By Nina Metz Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Aidy Bryant stars in a new Hulu series called "Shrill" which features the personal and professional escapades of a plus sized woman living in Portland. Nina Metz sits down for a Q&A with the "SNL" star on what makes this project so special.
With the new Hulu series "Shrill," which premiered earlier this month, Aidy Bryant is one of the few "Saturday Night Live" cast members to star on her own show while also maintaining her role on the NBC late-night comedy.
Based on the 2016 nonfiction book of essays "Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman" by Lindy West, the series follows the professional and personal trajectory of a fat woman in her 20s living in Portland, who gradually begins to come into her own.
Blending comedy and drama, her story is rooted by the presence of her best friend and roommate (a breakout performance by Lolly Adefope) and her less-than-satisfying romance with a likeable loser (played by Luka Jones).
If you're alert to them, there are Chicago connections throughout the show. Bryant herself is an alumnus of Columbia College Chicago and the local sketch and improv scene, she was performing at Second City when she was hired on "SNL."
Fellow "SNL" alum Julia Sweeney, who lives in Wilmette, Ill., plays her well-intentioned if exasperating mother, and Evanston, Ill., native Samantha Irby (author of the books "Meaty" and "We Are Never Meeting in Real Life") is a writer on the show.
Annie works at an alt weekly, just as West did in real life, and she has an antagonistic relationship with her editor. West's editor at the time was Chicago native Dan Savage (played mercilessly here by John Cameron Mitchell).
(West tells Vanity Fair the character in the show is "really not Dan" but he does have "these notions about fat people that he thinks are kind of progressive in this weird way, and she is correcting him. That's true to my relationship with Dan.")
Bryant was in Chicago recently with her husband Conner O'Malley (a Chicago native and veteran of the local comedy scene), and she stopped by the Chicago Tribune to talk about "Shrill," her desire to move back to Chicago and her thoughts about staying on at "SNL." The following is an edited transcript.
Q: One of the things I've seen Lindy talk about was when you both went to pitch the show to various networks, you really had to be vulnerable in these meetings. What was your comfort level with that?
A: This has definitely pushed my limits of that in some ways. And even just doing press, I've now done a month-and-a-half of press and this interview feels very easy and nice and normal, but it doesn't always feel that way. Sometimes they're like: "So, you were fat and you hated yourself, how did that feel?" And it's like: Wow, OK, I guess I just have to lay bare all these things (laughs) that I've dealt with or written about.
It's interesting to do it in a controlled environment on the show, where I controlled the edit and I get to deliver the lines and we know what music's underneath it.
And then in the press it's like, I'm saying these things from a genuine place, trying to connect with this person, and then sometimes it's like: "She hated herself and now she's feeling good!"
It's weird for it to become entertainment in some ways because it literally is my personal journey, and I'm still trying to find my voice and I still have days when I feel not confident. So it's a bizarre experience to open yourself up completely to the world.
Even when we were pitching it, to go into these rooms and use your own personal story as a way to sell something is complicated and painful in a weird way. But I always felt like the greater purpose made it easier. I want this show to be on TV. I was very excited about that because when I was growing up, that was hard to find.
Q: To me, you've always been a confident performer. On the show, your character has a troll who recognizes how confident she comes across in her writing _ and "Shrill" is showing us that she's not always so confident. Do you relate to that?
A: I totally relate to that, 1,000 percent. In my teens and early 20s, I was unsure of myself and worried about my weight or how I looked in clothes or whatever.
But I always felt really good doing improv, and I think that is part of why I was like, I'm going to do this all the time, because I feel good doing this and there's an immediate positive reaction from an audience that's telling you: You're good.
I think for me, that was kind of addictive. And the stronger I felt there, and the more I started to move up the ranks in Chicago, I was like, there's something here, and that's the empowering thing that allowed me to have that feeling in other places in my life. I don't think I've thought about that before but that's very observant of you and true.
Q: The show has a lot of people of color who are part of her world. So many shows don't. Was that a conversation you all had ahead of time?
A: We always knew Fran (the best friend) would be black, but other than that we were open-minded and saw a lot of people for different roles. We just wanted to cast people who were interesting. This is what I've always felt, especially from Chicago, is that the performer is the thing, so I just wanted people who had a lot of personality on their own that they could bring into the character. Patti Harrison (the transgender comedian who plays the editor's snarky-sweet assistant), I didn't know her well but I knew of her, she had done shows with Conner.
So we didn't set out to check boxes, but we wanted to fill this world with what our worlds look like.
Q: I've noticed one journalist remark that she got a lot of feedback for using the word "fat" when writing about the show, because some people feel it's a derogatory word.
A: I think that people have a lot of emotions about that word. And I used to, too _ so I understand.
To me, it's a descriptor. Just like you can be tall or short, you can be fat. To me, using it just takes some of the power and pain out of the word. Because I am fat. It would be a lie to say I'm not fat.
So I can say it and not feel like it's going to destroy me. And that feels better than living in fear of someone thinking I'm fat and trying to make sure that my shirt lays in a way where I don't look fat. That's a hollow thing to chase.
Q: You're character has a sex life, which means there are sex scenes in the show ...
A: Yes, lord (laughs).
Q: Had you done sex scenes before?
A: Absolutely not. Or if I have done a sex scene, it was a jokey one at "SNL" where it's ... jokey winking to the camera, and this was, like, sincere.
So that was scary. But I also kind of felt like I was serving a greater purpose here. I want these types of things to be shown. This has been my reality in relationships, to have fulfilling sex, and I felt like I never saw that represented in an earnest way on TV. So every time I got freaked out I would be like: Just do it (laughs)! And I was lucky, I had really great scene partners who I trusted and loved and that makes a big difference too.