During Ana Gasteyer’s impressive six-season run on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, the actress amassed a variety of classic impressions and characters. From memorable takeoffs of Martha Stewart and Celine Dion to crooning pop parodies with Will Ferrell as the husband-wife music teacher act The Culps, Gasteyer left her mark on the legendary comedy sketch series.
“You’re living in this nocturnal, creative place,” she recalls of the experience from her home in New York City. “Remembering everything I’ve done on the show is like asking someone to recall something they did while pulling an all-nighter in college while studying for a final. I’ve had this thing happen recently where I’ll watch a sketch of mine and say, ‘Oh my God, I was in this?’ It’s so crazy.’ ”
Since departing “SNL” in 2002, Gasteyer has been developing an eclectic career that has ranged from stints on Broadway (playing the lead character of Elphaba in the smash musical “Wicked”) to starring in the TV series “People of Earth” (about a group of earthbound extraterrestrials) as well as the Netflix series “Lady Dynamite,” focused on popular stand-up comic Maria Bamford. She’s even hosted her own web series (the Chevy-sponsored quasi-talk show “Going There,” no doubt inspired by Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”).
On Nov. 4, Gasteyer heads to the Poway Center for the Performing Arts for a show that she likens to a party in her living room inspired by the actual parties she throws, with a couple of martinis thrown in for good measure.
“It’s an evening with a quintet and a lot of standards and contemporary songs, all in sort of a wacky, happy jazz vibe,” she says of the show, which is being presented by Poway OnStage. “The show is a little bit of a throwback.”
It’s all a perfect expression of the current phase of her career, says Gasteyer, who on Wednesday joined the cast of “A Christmas Story Live!,” set to air Dec. 17 on Fox. Gasteyer previously appeared in the Emmy-winning production of “Grease Live!,” Fox’s inaugural foray into televised live musical theater.
“I feel like there are two mes,” she says with a laugh. “There’s the sincere me, and then there’s this ridiculous wig-wearing lady. The thing about jazz is that it lives in the middle, which makes it home for me musically. A lot of comedic performances are also musical people, so it’s a really cool synthesis of what makes me tick.”
Her obvious comedic prowess notwithstanding, Gasteyer initially set out to make a mark in an entirely different aspect of the entertainment industry.
Born in Washington, D.C., to an artist mother and a lobbyist father who later became mayor of a small village in New Mexico, Gasteyer decamped to the Midwest upon graduation from high school.
Poway OnStage presents Ana Gasteyer
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4
Where: Poway Center for the Performing Arts, 15498 Espola Road, Poway.
“I actually went to college for music,” says Gasteyer, who attended Northwestern University near Chicago and became a talented violin player. However, the city known for its immense improv scene, from Second City to Improv Olympic, lured her in a different, sillier direction. “By virtue of being in Chicago, I got into the comedy scene and fell down that rabbit hole and gave up traditional operatic study.”
With her education at Northwestern’s Willard Residential College and her training in Chicago as a bedrock, Gasteyer made another move. This time it was clear across the country to Los Angeles, with dreams of hitting it big not as musician but as an actress.
While attending the city’s famed Groundlings theater school - where comedians such as Kathy Griffin and Kristen Wiig cut their teeth - Gasteyer quickly snapped up a variety of roles, including a bit part in the legendary “Soup Nazi” episode of “Seinfeld” (she played a hapless customer). It was at the Groundlings where the powers that be at “SNL” scooped her up. The young actress made her debut on the series in 1996, the same year as Tracy Morgan.
Of course, Gasteyer will never live down her run on “SNL,” during which she was involved in some of the most memorable sketches in the 43-year history of the show. (She says she’s still close with many of her “SNL” cohorts, including Tina Fey and Rachel Dratch.)
In her “SNL” sketch hall of fame, her crowning achievement is arguably an infamous NPR parody alongside Alec Baldwin and fellow cast member Molly Shannon dubbed “Schweddy Balls,” in which an unwitting baker named Pete Schweddy (Baldwin) is blissfully unaware of the double entendre his last name connotes.
“When you’re doing a sketch that becomes iconic, you’re not aware of that in the moment,” Gasteyer says of the skit that has inspired everything from a Ben and Jerry’s flavor to novelty T-shirts. “You’re not creating something thinking it’s going to be a legendary sketch. But that one became popular by virtue of it being ridiculous and funny, as well as it being a Christmas sketch - they air it year after year.”
While audiences in Poway shouldn’t expect characters and raunch, they shouldn’t expect something serious either.
“I never want it to feel stuffy, but I also don’t want people to feel disappointed I’m not in a wig.”
For Gasteyer, the whole point of the show is to thread the common theme of her entire career.
“It’s great to connect with an audience” she says. “The variety and intimacy of being on tour is really appealing to me. Performing live is a primal experience.”