Friday, December 16, 2011

Q&A - Christine Nangle & Shelly Gossman

I had the distinct pleasure and honour of interviewing the infinitely cool, funny and talented Christine Nangle and Shelly Gossman via Skype earlier today. We covered their beginnings in comedy, some of their favourite sketches/hosts from their time at SNL and Melissa McCarthy.
I want to thank both Nangle and Gossman for taking the time out of their busy schedules to talk with me, and for being so generous and kind with their answers. Enjoy reading!


How did you initially get into comedy?
Shelly: I was an actress in college and I had an improv class. And it really scared me and I thought I was terrible but the teacher was like, “You should pursue this!” And I moved to Chicago, got involved in the improv scene and everything that happened happened from that; the choice to study improv in Chicago.

Christine: I got started from a writing angle, just interested in that and I didn’t get started until after college. I just decided to, on a whim, audition for an improve troupe because I was always interested in it.  So I was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and so, kind of just did stuff there. Then I moved to New York to study at the Upright Citizens Brigade and it all came from there.

Who were some of your major influences growing up?
Shelly: I have a lot of favourites. I love Shirley Maclaine. Bill Murray’s my favourite of all-time.

Christine: I don’t know if you can see her Shirley Maclaine picture right up back there.

Shelly: Yeah, I’m the same. I really liked Mr. Show, which is an HBO show with Bob Odenkirk and David Cross. I really loved Bill Murray. Amy Poehler is my favourite thing in the world. She’s just the best. And, of course, Saturday Night Live.

Was it always your goal to get on Saturday Night Live? Or was it more an opportunity that presented itself to you?
Christine: For myself, I never pictured myself here. I just loved writing and I was an improviser in New York as well. And, for me, I don’t think I ever allowed myself to dream it because I wasn’t really an actress. So when it came my way, my mind was blown.

Shelly: My whole goal was to get on the main stage of Second City and when I got that, I was kind of like, “Oh, what should my new dream be?” And my first show there, I got to audition for SNL. I got flown out; I auditioned twice. It slowly became a reality that, “Oh, this might actually be possible.” It came my way before – it wasn’t my goal. Like, I guess it was one of my dreams to work creatively, so this is one of the ways to do that!

Christine: Totally. I know when I first got my contract, I was more blown away -because I was working a day job and doing comedy at night – and I was more blown away that my contract had my name and then “writer” in parentheses next to it and I was going to get paid to be creative. For me, I was like, I can’t believe that’s happening, let alone happening at SNL.

Something that really interests me is the fact that so many writers at SNL are also performers. You both have substantial backgrounds in improv and have both starred in web series. Is performing and writing something that goes hand in hand for you guys?

Shelly: I think that writing and improvisation go hand in hand and a lot of scripts written here on Tuesday night are written while sitting in a room and you just throw out jokes, so that’s the same skill as improvising. As far as being and actor and a writer, I don’t think those go hand in hand. Or being an impressionist and a writer, I don’t you necessarily are both. But I think if you’re an improviser, you can probably write.

Christine: Well, Shelly and I write together a lot. It’s really helpful to have an actress to know what kind of choices to make. I guess that’s also an improviser thing. But it’s always helpful when you’re able to do readings for things. It helps us find new dimensions for the character.

How did you get hired on Saturday Night Live? Did you submit a writing packet or audition as a performer?

Shelly: I auditioned twice and didn’t get hired. And then, the summer before last, Lorne and a bunch of the writers came to watch my Second City show in Chicago. I was on stage and you write your own stuff at Second City, so after that show, Lorne offered me the job without a writing packet. But he had seen a bunch of my writing through my audition at the Second City shows.

Christine: And I was a writer/performer at UCB and a few years ago, I had a writing class with Abby Elliott, before she was on SNL or anything. And she kind of remembered me when they were looking for some recommendations for writers. She was like, “Oh, you should look up this girl.” So they asked me for a packet and I sent in a packet. They liked it and I came in for an interview and they hired me off that, which I think is kind of the exception to the rule. A lot of people get hired off their performances.

Shelly: Or a recommendation and they’ll look at your packet. But it’s hard, I think, just to send in a packet cold.

Christine: Yeah, I’ve never heard of anyone that’s gotten hired that way.

Shelly: Ooh, I can think of one person!

Christine: Really?

Shelly: Baze. You know, just through submitting jokes.

Christine: Yeah, he knew Dratch and stuff.

Shelly: Oh, he did?

Christine: Yeah, he was in the family.

What are some of your favourite sketches that you have written or contributed to?
Christine: I wrote the Julian Assange sketches with Seth last year and they were super fun to work on, because we were allowed to play with it. Like, we would start other sketches and interrupt them with Julian Assange. It was just fun to do. It was fun to write with Seth, but it was fun to mix up what the normal SNL way of doing things is.

Shelly: Those were so good.

Christine: Thank you. And I also work with Bobby a lot and I really like doing the Kings of Catchphrase Comedy sketches. We just did our second one a couple of weeks ago and they are so fun, because the whole cast gets involved and you give them a catchphrase and then they improvise – some of them improvise their own catchphrases. And you just get to see everybody come through that day - because it takes a while to film it all – and just kind of be hilarious. You just kind of let them go and you’re reminded of how talented our cast really is.

Shelly: I would say some of my favourite sketches have not yet been the ones that I’ve written. My favourite sketch since I’ve been here was the What’s My Name game show sketch where everybody knows even peripheral celebrities, but they don’t know their doorman’s name. I love that sketch. I think it has a great social commentary. Last year I wrote maybe three monologues for female hosts and that’s something I feel proud of. Monologues are hard and I like to try to find a voice for them. Anytime you can write for women, I think it’s exciting. And I think when we have female hosts, I feel really excited.

Who did you write monologues for?
Shelly: Emma Stone, Miley and Helen Mirren’s we actually wrote together.

What are some of your favourite sketches to not make it to air?
Shelly: One of my favourites was from my second read-through with Bryan Cranston. I wrote a sketch with my friend Mike called Stepdad Class about how to be a cool stepdad---

Christine: Which still might be on the show at some point.

Shelly: Maybe. Maybe I shouldn’t talk about it. I guess in general, I like character pieces, because that’s what I like writing. They’re sometimes harder to get on than a premise-based scene. Melissa McCarthy’s show had a lot of character pieces. That’s rare.

Out of curiosity, were a lot of those her own characters that she brought?
Shelly and Christine: Two of them.

Christine: She did the one where she dances with the balloons.

Shelly: Christine helped on that.

Christine: Like, she did that at The Groundlings, but she did it a certain way and then I helped get it into an SNL mould. Because when you’re writing for live comedy theatre, you have almost no props and it’s just a blank stage. You have to be creative in figuring out how to make that work. So then when you’re dealing with camera angles, props and other actors, it’s a skill you really have to learn at SNL. It takes a while. So I just worked with her to make it into more of an SNL sketch and write in a few other characters and stuff like that. And then the taste test sketch was hers, too.

Shelly: With the ranch dressing.

That is one of my favourites of the season so far. Was she one of your favourite hosts to work with this season? Who have been some of your other favourites?
Shelly and Christine: Yeah, absolutely.

Shelly: Everyone is pretty great. Russell Brand surprised me in terms of how much I adored working with him. He is so smart, so funny – he’s brilliant. Genius.

Christine: Charlie Day was fun. I really loved Amy Poehler. That was amazing.

Shelly: Buscemi was so good.

Christine: When people come, for the most part, they want to learn and they submit themselves to the process. And they’re so nice –

Shelly: So nice.

Christine: They defer to us and they just want it to be the best show it can be. People are always really great.

Is there any host you would like to work with in the future?
Shelly: I was just saying yesterday – this is a long shot – but I wish Joan Rivers could host.

Christine: We were talking about what if Dolly Parton hosted.

They would both be fabulous. So, Jimmy Fallon is hosting this weekend? Any sneak peek of who or what might show up?
Shelly: Stay tuned!

Christine: The best thing about when people like that host is that they always bring people with them that they were on the show with and that’s always so cool to be around.

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