Ego Nwodim and Heidi Gardner share a dressing room at NBC’s Saturday Night Live — and as of last week, a wall in Philadelphia with Steven Spielberg and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts.
The two featured players were at the new Comcast Technology Center on April 26 doing interviews when they were asked to become the third and fourth people to sign their names to the still wide-open wall of a “green room” near the building’s Ralph J. Roberts Forum. (Spielberg, who collaborated in the creation of the Universal Sphere in the building’s lobby, had been in town earlier in the month for a question-and-answer session with Roberts.)
Gardner and Nwodim took different paths to SNL’s Studio 8H. Gardner, a Kansas City native and veteran of the Groundlings who’s in her second season, once quit college to become a hairdresser in Los Angeles. Nwodim, a Baltimore native in her first season who previously performed with the Upright Citizens Brigade, has a degree in biology from the University of Southern California.
They both named Kenan Thompson as the SNL cast member most likely to crack them up.
Here, edited and condensed, is what else they had to say:
Gardner: I auditioned twice, within a month. So the first, I came out and I did 12 characters total — it was like nine original characters and three impressions. And then they flew me back about two weeks later and said, ‘She can keep … one or two of those, but we want to see that she can come up with completely new stuff in a week.’ So I did a couple of things that I’ve done on the show before, like the boxer’s girlfriend, or a Kristen Schaal impression. It’s just a mishmash of whatever I thought might get me the job. I saw the outline of [creator/executive producer Michaels] and his hair, but I never tried to really like look over there and psych myself out.
Nwodim: I actually was flown to New York in 2016 to audition. And then last year, 2018, came back to audition again. I did it on the 8H stage last summer. It was basically all new characters, with the exception of this Maya Angelou [impression] that I just love doing so much. I know for a fact that Lorne was there, but I didn’t look over there at all. I was just like, I’m going to put on this little baby show for you guys — five minutes to put on a show.
Gardner: I had one [from] when Will Ferrell hosted last year, and it was just a classic, Will Ferrell-type sketch, where he was calling his other office coworkers, calling us awful people, and yelling at us. And to get to share the stage with him and have him yell at me — the sketch was great.
Nwodim: I particularly enjoyed being in the Discover Card Us sketch, getting to do a take of Lupita’s [Nyong’o] performance, because I was so intrigued by her the entire film, and how captivating she was being both those characters. So getting to do the comedic version was so rewarding.
Nwodim: I knew I wanted to be a performer. I did ballet for 10 years, and I always wanted to skip rehearsals and just do the show. But you can’t do that. So I started to act. I took an improv class begrudgingly. A lot of people tell actors who are coming up to do lots of things, like get a hundred pictures of yourself taken and it’s all nonsense. I was like, I’m not doing an improv class. And then I took one and I fell in love.
Gardner: I was brought up on just a lot of what [my parents] liked, which was Saturday Night Live, Christopher Guest movies. I remember I had a babysitter once when I was 6 who was like, “What do you want to do?” and I was like, “Can we watch Spinal Tap?” I think they introduced me to things maybe a little too young, but I just grew up loving comedy. I was from Kansas City. You just don’t know there’s a path at all to SNL. Luckily, becoming a hairdresser took me to L.A. And I saw a show at the Groundlings, and had really supportive friends who were like, “We really think you’re funny. You should take an improv class.”
Nwodim: I’m first-generation [American, of Nigerian parents], and I think my family was nervous. School is very much a part of the plan and having a stable career is very much part of the plan, as a child of immigrants. They initially were shocked, but I do think my family always saw something in me — “Well, if there’s any one of us who is going to do it, it’s her.” I also didn’t even know that comedy was a career. I was raised like [the options were], lawyer and doctor. And really just doctor.
Gardner: I wish I had a little bit more structure from my parents. Because they were a little too much like, “We believe in you.” Which I get sounds really nice, but I think rules are good. When I was like, “I’m going to drop out of school, I’m going to move to L.A., I’m going to be a hairdresser,” they never questioned. I wish someone was just like, "Are you sure?’”