Known for her eager smile and savantlike immersion into character, Saturday Night Live cast member Vanessa Bayer has earned a following with such scene stealers as Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy, Trainwreck’s Nikki and media coach Janessa Slater—who criticizes artists like Haim and Drake to their faces on the web series Sound Advice. Bayer hits the Bell House on Friday, August 26, for two live shows: IFC’s Slightly Off Showcase and Series Funale, which she hosts with her brother—and Sound Advice producer—music journalist Jonah Bayer. Before the festival, the hilarious New Yorker spoke to us about what she has up her sleeve.
What can we expect from the live show with your brother?
It’s an idea that Jonah and I have wanted to do for a long time. It’s called Series Funale—and we’re very proud of that name. The concept is that my brother and I are both really into ’90s TV, and for each episode we show the series finale of a popular ’90s show and then discuss it with someone from the cast. So for this show, we’re showing the series finale of Blossom, and then we’re going to discuss it with my friend Kyle Mooney and the amazing Jenna von Oÿ, who played Six on Blossom.
So are you a fan of Blossom?
I’m a very big fan of Blossom, and [Laughs] there’s a story that will probably come up during the show. I had a real crisis of conscience – not sure if that’s the right term — when I started watching Blossom again a couple of years ago. I saw the series finale, and it was different than I remembered, because what I remembered was them breaking the fourth wall and being like: “this is a TV show, and this isn’t real.” But when I watched it again, it was about them selling their house and stuff. I had become twitter friends with [Blossom actress] Jenna von Oÿ, and I messaged her saying that I had been obsessing about this for months. I wrote her saying: “I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t remember it being like this.” She told me that I might be remembering an episode from a previous season in which Blossom has a dream in which there’s a show called Blossom and she plays herself. Then a month later she wrote me again saying she hadn’t realized who I was and that if I had any questions I should let her know. I thought she was so nice to do that without knowing I was in the industry, and that I was just a fan. We kept in touch, and we met at Bonnaroo in Nashville. I was talking with my brother and we said it would be perfect to have her for the first show. So we’re really excited.
Is this the first time you’ve performed with your brother onstage?
Well, okay. Part of the reason we came up with Sound Advice is because he’s always been in bands, and he’s always let me give condescending notes to the bands as a joke. In retrospect, those are his cool friends, and he could have been like, “Get away from us!” For years, whenever his band was in New York, I would open for them and roast them. I just did it for Motion City Soundtrack because he was friends with them. This will be the first time that this show would include us together. We’d want to do it with other ’90s shows, like Saved by the Bell and Family Matters.
What does SNL feel like in an election year?
It’s a lot of fun and it’s very exciting. You feel like you’re in the middle of things, which is cool. That stuff is always so unpredictable. The show is always written the week before it airs, but with election season, every day things are changing so rapidly, so everyone really has to be on their toes. Is that a term? On their feet or on their toes?
Was it frustrating being off this summer, with so much to make fun of? Can you wait until the new season starts?
I think it’s really obvious that there’s a lot of stuff going on in the world that would be great for our show. That happens every summer. Every summer feels like that, but you get used to it, and it’s nice having the break to recharge. What you learn is that that stuff is constant. There will be more stories as we come back.
I feel like all of your characters are kind of sweet, or seemingly innocent in a way. Is that deliberate? Or is that just a part of your personality?
I think it comes from me. It’s what I find funny. Meanness or mean characters don’t appeal to me as much, so I kind of like when people are more innocent. If someone’s sort of a loser and they know they are, then it’s kind of a sad character, but if they don’t know they are, it’s so much more fun to do, and it’s more enjoyable to watch.
What’s your process with creating a character, and how do you actually explain that when pitching? Is it difficult for you to translate your vision?
Sometimes it is. The thing with the show is that once you’re there for a certain amount of time, the audience trusts you a little more. They let you do some more subtle things. But at first, when people don’t know what you’re doing, they think you’re really weird.
And was that hard when you were just getting started?
I was lucky. I started in Chicago and people were so supportive, which gave me some confidence with doing those kind of characters. Still, a lot of characters I do don’t work, or aren’t right for the show. You’re never going to bat 100 with your characters, but the longer I’ve been there the more people have warmed up to me and are getting it.
What TV shows from this year are you currently watching?
I just started Stranger Things yesterday, and I will finish it today for sure. I thought this question might come up. If we did this interview two days ago, or in two days, I would be onto a different show. I just finished Mozart in the Jungle and thought that was great. I watched Orange Is The New Black in like a day and a half, and I’m going to start The Night Of next.
Is summer your sacred time to binge watch?
It kind of is. I can always reason to myself that it’s for work. Like, I started watching Game of Thrones because we did a parody of it on SNL, and I was like, “I have to keep up with this!” I love watching TV, so it’s a great excuse. SNL is really an enabler in that way.
Vanessa Bayer is at the Bell House Friday, August 26, at 7:30 and 10pm (bkcomedyfestival.com).