In The End, Heidi Gardner Just Wants To Make You Laugh

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Heidi Gardner has just finished her second season on Saturday Night Live – known for her breakout characters like Bailey the Movie Critic and Angel the Girlfriend in Every Boxing Movie – and, instead of letting out that deep sigh of relief that comes after an SNL season comes to an end, she’s instead meeting me at an East Village bistro on an unseasonably sweltering New York City Monday afternoon so I can ask her questions about her life. (On her first day off of the summer, this was something I felt legitimately bad about.)

Gardner grew up Raytown, Missouri, a suburb just east of Kansas City. (I went to high school not far from there, so prepare for some local cultural references ahead.) Gardner’s story isn’t exactly the usual path to Saturday Night Live. Okay, well, yes, some of it is – like the part about being part of the famed improv/sketch comedy troupe, the Groundlings. But what makes this unique is Gardner joined the Groundlings kind of on a whim. After dropping out of the University of Missouri, Gardner headed west to Los Angeles, not for fame and fortune, but to cut hair – which she did for nine years before channeling the gumption to audition for the Groundlings. It was here she started to become, as she puts it, less shy and a lot of her Midwestern insecurities started to melt away. (Though, as she says ahead, she still considers herself very insecure.)

It was about a third of the way through this past season that Saturday Night Live started to make a shift from political satire to more traditional, “evergreen,” if you will, sketch comedy. Gardner, admittedly, doesn’t have a lot of interest in political humor, so the shift (which she agrees did happen) hugely benefited her. And it’s not surprising to learn that her favorite era of SNL was the late 1980s into the early 1990s, considering her brand of comedy does share similarities with that era. What is surprising is that she was watching that era of Saturday Night Live when she was six. And over the course of our lunch, Gardner walked me through a lot of her cultural sweet spots, including movies as wide-ranging as The Cable Guy, to Parenthood, to Buffalo ’66.

And since we were meeting on the day after the finale of the biggest TV show of the past decade, we started our discussion by airing our grievances with it.

Should we talk about Game of Thrones?

Yes. How do you feel?

About three or four weeks ago someone posted spoilers on Reddit that turned out to be true, so I’ve had time to get used to this.

Whoa. Okay. Now, did this guy have insider info?

It’s assumed he did, yes. And he had the big Bran plot point…

I mean, I get it…

Do you though?

I mean, I guess I get it in this weird, obscure way, but no one I know has ever cared about the one-eyed raven, or understood it or thought it was cool.

They literally wrote him off the show for an entire season.

So I just feel the show, the creators, and George R.R. Martin, and maybe even the cast thinks that Bran is this special thing, but we’re not in on that. None of us have ever embraced him. So it didn’t pay off, I feel like, for any fan. I mean, it was fine. I was glad that Jon Snow went with the Wildlings. That was cool. Because to think about him just in Castle Black forever again, that bummed me out. So yeah.

How old were you when you moved from Kansas City to Los Angeles?

When I moved to California, I had just turned 21. I was in college, and nothing was necessarily sticking. And you know, you’re paying a lot for college.

Was this Mizzou?

I was at Mizzou at this point. So nothing was sticking and my friend had asked me to give him a haircut once, and then I just started cutting all my friends’ hair and I’m like, “Well, I’m kind of good at this. I don’t feel like I’m good at school.” [The waiter asks for our order.] I could order if you’re ready.