patrick Gomez and TV editor Danette Chavez discussing the film nominees for the 2021 Golden Globes—and read some of the transcript down below.
The A.V. Club: First off, your Lisa Barlow and Whitney Rose impressions are amazing.
Vanessa Bayer: Thank you so much. I was really excited to do it. But also, you just always are like, “Are they going to see this? Probably.” So you don’t want to disappoint, I guess is the thing. But thank you. I was excited to get to do it. When I was watching the show, I immediately hooked into [Lisa Barlow’s] voice.
AVC: Have you seen the video of Lisa and her son talking about their men’s grooming line Fresh Wolf? He’s talking, but she’s mouthing all the words that she clearly wants him to say.
VB: I would love to watch it. First of all, there’s nothing funnier than just... all of it. The idea that it’s called Fresh Wolf… every part of it is perfect.
VB: I think it was my grandparents’ anniversary—I want to say it was their 40th anniversary or something—but I was about 4 years old or 5 years old, and we all went to this ranch. I think it was in California. But we went to a ranch and I just remember it being so fun.
I think something that has informed that, too, is that we have so many great pictures from it. There’s a picture of my mom and I in a canoe and it’s so cute. And then there’s this picture of my brother and I that my aunt took—let’s say I’m 3 or 4 and he’s 5 or 6—and we’re just walking on this farm, holding hands. She took this photo from the back and caught this sweet moment with my brother, which I think, especially at that age, those weren’t necessarily happening all the time.
It was such a fun time to be with family. I remember the adults went on a harder horseback riding thing, and I went on the easy horseback riding thing. I also think my grandma bought me and my brother cowboy boots. Anyways, I’m giving you a lot of details that are unnecessary, but it’s just the idea of going to a ranch with your family. I still have light memories of being there and just thinking, “This is great. We’re at a ranch and it’s so cool.” I think if I was a few years older, I’d have more memories, but still, it was pretty, pretty good.
AVC: You’re going to have to call your brother [musician and writer Jonah Bayer] and say, “I’m remembering it like this. Is this how you remember it?”
VB: I know Jonah will remember it a little better than me, but it was just cool that we got to go to a ranch. How cool was my family that they got that together?
2. What’s something that’s considered a basic part of your current career that you struggled to learn?
VB: I guess saying no to things. When I first started working and booking jobs, I felt like I needed to say yes to everything, and now I understand that there’s a lot of value in saying no to things that don’t excite you or don’t feel like they’re productive. If you’re not into doing them, then you’re probably not going to do a great job anyway, so someone who is more suited for that thing should be doing it.
I’m a people pleaser, as many people are, and so I always want to do the thing that makes the other person feel good. I’d love to psychoanalyze this very simple answer and make it very boring for you, but the point is just that I think I’ve learned that saying no is is often the right thing to do.
AVC: That makes a lot of sense, especially you probably get asked to do improv shows and drop-ins and all the time.
VB: Right, right, right, right. And sometimes it’s like, “I’ll be a sack of garbage at that thing. You should get someone else.”
3. Did you pick up any new skills, hobbies, or got into something you hadn’t before during quarantine?
VB: I’ve been cooking a lot more, which… what a unique answer! But new skills? I started knitting again. I used to basically only know how to knit scarves and blankets and now I’ve learned how to knit beanies. So that’s kind of a new thing.
AVC: What are you cooking?
VB: There’s this white bean and celery ragout that’s a New York Times recipe and… look, do I subscribe to The New York Times? Yes. Do I subscribe to their cooking thing? Questionable. But the thing is, sometimes you can still get the recipes even if you don’t.
I don’t know why I felt like I needed to come clean with that, but the point is that it’s cannellini beans and zucchini and scallions and celery and it’s so good. I guess it’s a Chez Panisse recipe, which I didn’t even know about Chez Panisse and now a lot of my friends have been like, “We have to go to Chez Panisse once the quarantine is over.” And I’m like, “Of course we have to go to Chez Panisse!” I feel so fancy, just saying Chez Panisse, but also maybe because I’ve mentioned it so much already they’ll bring us a free dessert or something when I eventually go.
The point is I’ve been making that ragout at least once a week.
4. What restaurant do you not live near, but make a point to hit every time you’re in the right town?
VB: When I’m in Cleveland, I always go to Tommy’s. It’s my favorite restaurant. I love Tommy’s. It’s amazing.
When I’m in Chicago, I always go to Penny’s Noodle [Shop]. They have this vegetable noodle bowl that’s so amazing. It is so good, but it barely has any sauce on it. I don’t know how they do it. Every other place I’ve liked, and I guess I’ve only really lived in Cleveland, New York, and here in L.A., but every time I move somewhere, I’m always like, do they have something that rivals this Penny’s Noodle bowl? And they don’t. I love Penny’s in Chicago so much.
VB: I’m going to come off as really fancy and rich here, but I do have a Tesla. I have I have the Model 3, which is [the Tesla you get when] you’re able to just barely get a Tesla. It’s such a nice car. I’m more taking a dig at myself, not at Tesla Model 3 owners. I think it’s the greatest car of all time.
But anyways, my point is that it drives me a lot. When I’m on the freeway, I have it drive me and I cannot wait until everyone has self-driving cars and they can just talk to each other. Not like, “hey, how are you?,” but just communicate with each other and then we can just all be so safe and just let our cars figure it out instead of like us being emotional and making a turn because we feel pissed or whatever. Once that can happen, that will be so cool. A lot of people think that will be scary. I think it will be cool.
I drove when I was growing up in Cleveland in high school and stuff, and then I didn’t really live in a city where I drove again until I moved to L.A. a couple of years ago. So I think because I hadn’t been driving very much, I very easily transitioned into the self-driving stuff because I wasn’t like, “I’m used to driving this way.” Whereas I can I could see how someone who drives regularly and then is switching over to self-driving could be like, “This is so weird.”
VB: Let me think about this. The reason I’m thinking about it is because there’s so many.
AVC: A few SNL hosts probably exceeded expectations.
VB: You know, Kristen Wiig is a delight. She’s so kind and was always very welcoming to me when I started on the show and she’s so funny. She’s such an inspiring person to me because she’s so funny and she’s so warm and she’s just a master of her craft, which I feel like is such an actor-y thing to say, and I’m immediately regretting it, but I do mean it.
Paul McCartney was so nice. My parents came to the show when he was the musical guest, and he was so nice to my parents. I got to see my mom revert to a teenager, which is a whole other story, but he’s like such a lovely person, which you’re like, “Wouldn’t he be so jaded?” But he was just friendly and sweet and just a delight. He’s so kind. I mean, brag, but every time I’ve seen him, every time he’d be at SNL, he was just such a lovely person. I think that probably has to do with why people love him so much, because it just kind of emanates from him.
VB: This is hard for me because I feel like for better or for worse, I’ve learned something from every job I’ve had. “Wow, she’s an inspiration.” Sorry.
The summer after I graduated from college, before I moved to Chicago, I was a hostess at this chain restaurant, which—I’m sure you’ve been there, but I don’t want to shame them and call them out by name, but it was just so hard.
The food industry… Is that what people call the service industry? I don’t know, but that whole restaurant industry—let’s call it that—is really tough. I think the servers have it much harder than the hostesses do, but I just remember it was a lot of time on my feet and they told us to talk to the people who are coming to eat the whole way to their table. A lot of the people who were coming to eat there were my friend’s parents, so I would get in trouble for talking to them too much because I was so excited to see them because I was just out of college, so I hadn’t talked to any of them since since high school and I love talking to parents. So I guess in some ways that job was really fun.
I was so conscious of having to talk to people all the way until they were seated from the hostess stand to their seat that I remember going to restaurants after that and being so conscious of whether the hostess would talk to me or not.
I just remember the bread that we would put on every table. I remember going into the bathroom with bread hidden under my shirt and just eating so much bread in the stall because I was so hungry because you just had to stand there and wait for people to eat. It was a challenging job because I was eating bread in the bathroom all the time, I guess.
AVC: Working in restaurants, you’re either super busy, or you’re just standing there.
VB: I think that’s the other part. It’s super busy or super slow, and there’s never that in between.
Also, when people are hungry, they’re not great to the people who work at the restaurant. Halfway through when I was working there they started taking reservations. They didn’t take them at first, so we would have to like estimate how long people would have to wait and people would get very, very mad at me.
VB: I mean, given the option, I would probably keep my own family, but that’s not a very fun answer.
AVC: Well, let’s say you marry into a family, or you find out your dad’s long-lost cousin is some guy.
VB: I’d like to be a very close cousin of the family from Troop Beverly Hills. Shelley Long could be my mom figure, Jenny Lewis would be my sister, and Craig T. Nelson would be my dad figure.
I guess I’d want to be marrying or joining into the real version of the family, because I like all those people so much, but I also like their characters a lot.
AVC: You could be the woman that works with Shelley Long, too. You could hang out and make sure everyone’s in order. Make sure the troop’s all together.
VB: Oh, Mary Gross. Yeah, exactly. I would want to be her once she’s in their world.
AVC: Exactly. They’re remaking or rebooting Troop Beverly Hills, and I always want to know if actors and writers hear that news and then lobby their agents, like, “Here is a picture of me in my Troop Beverly Hills shirt. Here is me doing the ‘Cookie Time’ song. I am perfect for this.”
VB: From a first-hand perspective, I’ll tell you that that is true, and I have first-hand experience in that.
9. What’s the first piece of art, or, earliest piece of media, that inspired you to go into your field?
VB: I used to watch SNL a lot when I was little, and I think that definitely had something to do with it.
Also, what I was going to say is consciously or unconsciously, my brother and I and even my parents, we used to watch Tommy Boy so much. We just loved it so much and quoted it. All my friends watched it and quoted it. We couldn’t watch it enough times. It never got old. I just think about the way that I feel when I’m watching Tommy Boy, like, how can we keep this going?
VB: I think it might be my friend Kitty. Her last name is Muto now. It used to be Long when we were growing up. She was always one of the funniest people I know. My dad is also very funny, so I’ll say my dad and Kitty.
VB: This is pretty easy, actually, because I was a pescatarian for like 20 years. I started at overnight camp but then I started eating meat again in my very early 30s.
As soon as I started eating meat again, I was like, “What the hell was I doing not eating turkey sandwiches?” Especially really thin turkey, like deli meat turkey, what could be better? So it would be a turkey sandwich. And I think that if I’m getting everything that I really want, I think I’d have like a cheese, a lettuce element, some mustard on there and maybe some pickles.
I know that like to some it’s like, “Who cares?” But to me, a turkey sandwich, honestly, just as long as there’s turkey in there, it’s good. And look, is it the most specific sandwich you’ve ever heard of? Probably not. But just because it’s specific doesn’t mean it’s a great sandwich. And you can quote me on that.
AVC: Thank you, and congratulations on Barb And Star. It’s such a fun, quotable movie, and people are really loving it.
VB: Oh, my God, I’m so excited for people to see it. I just think that it is such a joyful movie, aside from it being hilarious. Kristen [Wiig] and Annie [Mumalo] are so good and everybody is so good in it and it’s so funny and well-written. It’s so full of joy in a way that I think people really need right now. It makes you laugh and it’s just so fun, and I think we’re all craving that right now. So I am so excited for it to finally be coming out because it’s just wonderful. I love it so much.
AVC: It’s always good to hear a Chico’s joke or a Jennifer Convertibles mention.
VB: Speaking of my friend Kitty, as teenagers, not as little kids, we used to dress up in her mom’s skirt suits and stuff to take pictures and we’d invite boys over to see us in our weird outfits, which, they were like, “you guys are weird.” We just love that world. I love a pearlised button. I love a gorgeous slack.