Comedian and actress Heidi Gardner knows a thing or two about making the cut. Prior to getting cast on Saturday Night Live, Gardner worked as a hairstylist in Los Angeles.
It wasn't until one of Gardner's friends invited her to an improv show at the Groundlings—an improv and sketch-comedy theater with alums such as Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig—that she fell in love with comedy.
While at the Groundlings, Gardner performed with the famed Sunday Company and Main Company. After years of honing her craft, Gardner landed her dream audition for SNL.
Listen to Gardner share how she went from just an improv fan to booking the biggest sketch-comedy show in the world on the latest episode of Who What Wear With Hillary Kerr. For some excerpts from her interview, scroll below.
So how did the SNL audition come up?
I was fully immersed in sketch writing and doing all of this. I was in love with it. There came a certain point where I had to admit that to myself and quit the salon because I was like, "Oh, these people are paying me to do their very intricate highlights." I'll see their name on the schedule, and I'll be like, "Oh, don't they know I have to write sketches for free." So I was like, "Okay, I need to quit the salon."
So you committed?
Yes, I committed. I did Sunday Company, and I made it into the Main Company. Because I didn't have the hair to do anymore, I was doing every single show at Groundlings that you could possibly do.
SNL actually came around when I was in Sunday Company. They saw some of us in L.A., and I didn't get flown out to New York. I was pretty upset. … I was a little bit like, "Oh, that sucks."
I was so busy doing Sunday Company I couldn't really think about it so much. I'm so glad I didn't get it then because I got so much more experience and reps getting on stage that by the time SNL came back around and they saw me in a showcase, I was just a way better performer, a way better writer. I had way more characters.
When I walked out for my SNL audition, I prepared for knowing all my bits, and I was ready, and I was memorized, but I did not prepare for … the first time I ever saw the SNL stage. That's where the host does the monologue.
You had never been to a taping [of Saturday Night Live]?
I forgot about that part! I'm seeing all this stuff that I've seen for all my life. The fan in me is like, "Oh my god."
I'm on that stage, and it's like, "I want to take a picture," and the stage manager, Chris, is like, "five, four, three" and then he points at me, and I have to do the audition.
I don't remember that first audition. It was like a blackout of just adrenaline and do your job. I walked away being like, "I did hear people laugh, but I can't remember it, and I don't know." I'm very in my head, and then I go home.
Did you read the Live From New York book?
You know, if you get a meeting, that's a good sign, but I didn't get a meeting. I flew home the next day.
I get a call a week later that's like, "Hey, they want you to come back and audition again, but this time, you have to do a totally new set."
It was like, "Oh my god, but I did my A-list material." First, I freaked out—like, "I did everything I can do. What am I going to come up with now?"
I was able to be like, "You know what. The fact that you've been performing nonstop for a year and a half now, there are so many things that you have tried out for sketch shows where the sketch didn't work. But I remembered that character worked, that 20 seconds worked. Oh, they liked that person. They liked that line."
That's what my SNL auditions were, me trying to show as much range as possible in five minutes. The first one was like 12 characters. The second one was like 11. … My second audition at SNL was all my bench players on my basketball team, and they got to finally play. I think that got me the job. You know, I mean, both did—I'm sure.
Do you have a sense now, after as much time as you've been on the show, of what's gonna get picked and what's not? Or does it still surprise you?
Sometimes, it'll still surprise me. Sometimes, there are things that are just like, "I mean, yeah, that was the funniest sketch at the table. That is definitely going to go in." Then, every so often, even something like that won't go in because maybe that was a set that is a little too hard to pull off. There could be all these other variables.
Or it could even be something where it's like, "Yeah, it was hilarious to that entire room." Maybe the host didn't totally feel comfortable being an '80s aerobics instructor, dancing and singing. Maybe they don't want to take that big of a swing, so you have to save it for a different week. There are some times where you're like, "Yeah, that's definitely going in," but you can always be super surprised.