Women in Comedy: Kristen Wiig
This article appeared in Elle magazine’s “Women in Comedy” special issue, published in July, 2016. Interview by Will Ferrell.
Kristen Wiig opens up to comedy soul mate Will Ferrell about nude body stockings, creative fulfillment, and (not) being Harry Styles.
If anyone deserves the overused descriptor “genre-defying,” it’s Kristen Wiig. As a solipsistic lottery winner in the dark comedy Welcome to Me, a powerdressed PR exec covering for NASA in The Martian, or a stunted young mother in the indie hit The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Wiig delivers emotive intelligence without fail. As Craig Johnson, her director in The Skeleton Twins, once told us: “Kristen’s brain works two seconds faster than the human brain.”
In seven seasons on Saturday Night Live, Wiig appeared in 705 sketches, populating not just the show but the culture with indelible characters—Target Lady and the one-upping Penelope among them. Then Bridesmaids made her a movie star and an Academy Award–nominated screenwriter (and the most GIF’d woman on the planet). Here, longtime friend and colleague Will Ferrell—who played her other half in Lifetime’s fabulously baffling A Deadly Adoption, in faux–celebrity couple “Willsten” (complete with matching moniker hoodies), and in Zoolander 2’s heavy-canoodling duo—takes her back. Way back.
WILL FERRELL: How great was The Groundlings? I think you and I share the same belief, like, “Gosh, if I hadn’t found a place like that, I don’t know if I would’ve found a way.”
KRISTEN WIIG: It completely changed my life. All through school, I just hated talking in front of class—I would get so nervous, I’d get sick. But there’s something about being onstage with someone else where you’re looking at them, you’re not really looking at the people who are listening to you, if that makes sense? Plus, you’re not yourself. I’m not the person who at a party will be like, “Hey guys, I have a story. Everyone gather ’round.”
WF: I beg to differ.
KW: I’m really not! I’m not comfortable holding court. In the middle of talking, I’m like, Everyone’s looking at me. What’s my mouth doing? At The Groundlings, you realize, Oh, when I do this or write this, someone laughs. And you also see really, really talented people fail, so it’s ingrained from the beginning that it’s part of it.
WF: So, Saturday Night Live. What was the first thing you got to do on the show? Was it all almost too enormous to be nervous?
KW: My very first show I got on something that I wrote. I was weirdly less nervous for that than I was for the first sketch I was in, which was about someone being pregnant in their butt. I think it was Poehler, and we had a
baby shower for her and—
WF: God, that’s good.
KW: I was scared that I was going to freeze or swear or pass out.
WF: Plus you have to stand up in that first pitch meeting and go, “Hi, I’m Kristen and here are my ideas.” It’s terribly awkward.
KW: I was nervous about that the entire time I was there. And that 10 seconds after you pitch—it’s always a little bit too long before the next person goes, and you just get really hot.
WF: I loved it when you danced to the Sia song at the Grammys.
KW: [That] was actually very therapeutic and kind of emotional.
KW: Yeah, I had to internalize what joy meant. And it was so out of my comfort zone: (a) Dancing. (b) Are people gonna say, “What the fuck is going on here?” And then I had to wear that leotard. But I was like, You know what? This is about just doing it, and who cares? And we did it, and it was one of the most creatively fulfilling things I’ve ever done.
WF: Let’s talk about your appearances on Jimmy Fallon. You’ve been Peyton Manning. You’ve been what’s-her-face from Game of Thrones?
KW: Uh-huh, Khaleesi.
WF: Khaleesi. You’ve been Michael Jordan.
KW: Mm-hmm. Oh, and Harry Styles.
WF: One thing that’s so exciting is the moment of anticipation, that the audience, for half a second, thinks it’s going to be the real person.
KW: Oh, yeah. When I was Peyton Manning, they started clapping and screaming and looking at each other with their mouths open going, “Oh my God! Peyton Manning!” And then I walk out, and they’re just like, “Oh.”
WF: So, Gwyneth Paltrow. You know she has her Goop line of products and website, which I believe is hair care, or is it cosmetics?
KW: I think it’s everything.
WF: Would you ever think of starting your own and call it Snoop? And it’s all things that are Snoop Dogg–focused?
KW: I mean, if you wanna go in on it with me, I’d be interested.
WF: Okay. So, I have some titles of hypothetical movies. Can you give me just a quick story line of each one? The first is God Can’t Stop Crying When I’m Wearing Jeans.
KW: Okay, it’s about a struggling country music star, Hank Melon. He grew up on the wrong side of the track with not a lot of money, and he makes it really big on a song called “My Jeans.” And he gets in a really bad car
WF: And perseveres.
KW: Oh, no. He dies.
WF: Okay, gotcha. Movie number two: The Calico Project.
KW: John Lithgow plays a scientist in Albuquerque who discovers something fishy is going on with the water department. His stepson, who he has a really bad relationship with, hacks into their computer system, and
they solve it together and then, you know, get closer.
WF: Okay, here’s my hardest question, and I hope I’m not crossing a line by asking it: What’s your character like in Ghostbusters?
KW: I play a woman named Erin who used to be a believer. I’m very close to Melissa McCarthy’s character, and we believed in ghosts—we wrote a book about it—and after sort of being ostracized and made fun of, I left that life and became a professor in physics and believed only in science and then…
WF: Now you’ve gotten pulled back in?
KW: Yeah, and then Kate’s and Leslie’s characters come into the group! So it’s like a repairing old friendships and not being afraid to say what you believe in kind of thing.
WF: How many times do you think you’ll be asked if you believe in ghosts?
KW: Every time.
WF: Kristen Wiig, I adore you. I think you’re one of the most talented, funniest people ever, of all time.
KW: That means a lot to me. You’re one of my favorite people in the world. Thanks for doing this. I’m sending over a brand-new wallet for you as a gift.