In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Though she’s undoubtedly best known for characters like Mary Katherine Gallagher and 50-year-old dancer Sally O’Malley on Saturday Night Live, Molly Shannon has been working pretty consistently for the past 30-odd years. She’s popped in on Will And Grace, Scrubs, Pushing Daisies, and Glee, played Marge McDougall in the revival of Promises, Promises on Broadway, and has even written a children’s book, Tilly The Trickster. Her latest film is Life After Beth, where she plays Geenie Slocum, mother to the recently dead but somehow still kicking Beth Slocum, played by Aubrey Plaza.
Molly Shannon: I worked at a dating service a long time ago. It was in the ’90s, and there were people that could look at one another’s tapes. And I was the girl who they would call to say, I’m calling to see if—the girls were numbered. I would say the name. “I’m checking to see if No…” They would request who they were interested in and then they would call to see if the girl was interested back—and I would have to say, “No. 22, this girl is not interested in you.” And then they would ask for the reasons why, and I would have to give them the reasons over the phone. Baldness, personality. And I would go in the bathroom and cry. It broke my heart. I was just too sensitive. I felt so bad. I hated it. It was interesting, but it broke my heart.
And I had to sell office supplies too; that was the worst. I had to cold call people asking if they wanted office supplies, and I did it for like one hour and then I remember I asked the woman who ran the thing: I was like, “Excuse me, can I have a key to go to the bathroom?” And she gave me this key with a long wooden stick attached to it. And I just left and got into my car and drove away, I think with the key. And I never came back.
MS: My mom died when I was 4, so I never really found out what she wanted me to be. But my dad—who was my primary caretaker after my mom died—he really just wanted me to be happy. He was very easygoing that way, about, “It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do what makes you happy.” So I think he was excited that I was going into show business. He was definitely concerned because he was like, “Oh, God.” He worried about my happiness, but he was very supportive. So yeah, he was really into that. He loved theater and the movies, so he was really supportive of my endeavors.
MS: I love that book Bartleby, The Scrivener, so maybe I would want to be a work friend of Bartleby’s. He seems sweet.
MS: I think I would be good at To Tell The Truth. Do you remember that old show where people would say they were the person? It’s an old game show that I loved. I think I’d be good at that—guessing who the real person is.
MS: What a good question. What a terrible question. That’s hard. Maybe that I can be tough.
MS: Mayonnaise, definitely mayonnaise. I’m a Midwestern girl, so I love mayo. Give me French fries with a side of mayonnaise. I like dipping things in mayonnaise. It’s the Cleveland in me. But yeah, on the sandwich could be: turkey, avocado, onions, cheese, mayo, or chicken salad or egg salad with mayo, and salt and pepper. Lots of salt and pepper and mayo.
MS: I remember, when I first started to make money, I started buying cappuccinos. That was really like, “Wow, I can afford a cappuccino.” So that was the big thing. And I still buy them every day, and I don’t appreciate it at all. I take it for granted.
MS: There’s a jingle that I can never get out of my head from Sears. “Almost everything you wanted but didn’t get for Christmas, is on sale now at Sears.” I sing that in the shower a lot. And then I love ballads that are dramatic. There’s that one song about loving a woman. “To really hold her, you’ve got to touch her.” I like songs like that, sappy love songs. And I did sing a song the other day by Judy Garland in the shower. It’s called “You Made Me Love You.” Or “Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart.” “Zing! went the strings of my heart, dear when you smiled at me.” I sang that in the shower last week. And I sounded good.
MS: When I first came to Los Angeles, I didn’t have a lot of money. I had graduated from NYU, and I came out here and I rented a car from a company called Rent-A-Wreck because I didn’t have money, and I was always taking cash advances on my credit card to pay for things. When I would go to my bank, I would say, “Could you tell me what my balance is?” And I would ask her to whisper it because it was so low or usually in negative funds, so I didn’t want everybody to hear. And so at that time, I didn’t have much for rent. So I looked in the paper, and there was an older woman who was in her 60s, who was a newly recovering alcoholic. And she was from Ireland and she was like, “If you want, you could sleep on my floor, and I’ll sleep on the couch.” So I was like, “Ugh, this is depressing.” But she was going to be my roommate. So that was probably the worst situation.
AVC: How long did you live with her?
MS: I never did move in with her. I ended up moving in with another girl who lived nearby because I was like, “I can’t do this.” So I ended up living with another girl very shortly, who was studying to be a psychologist. She was just not a good roommate, so that was not a great situation. But I almost moved in with a recovering alcoholic to sleep on her floor. She had a heart of gold, but I was like, this is not going to be great.
MS: I know I can’t take my sister because when we were little, we used to always fight. And my dad finally was so sick of being like, “Girls, stop fighting, stop fighting,” that he finally let us have a match at a hotel room in Palm Beach, Florida. We were at, like, a Holiday Inn. He was like, “I’m so sick of this.” So he let us have a fight. We met in the room at 3, and she was like, “I’m going to kick your ass.” And we were like 10 or 11 or 12, and she really got me good. She was like, “I told you.” So we never fought again after that because he let us have an actual boxing match. And she whooped my ass, so I can’t take her.
MS: I got the autograph from The Cure when they played on Saturday Night Live, which was so exciting. They were so kind and so nice, and they flew in on the Concorde, and I remember they all stayed to talk to every single fan that showed up after. And it was so exciting, so I have all of their autographs.
Bonus question from Paul F. Tompkins: When was the last time you cried?
MS: Aw, that’s such a sweet question. That is so sweet. My daughter and I were having a really sweet conversation, and I cried. I don’t want to get into what I cried about. But my daughter, Stella, and I were having a very sweet mother-daughter conversation and I got really choked up about something, and I cried. But it was a really special little conversation, and it was between my daughter and I, and it was about—I’d say—three weeks ago. I would say tears of joy.
MS: What’s one of your most embarrassing moments?