Anna Drezen Said Goodbye to ‘Saturday Night Live’ to Make ‘Praise Petey.’ She’s Still Processing What That Means
Something alarming happens early in my Zoom conversation with Anna Drezen: As she chats cheerily from her Burbank home, smoke starts to waft around her. Is everything okay?
“I lit a candle and then I saw I had a loose incense stick, so I lit that too,” she replies, laughing. “But I have no plan and it’s just dripping ash everywhere.”
Off camera, her fiancé Jason comes to the rescue, handing her an incense holder. “We don’t have kids, is the point,” Drezen says, giggling at herself.
“I’m a candle person,” she tells me, a similarity she shares with her main character on Praise Petey, the wry and unexpectedly warm sitcom she created for Freeform that debuted this summer. Petey, voiced by Schitt’s Creek’s Annie Murphy, is a driven wannabe-girlboss living in Manhattan whose seemingly movie-perfect life gets upended once she loses her job, her fiancé and her apartment. (Petey lit a bunch of candles at home, and her best friend Ella, voiced by Drezen, accidentally knocked them all over. Also, Ella has been having an affair with Petey’s fiancé.) Finding out that her late father (voiced by Stephen Root) has bequeathed her his idyllic community in North Carolina, called New Utopia, Petey decides to reinvent herself and move down there — except it’s really a cult that’s been trained to worship her, an arrangement that proves to have some downsides.
Praise Petey mocks the “Big-city gal moves to the Real America, learning downhome values in the process” narrative that’s prevalent in films like Sweet Home Alabama and every other Hallmark flick. These stories often feature female protagonists who are snooty but insecure — pretentious but, deep down, just looking for a fella. Blessedly, Drezen possesses none of those negative qualities, coming across as bubbly and self-deprecating and grounded. But, seriously, she loves candles. “I have a candle for (my) writing room,” she says. “I have a candle for therapy. I have a candle for sitting still and journaling. We have all our best people working on it, and they’re all candles.”
Creating Praise Petey, Freeform’s first adult animation series, was an exciting opportunity for Drezen, but one that meant major changes. After living in New York for 15 years, part of which she spent as one of the head writers on Saturday Night Live, she made the move to Los Angeles, saying goodbye to the venerable NBC show and the East Coast simultaneously. It’s just the latest adventure for a writer and comedian who has tried her hand at several different disciplines, curious to see which ones caught her fancy. She’s done improv at Upright Citizens Brigade, a one-woman show at Edinburgh, satirical blogging at Reductress, a decade of stand-up, writing on Girls5Eva and Miracle Workers — and even a short stint at Cracked.
“It was only for six months, but they were like, ‘You can write whatever you want and make your own deadlines, and we’ll pay you $70,000 a year with benefits,’” Drezen recalls of her time at this publication. “So I just wrote nonsense, and the readership did not like it at all.” She laughs, remembering the one comment from a rando that has stayed with her: “‘I want you to go back and read your own article one more time and then delete it, so that way you’re deleting it not because I asked you to, but because you’re a bad writer.’ I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll be thinking about this every day.’”
Drezen laughs a lot during our conversation, which befits her generally upbeat personality. Which isn’t to say she hasn’t had to deal with difficult aspects of life: She started toiling at SNL right before the 2016 presidential election — plus, she had just gotten sober. Then came the pandemic and, eventually, the leap to running her own show, which brought its fair share of new stresses. Drezen is drawn to dark subject matter — whether it be cults or, as you’ll discover from our conversation, dead bodies — but she doesn’t brood or evince a jaundiced worldview. Frankly, she just seems happy — and unapologetic about her new life and new job in Southern California.
Below, we talk about stereotypical female narratives, some of her iconic SNL sketches and the processing she’s still doing about her time at Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center. Also, she discusses the importance of finding the right bleep noise for swearing.
You’ve mentioned that Praise Petey was inspired, in part, by Hart of Dixie and Sweet Home Alabama, but there’s some jokes about Sex and the City in the mix as well. I wondered how much the show’s impetus was driven by your frustration with certain types of female narratives that run rampant in movies and TV shows.
I definitely think so. The first draft of this was initially much more of a satire, but I just don’t think people like watching trope-y satire — things that are just like, “Look at this dumb shit.” But there’s something about a gung-ho, plucky heroine who’s here to save the day that I just don’t relate to. I don’t know anybody like that. I know a lot of women who sit in doubt for a year and a half before doing a big life change — I don’t know people who grab the bull by the horns.
There was pressure to have Petey be a lot more decisive a lot sooner — and maybe that would’ve been better — but what I was interested in was someone who’s humiliated because their life fell apart, just trying to hide for a little bit, because I haven’t seen that a ton.
If these types of women don’t actually exist, why do we see them so much on screen?
I think it has to do with classic hero’s-journey stuff. It’s easier to (create) a story with tension (if) you get invested in the character and understand what it is that they’re looking to do if they say what their goal is and start trying to do their goal — maybe it’s like best practices. But this is a show where there’s dog-people and desk-people and blood stuff — but it’s also a pretty internal show where we talk a lot about emotional struggles and being unsure of yourself. Like Petey and Eliza have this (reassuring) conversation — “You’re not a fraud and you look great” — and those are the things that we wanted to talk about, in addition to crazy-cult rapid-fire jokes.
The show satirizes the simplistic ways in which Hollywood portrays the South, but there’s also a really pointed look at self-absorbed New York culture.
Big time — that is just the funnest world to play in. The initial drafts of this were, like, 20 pages of New York, and they were like, “You really got to cut it down.” (Laughs) There was, like, Petey and Ella went to a Broadway play that was starring Woody Allen’s clarinet or written by it. It was very, very arch and only funny to me and my friends — none of them have cable, so it was a bad idea. (Laughs)
(New York) is very glossy. Kind of like what I was talking about before with girl-grabbing-the-bull-by-the-horns energy, it’s very “We all know what we’re doing here!" Fast-paced and loud. It lends itself to comedy. I’m a big believer that if you’re doing satire, it should also be funny to people who don’t know what the thing is that you’re satirizing — it’s easy to do that with New York, I hope.
I’m a big theater nerd, and I lived in New York for 15 years, and I miss it a lot. (Petey’s) “Being at an important job, but stagnating for a long time” (situation) is something that helps us weave in that emotional thread into the craziness. My favorite parts of those fish-out-of-water movies are always the New York girl walking through a mud puddle in her high heels. The funny part is not the mud puddle — it’s this New Yorker’s attitude of “Why isn’t this world adapting to me?” That was always way funnier. It was never like, “Okay, let’s make fun of the South for the first time” — it was always this New York brain worm infecting other places.
That trope of the New Yorker who’s hit rock bottom and moves out to the sticks — did you ever have anything remotely close to that happen to you when you lived there?
It’s funny, I was writing this show in a garage mostly. I had just moved here from New York — I had just left SNL and my whole life behind to work on Praise Petey — so there were a lot of things that were pretty meta where I was like, “I can’t walk to coffee! There’s too many hills in Silver Lake, ugh!” (Laughs)
How hard was it to leave SNL and move to L.A.?
It was so hard. I cried like my whole family exploded. It was an extremely tough transition, partially because the Omicron variant had just popped up.
My last (SNL) show was Paul Rudd hosting, and in the middle of the week, cases were popping up, and that Saturday we were rehearsing, and my co-workers were in bear costumes — I could see them on the feed texting, “We really should not be here…” I was like, “This person has it, that person has it…” Then we eventually did the show that went on TV that no one, including me, remembers — well, I remember it because I’m traumatized — but it was a clip show involving Tom Hanks and it was the most head-spinning day. I have trouble putting words to it because I’m still processing — we had written an entire show and we did the whole week, and then at the last minute they were like, “Let’s just do some clips.” But then we sent everybody home, except for a couple of writers, so then we had to read all the throws and rehearse it. We were still doing a monologue with very famous guests — Paul Rudd was joining the Five-Timers Club, so we had Tina Fey and Tom Hanks and these very famous people coming in. I’d written this whole thing for Candice Bergen that I was psyched about — she didn’t end up coming, thank god.
(After my final episode was over), instead of like, “Oh, I’ll go out to a steakhouse afterwards, Lorne (Michaels) will say something sweet,” it was a quarantine situation. I was wearing two masks and a shield and worried that I was participating in an event where our crew was going to get sick — I was very worried about that. Then I went home and cleared out my office and just cried on the floor and then went to L.A. to start my show. I was in complete shock and not processing anything — I just couldn’t believe that that’s how my five-and-a-half years at SNL ended. It’s so in-person — it’s so your relationships with people — and then to just have it end on this insane, double-masked-and-shielded note…
But I also am aware that the thing about SNL is that when you want it to do something special for you, it’s going to kick you in a place you didn’t know you had. Expecting something to be nice is how you get hurt so bad — and so, in that way, it was kind of funny.
You started at SNL in the fall of 2016. What was it like there in the lead-up to the presidential election?
The vibe was the vibe everywhere — if you listen to any political podcast from August of 2016, everyone’s talking about Trump like, “It’s sort of a funny little blip.” That’s what (we) were assuming: “Oh, great, we’ll see Alec (Baldwin), and we’ll write some fun stuff, and then Kate (McKinnon) will be president for eight years.”
But I mostly could not believe that they had hired me — I was so used to submitting packets and never hearing back. I think that same month I submitted to be on a sketch team at the Pit and didn’t even get an audition — they didn’t even respond to my writing packet. I was very accustomed at that point to not getting anything, so I was just so in my own overwhelm that the looming political doomsday was not on my mind. I was mostly just like, “How do I not embarrass myself and write stuff that I’m proud of?”
The week of the election, it was a Monday night, everybody showed up assuming that we were all going to get good news. We were excited to have a woman president, and I remember Sarah Schneider at our writers meeting that night: “Guys, maybe write something early just in case, either way. We’re either going to be celebrating or, ha ha, maybe it’ll be the end of the world.” And we were like, “Yeah, right, ha ha.” I remember Florida came back for Trump, and at that point I just wandered down to the lobby and went into J.Crew and bought a sweater and some slippers. I was like, “Oh no, I think I need to do something I know how to do, and I know how to buy a sweater and slippers.” (Laughs)
It was just so bizarre to be, from that moment on, writing comedy while shell-shocked and terrified about what’s happening to people. I mean, there’s always been bad things happening — but it was such a whiplash going from the assumptions we all had of how we were going to feel long-term versus how we felt long-term. There was also a fear while I was working there of “I could get doxxed by the actual president and someone could come and kill me.” Which probably wouldn’t happen — I don’t think I’m so hot that someone’s going to murder me, and there’s other people on the list — but you just never know. I mean, he singles out weird people sometimes, so that was always in the back of my head: “Is somebody going to send a bomb to my parents’ house?”
How hard was it to tell yourself, “Okay, now I need to find funny things to write about every week while everything’s going to hell”?
In many ways, it functioned the way that the show always has — we’ll have the political stuff up top, and then the rest will be whatever goofy garbage our psychos want to do on television this week. I think the difference is that the political stuff, it took up a little bit bigger space and was more assumed.
If you look at some of the cold opens from the ‘90s, it’ll be, like, a weird commercial or the least-political sketch you’ve ever seen. I can count on one hand the number of non-political cold opens we had while I was there, and most of them were football or some kind of press conference — something that feels like a political cold open.
But it’s a place where there’s a lot of really funny, creative people who’ve worked their whole lives to make other people laugh — they have a massive backlog of things that they would love to do if they worked at SNL, and they do work at SNL and that’s really exciting. They’re all in the same office together, so there’s always going to be funny stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with the current climate: “God, I did this character in college and I thought it was so funny, but I don’t know if it makes sense,” and then someone else will say, “Oh, what if you put them here?”
There was horrible stuff (going on in the world), and there were people who their beat was “I will write the horrible stuff, but then I also love to…” Like, I think about Kent Sublette and Colin Jost, who are just so good at writing truly useless garbage, and I say that with the highest (praise) — it’s just so funny. Michael Che, just some of the funniest nonpolitical stuff, but then (they) also have the best point-of-view sketches. That gear-shift is pretty interesting.
I want to ask about a sketch you wrote, “Nephew Pageant,” which really nails a specific type of human being — the overly supportive, doting aunt. I’m guessing you have a few.
I have a full NFL team of aunts — I have a starting lineup of so many Aunt Cathys, you would not believe it. The thing that blows my mind about aunts is that they spend so much money and brain energy on celebrating their nieces’ and nephews’ birthdays — and those nieces and nephews, myself included, will never, in a million fucking years, call them to say thank you, and that doesn’t slow them down at all. They will send that birthday card two days early regardless of where you live — they’re going to send it to three wrong addresses first, and then it’ll make its way to you. (Laughs)
That sketch was really inspired by the language of birthday cards for nieces and nephews. I get at least 30 birthday cards every year from aunts and godmothers, and the way it (sounds) always tickled me: “You are a shining star and nothing will ever stand in your way, dear niece.” And I think hyping up a nephew is just funnier, because most nephews don’t want to be at the family party.
What I also love about the sketch is that it really nails the forced, over-emphatic tone that family members use when, really, they’re not that close to the other person and they’ve overcompensating.
Yeah, they last talked to them when they changed their diaper, and now it’s like, “Oh, this person ices me out every time I see them.” What you’re getting at — the level of devotion that the aunt has for the nephew and how little the nephew is bringing to the table — it’s just so funny to me.
I also loved “Duolingo for Talking to Children.” I think I can guess what inspired that.
When you’re a woman around the age of 30, there’s this assumption that you’ll be good at talking to kids — and just anytime I tried, I was stepping on a rake. (Awkward voice) “Oh… what’s your religion?” (Laughs) The thing that I had in my head was “Don’t tell a girl that she’s pretty or that you like her dress!” — and then it’s like, “Well… you are… white.” It’s so hard.
I was making fun of my own awkwardness with kids, because I was one of the youngest in my family, so there weren’t a ton of little kids around. But it also was funny between takes shooting that sketch, because the kid actor would be sitting next to Kristen Stewart and she’d be like, “So… how are you? How… tall are you?” A lot of people are great with kids — and then the people who weren’t, myself included, were like, “Hey… what’s up? Did you have a pet die yet? Where are we at on Santa?” (Laughs)
Topicality was the narrow thread that connected us to getting it onto television. Truly, it was Valentine’s Day, and it was me trying to carve out a little bit of not-comedy — just live my life — and (my fiancé) Jason and I got a room at, I think, the Standard. We’re trying to have a romance weekend: “Oh, it’s a hotel room that the toilet is in the tub!” (Laughs) And we watched Titanic because that is the most romantic movie that exists — and, of course, in this trying-to-not-think-about-comedy weekend, I was like Gollum in the corner texting Bowen, “This could work for our job…” (Laughs)
“Wronged celebrity” is a fun character for Bowen to play, and he and I had written so many other things that didn’t work — we wrote a bunch of stuff that would get to dress or do well enough at table that the ghost of it was alive during the week, but then it wouldn’t go. So he and I had this channel of communication open: “Maybe this, maybe that…”
(The idea) came out of “What is another shade of someone who did something really wrong who is there to talk about that thing?” — it came out of us pitching on what he would actually be saying. He (couldn’t) just say, “It wasn’t me, it was the water the whole time!” (Him wanting to promote his album) felt like the funniest, most unexpected way to make it feel fresh — that just came out of the sugar high, I guess, eating room-temperature dumplings and just flying high. (Laughs) But, yeah, I love Britney Spears talking to Diane Sawyer or Whitney Houston and her interviews — “Defensive female-coded celebrity” is just such a fun color to play at the Update desk, and I think it doesn’t show up there very often.
(When we were preparing the sketch) I overheard Dennis McNicholas, who’s the head of Update, talking to someone in COVID testing — we were waiting for our results, and I think I was behind a column, and he was like, “I don’t know, man, we will just see.” It was something like, “Iceberg? Oh man, this is just the most table-sketch that has ever existed” — and it went on television, which is just so funny.
Bowen, he’s always been the best performer, the funniest person. We went to college together, so we’ve known each other a while. He’s the hardest-working, most focused performer, and he takes it so seriously, but it’s so fun. It was great to have him say words that I wrote on television — that’s all you want when you’re in college with people.
What was he like in college? Did you two hit it off immediately?
He sent me this very suck-upy Facebook message — I think he was still in high school — that asked if pre-med majors and non-Tisch people were allowed to audition for Danger Box, the improv group. (Laughs) And it was like (super-sweet voice), “Hi, sweetie — yeah, for sure you can come, I can’t wait to see you.” It seemed like, “This is a nervous person who is going to flame out at improv auditions” — and now he’s actually famous, which is my favorite arc.
He was this quiet person who was so funny and manic in scenes and was just part of our friend group. It’s funny — at art school, you have the idea of who’s great in your group, but you just never know who’s going to go supersonic. It tickles me to no end that he was in microbiology classes when the rest of us were like (snobby voice), “Yeah, you can come. We’re busy acting, but you can watch.” (Laughs)
Were you someone growing up that just knew you were going to be supersonic? Did you map out a comedy path?
My path ideas were always delusional, not able to be practiced. I was like, “Well, 19 is my lucky number, so I’ll win 19 Oscars” — and not when I was 12, like when I was maybe 17. Too old, not cute anymore. (Laughs) I bought a book (about acting) from Barnes & Noble and highlighted it and was like, “Well, this is done and dusted — I’m going to be famous.”
Before I knew I wanted to do this as a career, I knew that I loved laughing and I loved it when other people laugh. It wasn’t like I need to make people laugh and feel that huge wave — I just loved laughing, and this is where it led me.
But how did it lead you? It seems like you sampled different comedic forms, such as improv, stand-up and writing.
I was like, “I like all of it, and I’m going to try it all and see what comes back with a ‘Yes.’” I took improv classes in college, and that led me to meeting people like Alice Wetterlund who’s on Silicon Valley, who I’m still buddies with — she was in my improv class, and she made a joke about people who say they do stand-up because they did one mic and I was like, “Oh no, that’s me.” (Laughs) I dedicated the next decade to trying to call myself a stand-up with a straight face — there wasn’t a plan, it was just compulsive, I was like, “I want to do this all the time.” Getting on stage in New York is the easiest thing in the world — you can get up five times a night if you want to, there’s just nowhere else like it.
I was never good at “I like these things, therefore I will make this plan and see how it works out.” It was always like, “Let me do everything and then see how I feel after.” I’m still kind of figuring out, like, I still have stand-up agents, and they’re like, “Hey, do you want to do this?” (Laughs) I’m like, “I am a changed woman” — I am still trying to get specific about “What is it that I actually like doing?”
In Judy Berman’s review of Praise Petey in Time, she complimented your ability to recognize “the absurdity of setting a female-empowerment narrative within a bloodthirsty cult.” The show seems to be taking particular aim at this whole “girlboss” fad in our culture. Do you find the “girlboss” mindset annoying?
It wasn’t me pointing at something across the room and critiquing that thing over there — it was me realizing something that was in myself. I remember reading Lean In and being like, “Well, this is just good advice — why are people so mad?” It’s the same thing that people in MLMs like LuLaRoe do. It’s a lot of “If you just figure it out and try hard and work hard, you’ll be where I am,” which is not true — inherently, there are fewer people in the C-suite than underneath them. It aligned with our interest (on the show) in not punching down on people who are survivors of cult groups and cult violence. It’s not pointing at someone else’s insane beliefs — it’s pointing at your own and how they got there.
I have a lot of magical thinking about what’s possible, productivity-wise, that I think is capitalistic programming. I didn’t want to write about cult stuff that I didn’t understand already — I wanted to have this be a cult of magical beliefs that I can relate to. We have Bandit talking a lot about deprogramming, and I think a lot of us have been deprogramming ourselves lately from different things.
Why do you think people are deprogramming themselves? Is it a reaction to the pandemic?
I guess so. I read stuff about people not seeing their co-workers every day, so there was less pressure to keep up with politeness. And we were used to entire institutions falling apart. (Laughs) I was like, “Well, let’s look at some of this other stuff — what do we need this for?”
There’s a history of comedies about cults. What do you think the appeal is?
Darkness being right next to comedy is just a really satisfying dynamic, and cults do that so well — there’s so many smiling people who will tell you with a straight face something that is insane. I think all sitcoms are about people trying a harebrained scheme, knowing somewhere in the back of their head that it isn’t going to work, and that’s what it is to be an active cult member.
A few years ago, you did a one-woman show about your obsession with true crime. Are you still obsessed?
I realized that I don’t actually care about the crime — I’m just much more interested in the behavior before the crime. And I’m interested in dead bodies a little bit — I think I am this close to going to college for mortuary science to become a funeral director. I just like morbid things — I don’t like crimes, I like dead bodies.
You mentioned that darkness and humor are often next to each other. This seems like another example of that.
I was an altar server growing up, and I would do all the weddings and funerals. I didn’t go to the Catholic school, so I couldn’t do the morning masses, (but) I did all the Friday and Saturday morning (ones). I loved the ritual of it. Watching a man do incense over a coffin when you’re 12 — I was like, “This rocks.” (Laughs)
Something I really enjoy about Praise Petey is that you bleep certain swear words. Bleeping is just funny.
But you’ve got to find the right bleep.
Wait, are there different kinds?
I definitely thought so. From the beginning I was like, “Can we find the actual tone that we will be using for broadcast for the bleep so I can decide if we need to cut this entire section? I need to hear what the bleep is.” There was a lot of fights about “If we’re bleeping the word ‘fuck,’ you can’t hear the ‘uh,’” which I understood from SNL, but they didn’t want us to say the “fu” either. I did some real passionate essays back and forth to standards and practices: “It’s an unvoiced fricative! We could do this on primetime network TV — why is it any different for this adult animated show at 10 o’clock?” But, yeah, there are funny bleeps.
You were one of the head writers on SNL — how much of an overlap is there between that job and being a showrunner for an adult animated sitcom?
There was a good amount of crossover — leading a room and hiring people and delegating, and also being able to keep your eye on multiple pots at the same time, like the big-picture stuff, the boring business stuff, the weird stuff that pops up, and also being able to come out of that mode and go right back into what’s actually funny. That kind of gear-shifting was something that I had to get used to at SNL — it would be, like, we’re working on the cold open and then getting called into Lorne’s office about a sketch that newer writers worked on, and then needing to go work on my Update character with someone and getting my delivery from downstairs. The multitasking was a big lesson, but there was a lot of stuff that you can only learn by doing it and doing it wrong. (Laughs)
You worked on SNL during the height of COVID. Is there any part of that you can look back fondly on now?
I definitely would’ve preferred to have been back in the studio with everyone, but I do think there was something kind of beautiful about being on a Zoom — when we were still figuring out what Zoom was — watching Mikey Day’s wife help him hang up a green screen, or Kate and Aidy (Bryant) in their homes with wigs that were mailed to them. There’s something kind of hurricane-party feeling about it — it wasn’t all trauma, definitely. (Laughs)
The other good part about working at SNL during COVID is that I got to work at SNL and that the sketches I wrote for it will always be SNL sketches. I think that’s something that blew my mind. It’s really bad for you — I don’t recommend it, but I am very grateful and glad that I did it.
Working on SNL in general, you mean? Not the COVID part of it?
All of it, yeah. Not a great mix.
Leaving SNL to do Praise Petey, obviously you have a lot of responsibilities still, but did any part of you think, “Oh, this is much better for my mental health”?
A thousand percent. It was so bizarre to be able to take breaks and ending work at sometimes five or four in the afternoon and then being like, “What the hell do I do now?” Being able to go and walk my dog, because I can, and cooking meals was very odd.
Is there any Catholic guilt that then happens of “I’m not working hard enough now”?
Big time. It felt good (to be doing Praise Petey), but also I did do a fair amount of crying about “What is going on?” It felt like the show was going to fall apart because I wasn’t working every hour of the day on it.
As a showrunner, I think there’s pressure to strike the right balance between caring only about the quality of the show and pushing so hard for it so that everybody who works on it gets to work on a hit and, also, being chill and normal and not insane. That’s a hard balance to strike — sometimes you’re insane in ways where you should have been chill, and you’re chill in ways where you should have been insane, and you can see evidence of that in the finished product. But, yeah, it’s just so cool to make TV with talented people — I love everybody who worked on the show, and I’m just so proud of it.
During the pandemic, people picked up new hobbies. With the strike going on, is the same thing happening for you? How are you spending your downtime?
I’m this close to buying a saxophone — it’s any minute now and there’s a lot in Burbank. (Laughs)
I had this panic garden that I started the week that the show came out — it was the middle of July, and the guy at the garden store was like, “I feel bad selling you this stuff, because it’s not going to survive.” But I was like, “I just need to stick my hands in some dirt.” They’re all kind of dead…
(During the strike) I’ve been picketing and going to the doctor (and handling) a lot of wellness stuff that fell by the wayside. “Oh, I have a lump — I gotta probably go to the doctor and get it scanned.” I also learned how to drive this year. I had put that off for so long — because it was COVID and I was working from home, I could just take Ubers when I needed to. That has been cool.
How’s your driving?
I’m doing okay. I took Cantor’s Driving School — I can say that Michael Roberts, he’s a genius. He is a bass player in a Rage Against the Machine cover band. If you are a nervous driver, take classes with Michael Roberts. But I did smash off one of our side-view mirrors in a parking garage. (Laughs)
Tell me more about this panic garden. Was it because you were anxious about how audiences were going to receive Praise Petey?
I was like, “How do I not become completely insane?” And sticking fingers in dirt, my mom was like, “There’s microbes — it makes you less depressed.” I think she just doesn’t want me to be on Prozac. (Laughs) But I was like, “Okay, I’ll try it.”
I planted some peppers from transplant. I have an EarthBox, which is a “Gardening for Dummies” that you just follow the directions and put a plastic wrap over the top and it grows you stuff. I have these shriveled little cantaloupes that are no longer growing, which is devastating — basically, I’m feeding a bunch of caterpillars is how I have to look at it.
I reached out to Shion Takeuchi, who created Inside Job, and we got lunch and I was like, “How did you not lose your mind when your show came out?” And she was like, “Oh, I don’t have any advice for you — I just lost my mind.” (Laughs) I was like, “Oh, okay.” That was comforting in some ways — you just got to surrender to the feelings.
Despite the fact that you didn’t grow many vegetables, do you think your panic garden helped you?
I think so. Some very wise people in recovery communities have told me, “If you’re ever really deep in your feelings, just ask yourself, ‘What are my hands doing?’” It’s like working with a preschool-aged child: “I am using my hands to remove the caterpillar from the leaf. I am moving this thing. I’m pulling out the dead thing. I’m watering.” You just need to pass the time in a way that isn’t self-obsessed and negative, and it’s a daily thing that you can do.
One last thing: Congratulations on being seven years sober. Between working at SNL and dealing with a pandemic, you’ve faced a lot of stressors. How did you stay sober?
It definitely was varsity-level early sobriety. I think I (was) a month-and-a-half sober when I got hired. I mentioned it a little bit (at SNL), but as a new writer, you can’t assume that anybody’s interested in what you have to say. (Laughs)
But, yeah, I just had smart feet and followed advice of people who had put together more sober time than I had. I don’t like taking other people’s suggestions, and I tend to think that things that work for other people won’t work for me, but for whatever reason, I took this time to actually try things someone else’s way for once. I had a little bit of willingness. And I was also just scared — I don’t have it in me to have things get any worse than they were. But, also, it’s luck.
Not taking other people’s suggestions — was that stubbornness or that misplaced pride of “Just because it worked for you doesn’t mean it’s gonna work for me. I’m different”?
Yeah — “terminal uniqueness” is a (term) that gets thrown around a lot. Like, “I’m the piece of shit at the center of the universe — I’m incredible in how much I suck.”
I won’t get too deep into it, but it’s very vulnerable to take someone else’s advice. I think a lot of people, myself included, make the mistake of closing yourself off to being helped by other people. Just try it — what else do you have to lose?