Ana Gasteyer played some of the most outrageous characters on Saturday Night Live, from her impression of Celine Dion to her NPR radio host gushing over Schweddy Balls. On TBS’s new comedy People of Earth, she plays a more down-to-earth character. Gina Morrison leads a support group for alien abductees, and even though reporter Ozzie Graham (Wyatt Cenac) visits them skeptically, she encourages everyone to be supportive.
We spoke to Gasteyer at TBS’s lobster party for the Television Critics Association this summer. She had just come off a run on Maria Bamford’s Netflix series Lady Dynamite, playing Bamford’s former agent Karen Grisham, at least one of Bamford’s incarnations of Karen Grisham. You can catch Gasteyer leading the “alien experiencers” of People of Earth on Monday nights at 9 p.m. on TBS.
Den of Geek: What was your take on this support group leader?
Ana Gasteyer: I just like the idea. I like the idea of believers. I like the idea of talking about faith in something that you don’t understand and I like the idea of outsiders validating one another. So it was less about the specific character. It’s obviously something I was naturally drawn to, a character with insight, a therapeutic presence, but it was more about that ensemble of people and finding a group. I’m really interested in the idea that it would be very frightening and lonely to have this experience and have so many people question it. I think it would be very alienating.
Was the chemistry with the cast of the support group there in the first read?
Yeah. We were on location which makes all the difference because you’re thrown into a hotel and you have to become friends. Oscar and I were Groundlings together so there’s a lot of common language. Brian Huskey and Tracee Chimo are from New York. You find your way quickly. Also, support groups are inherently awkward. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in one but they’re not made up in exactly the most benevolent setting. You may have this one odd thing in common but everybody’s different.
Do you develop a character like Gina very differently than if you’re doing a broad comedy sketch character or a celebrity impression?
I wish I could say I don’t, but I find that I’m interested in a subject and I know the kind of person that it is. I come to it very similarly. I don’t go out of my way to be broader. Of course there are choices they make more in the editing and showrunning and the way the show is put together and crafted. Something like Lady Dynamite where they’re going for a kind of manic extreme vision, of course that’s going to feel broader. I feel like I know that woman as well as I know this therapist character if that makes sense.
Well, you’re one of several Karen Grishams on Lady Dynamite. Was there a real Karen Grisham in Maria Bamford’s life?
Oh yeah, I’m sure there was. The entire thing is autobiographical. We never discussed it but all of us understand Hollywood well enough that I dove in feet first.
What’s coming up on People of Earth?
It’s really awesome. We’re exploring some of the origin stories of these people, getting to know Wyatt’s trajectory. You’re getting to know the alien trajectory. I have to say, I’m excited for the care they’re taking with the story. I feel like they’re paying attention to the fact that it’s 10 [episodes].
Are we going to get to see the backstory of Gina’s abduction?
Yeah. It’s episode four I think.
What were you looking forward to filming about that?
All of it. I think the truth is, abduction would be a very profound and alienating experience. I think it’s very lonely and shakes you to your core and you have to reconstruct your ability to fit in. That’s very much what this storyline examines.
Are you very sensitive to the people who believe they really have been abducted?
Definitely. Very sensitive. I feel like it must be really lonely. The idea of that sort of gaslit like no one’s believing me. I have a hard time calling Citibank and saying this charge was wrong. It must be very overwhelming and very frightening.
Is the tone of People of Earth that you’re not making fun of the group? In fact it’s actually coming true.
Correct. They are validated. It’s not a patronizing comedy. It’s not like: aren’t people who believe in aliens weird? I think if anything, the showrunner, Greg [Daniels], David Jenkins and Conan [O’Brien] probably all really do believe in the extra-terrestrial, as do I.
Lady Dynamite is getting a second season. Is Karen Grisham going to be back?
I hope so. Oh, I hope so so much. Probably the most fun role I’ve ever played in my career.
Lady Dynamite really spoke to me all the different ways it was meta and self-reflexive and breaking the fourth wall.
Was that tone very natural and easy to get right when you’re doing scenes that take place in different realities?
It weirdly was. The writing is so careful and so specific. The scripts had each timeframe in different colors. I don’t know if you knew that. When we receive it, you would understand what was her past, what was the present, what was mania. Their minds, Pam Brady’s mind, Mitch Hurwitz’s mind, they’re very clear. They understand their vision. They understood Maria’s voice. They materialized Maria’s voice beautifully. So yeah, I never felt challenged by it. It was just a joy to work on. A true joy.