Heidi Gardner Tells Us About Her Two-Year Crusade To Get NFL Star Travis Kelce Booked To Host ‘SNL’

Since Heidi Gardner‘s debut on Saturday Night Live in 2017, she’s been pretty clear about her rooting love for her hometown Kansas City Chiefs – often appearing in the show’s sendoff/finale (aka the “goodnights”) dressed head-to-toe in Chiefs gear. Already a standout cast member, this past season Gardner took on an even bigger role with the show after the departure of eight cast members. In fact, of the current cast who appear in sketches, Gardner is now third in seniority (only behind Kenan Thompson and Mikey Day). Gardner had a terrific season, and as she says ahead, it was for her, the most creatively satisfying season of her career.

But, her shining achievement this season just might have been the Travis Kelce episode. Kelce, the star tight end for the Chiefs, had just won his second Super Bowl and has a reputation of being a, let’s say, lively personality and is actually pretty funny (unless you’re a fan of whatever team Kelce is playing that week, then it’s a little less funny). Gardner, as she tells us ahead, had been pitching Kelce for the last two years thinking he’d be a great host. On March 4th, Gardner finally got her wish … and then felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility. What if it didn’t go well? What if Kelce wasn’t having fun? What if she didn’t get on the show that week? Finally, as she tells us, she just had to let go and just enjoy the ride. (By the way, Kelce was incredible and Gardner appears in almost every sketch. And as I mention ahead, I was at the dress rehearsal that night and it was obvious even from the audience what all this meant to Gardner.)

How did you pull off Travis Kelce hosting? How did you even mention this in the first place?

I just usually say that I just did a good job of never shutting my mouth about it. It was probably about two years ago, I think I had just worked with Travis on something, like the ESPYs, and also I just noticed his persona during games and I was like, he’s really funny. He’s charming. He’s personable. I saw him on other telecasts and he seems very comfortable in front of the camera. Every couple of years SNL has an athlete host and I always feel like that’s one of the most exciting types of hosts because no one expects them to be great. So if they are, it’s very cool and very fun for everyone. Something to me just said: Travis Kelce’s the next. I was saying that, it was after the Chiefs had won their second Super Bowl ever…

In 2020, Super Bowl LIV…

Yeah. Then they lost to the Bucs. And then they didn’t win the AFC Championship the next year. It was just in this weird time where I think everyone was like, “Well yeah, we’re beginning to know who Travis Kelce is, if you’re not a football fan. But it sure would be nice if the Chiefs win the Super Bowl.” Then this year the Chiefs were just picking up a lot of momentum. To the ladies who work in the talent department, I would be like, “I really think Travis should host, I really think Travis should host.” They’re like, “Yeah, Lorne does too. It’s just, he has to win the Super Bowl.” And I wasn’t sure if that was actually true or not…

Right. Because J.J. Watt hosted and he didn’t win the Super Bowl.

Yeah. I think they were just messing with me because they were like, “If he doesn’t beat the Bengals this week and we’re asking Joe Burrow.”

Oh, no.

I don’t think any of that’s true. I think they were just messing with me. But when the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, I think the offer was out that next day. Everybody was very on board. It was literally just me running my mouth for two years straight. That’s all I say. I don’t know, I think a lot of other people are responsible for it. I think Travis Kelce is responsible for his talent. I just never shut up.

I love Patrick Mahomes, and I think he’d be good. But, Kelce seems on another level…

Yeah. I was also trying to pitch them as a combo.

Oh, wow…

But I also think if you start to watch Patrick from his latest Jimmy Kimmel interview after they won this last Super Bowl…

I did watch that. Yes.

Yeah, I think he is getting really comfortable in front of the camera. I will also be campaigning for him to host. This is all I do there now, I try to get Chiefs to host SNL.

I’m looking forward to five years now when Harrison Butker hosts SNL.

[Laughs] I’m just getting maybe season tickets by that point.

How was this last season for you? The season before a lot of people left. It felt like you kind of took charge after that.

It was so cool. Yeah. I just felt like we did have the biggest exodus I’d ever experienced at SNL. We hadn’t had anything like that prior from my time there. I just … I thought this year would be a rebuilding year. I thought that’s what it would be categorized as and so I really had no idea for me or the rest of the cast how it would read. Just because we had so many people leave, I thought that would be the story … and that was a story. But then also, just by default, I just feel like I got passed the ball a lot more. Personally, for me, it was a very creatively fulfilling season. When you just feel useful, it just felt busy. Also, I think when you’re doing more at SNL just consistently, then so much pressure isn’t just on your one sketch or your chance to shine every three weeks. It’s like, “Well, I’m active throughout the show. I’m doing a lot. I’m not holding anything too tight. It’s all just fun.” That energy, I really felt that this season. I just got to do so much that I got to be a lot more loose and free and that felt great.

You mentioned more creatively fulfilling and being loose and free. Even the year before, season 47, you still didn’t feel quite that way?

I think I was having a lot more fun in season 47. I just think, and I’m trying to think back, it’s hard. They all blend together. No, I just did feel a bigger difference this year. It just felt more creative. There was just more to do and that felt great. It was a difference.

I feel like the Kelce show was your crown jewel of this past season. You made this happen, you’re in almost every sketch. Before that show, did you feel more pressure since this is what you’ve been wanting?

I felt like I was just having fun talking about it for the last two years. Just being like, “This should happen. This should happen.” I would say it to Travis all the time. I only knew him a little bit. Then once the week of the show started and I suddenly realized, oh… hosting SNL is a huge responsibility. Like, oh my God, I hope he is having fun. And, oh my God, I hope the show all goes well. I suddenly felt this massive responsibility that I had not planned on. But, for me, I was like, okay, the only way for me to have fun this week is actually to let go of that responsibility and be like, “Everyone’s an adult. Everyone can take care of themselves. Heidi don’t.” But also make sure, just like with any host that comes in, that I’m also helping take care of the host and make sure we welcome them into our home.

With Travis, it was really cool, since I’m such a fan and I love sports so much. I was asking him, “What’s your game day routine?” He was like, “Oh, you wouldn’t believe it. But I eat Uncrustables. Before the game and even during the game to keep my energy up.” So on Saturday I bought three boxes of Uncrustables. I made sure he had those.

Oh, that’s great.

It was funny. It was during dress rehearsal, we were in a sketch together and he leaned over before it started and he was like, “I’ve been pounding those Uncrustables all day. Thank you.” And I was like, “Good!” That was just such a fun show. But I also tried to make sure everyone knew that show was so special to me. But even when I got asked to do – not the Thursday promo, I did do that – but the Tuesday promo. I just politely declined. I was like, “I know everyone knows this is really special to me. I don’t want this week to be about me.”

You’ve made it clear during the goodnights what team you root for on a weekly basis. I think people knew.

That was the first week I don’t think I wore a Chiefs thing. Because I was like, I’ve made it abundantly clear and this is the cherry on top. I don’t need to wear full head-to-toe Chiefs this week.

Did he agree to just anything? Because even the “American Girl” sketch, I can’t believe he agreed to that.

I know he was so down for everything. Also, I had to give myself a talk to my inner child self at the beginning of the week that was like, “Hey, I know you want this week to be perfect, but there is a chance, like sometimes happens at SNL, where you might be blamed for a show. You might not get in a sketch. Hope that you are, but just a very realistic, take your ego out of it no matter what. This is so cool. A Kansas City Chief is hosting the show.” Also, my brother Justin was there, my younger brother was there. I had friends fly in from Kansas City. I threw a tailgate in my dressing room and I told myself, “If you’re not in the show this week, you get to watch it with your entire family and that’s really cool too, and we can all just be Chiefs fans.” Then the Kelce brothers came before the live show and they tailgated and ate barbecue. I was like that’s so cool. “I know for a fact you’re the only host that’s ever tailgated before a show.”

There were a lot of Chiefs fans in the crowd, which surprised me. Your brother told me you had something to do with that with a charity auction.

Yeah, it just so happened, this charity that I’m a part of, the Big Slick, I had auctioned off two tickets to SNL the summer before. It just so happens those people picked that March 4th date to come to the show. Because I never do it dependent on a host because I don’t know the host. When they came back to my dressing room, I was like, “Can you believe you picked this date?” And they were like, “No!” It just couldn’t have been more Kansas Citian perfect.

People in my circles know I am a big Chiefs fan. If he wasn’t good, I would have heard about it. Even Eagles fans I know have come up to me, begrudgingly, “Yeah, he was good.”

Here’s why I knew he’d be good. SNL is its own beast. Then once you’re in it and you’re reading all these sketches, you’re learning to read cue cards, you’re learning to go back and forth with your eye line between cue cards. I started to feel like, oh my God, this is so overwhelming. It’s even overwhelming for me sometimes. Okay, I’m looking at Ego here, Bowen at this set of cue cards and just remembering all that. But when he was getting notes like that from writers, producers, all these things, I was like, “Oh man. That’s a lot to remember.” And then I was like, wait, this man gets adjustments an entire game. Just remembering full on plays. And he’s also on live TV every week. I was like, “wait, this is all going to come together.” I just had this moment before the live show where I was like, “He’s so good. He’s going to be just fine. It’s his job.” That’s what I think can really make an athlete shine and where our jobs are kind of similar.

He seemed to have great chemistry with Bowen in “Straight Male Friend.”

I think there was. I think also, I heard some stories from the set. In that scene where he’s eating the Buffalo Wild Wings? Either you have prop food or it’s like no one wants to eat those. Travis was just going through the wings and I think the director was like, “Dude, you don’t have to eat those.” And he is like, “I’m hungry.” I was like, so “football player.” Perfect.

Okay, so what other show stands out for you this past season?

That show and the Steve Martin, Martin Short one. Because those are just, that was my whole childhood with older movies. I just really felt like the kid in me was like, “A Chief is hosting SNL and my favorite actors from my childhood are hosting SNL.” And I just couldn’t not be so happy.

Also, we had a couple of new writers at the show this year. Jimmy Fowlie, we shared an office together and he is an old friend of mine and I felt like I had a lot of fun writing with him. Ceara O’Sullivan, I worked with her on a couple “Updates,” actually a few “Updates” that I’m really proud of. Towards the end of the season, we did the mom who has three daughters and one son. Then we did the busy coworker doing seemingly nothing. Those “Updates” for me are a couple of my favorites ever.

But is the Kelce episode your favorite? It has to be.

I think it is, for the Chief’s reasons, for sure. I can’t imagine my world’s colliding in a more beautiful way than that and having my family there. It was very sweet.

No, trust me, I’ve talked to a lot of people in Kansas City. You’re very popular there now.

I think it might be because of that episode.

Well, wherever you were at before, it doubled because of that episode because everyone knows how involved you were…

Yeah, I think it helped.

I heard a story that during the Chiefs’ bye-week last season he was in New York and showed up at the after-after party and sang “My Way.”

I think he just wanted to come to the show. It was the Jack Harlow show and it was really fun seeing him out there watching from the floor. Then I actually didn’t go to that after-party, or maybe I didn’t go to the after-after, but I’m sure he probably did sing that. But I do know on Monday it was as if, when I got to work, it was as if my best friend had been at the after party and everyone was coming up to me, “We love them. Oh my God!” Everyone was reporting back to me and I was like, “Well that’s great to hear.” We’re not that close. I didn’t want to false represent, but it was just like, you could tell everyone was like, “He would be a good host. You’re not crazy.”

Well, it’s not false representing, like you said, you pushed for this for two years. If you’re not in the cast, he probably doesn’t host. That’s a fair statement, right?

I don’t know if that’s a fair statement because I just want to give the talent department credit that they’re always looking for interesting, cool hosts. Whether they be entertainers, athletes, or both. I would assume he would be on their radar? I don’t know, maybe it’s my Midwest modesty.

Okay, yes, I would’ve said the same answer. But even from the audience, I could tell how much that show meant to you.

That was really cool. Yeah, thanks for reliving that with me.

Anyway, I look forward to Chris Jones hosting next season.

I’ll get them all! Gotta catch them all, to come on.

Andy Reid, I think he needs his shot.

Oh, he would be fantastic!

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.