How I Get It Done: Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant

Illustration: Lauren Tamaki

Aidy Bryant has worked two jobs six days a week or more for more than a year. (Hurray for Sundays.) As a Saturday Night Live senior cast member, the 31-year-old comedian has played everyone from Adele to Sarah Huckabee Sanders while creating some of SNL’s most memorable sketches — and she’s received two Emmy nominations since joining the show in 2012. She also co-wrote, co-produced, and starred in the new comedy series Shrill, which premieres this Friday, March 15 on Hulu. Based on Lindy West’s memoir, Shrill centers on a young journalist named Annie who goes viral after writing a blog about her weight.

Bryant lives in Manhattan with her husband, the Adult Swim comedy writer Conner O’Malley, and often alternates between SNL and Shrill in a single workday. Here’s how she gets it all done.

On how she starts her week:
In order to condition for the week ahead, I keep vampire hours. On Mondays, I’ll stay up until 3 and sleep until 10. I have a radio in my bedroom and my die-hard morning program is The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. I find it very steadying, and part of my job is being informed about the news. I listen, pack up my bag, get my breakfast in, spend a little time with my husband and get my emails in. That starts my day off right.

Mondays and Tuesdays are the only days where you can get outside things done. If I’m doing a voice-over or a marketing call for Shrill, I have to book it on a Monday or Tuesday morning. Around 4 or 5 o’clock on Mondays, the whole [SNL] cast and the writers are on the floor in Lorne [Michaels]’s office with the host, and we pitch two ideas. It’s more to meet the host and get a sense of their energy. Then I’ll go around and talk to the writers about what I have to work on. I get home around 8.

On how she brainstorms ideas:
I wouldn’t say I’m thinking of ideas super-far ahead of time. I need to meet the host first and think “Oh, they have a kind of lumberjack vibe.” I jot down kernels of ideas in the Notes section of my phone. I’ll grab one of those and think, “Maybe this will be good.” I never sit down and think, “What am I going to pitch?” I mostly write with other writers, which is the fun of comedy, because you can bounce ideas off each other. I write with Sudi Green and Fran Gillespie, who are our writing supervisors. I wrote alone a lot for Shrill but sketch is a different ballgame.

On the secret work behind every SNL sketch:
If you’ve written a piece, then you fully produce it, too. So you meet with costume designers, prop people, special-effects people, and set designers during the week. I say, “I’m thinking of this kind of look.” It’s a lot to keep track of. There is a grind to it, a nitty-gritty. You can write a very funny piece but sometimes you make a mistake in the production element like it’s shot wonky, and a funny piece gets cut because it’s un-produceable. The nice thing is that it’s not heavy dark stuff. We pitched James McAvoy in a Bachelor-type sketch saying, “I’m from Turd River, Colorado.”

On when she replies to emails:
I have time where I know I can plow through it. If it’s a quick response, I’ll shoot it off quickly. But if it’s stuff I need to think about more clearly, I have to schedule a time. Like, on Tuesdays, if I’m writing one sketch at 2 p.m. and another at 6 p.m., maybe I have 30 minutes in between where I can sit at my computer in my office and just plow through it. On Thursdays and Fridays when I’m rehearsing, I might have a 15-minute break and go to my dressing room while equipment is being moved.

On her “insane” Fridays:
Fridays are when we shoot pre-tapes but rehearse live stuff in studio. There are three pre-tapes every week, which are the digital shorts or commercials. I’ve had weeks where I’ve been in all three. You get picked up at 5 a.m. You go to Long Island and get hair and makeup done. You shoot at 6 a.m. and finish at 9. Then you pre-tape again at a different location in Manhattan or Brooklyn until 2 p.m. Then you go to the studio to rehearse live sketches. You finish at 9 or 10 p.m. and then go to the third pre-tape. I’ve had it where I don’t finish until 7 a.m. [on Saturday]. And we don’t have breaks because they’re waiting in hair and makeup and fittings, and you’re pulled in all different directions. And if you’ve written pieces, you have to make sure you’re responsible all the rewrites are in.

Lord help you if you have anything going on in your personal life at the same time, like if your wife is ill. It can lead to a mentally shaking kind of experience. But some of the work I’m most proud of, I’ve done on Fridays. For one show last year I had written the “Aidy B & Cardi B” sketch and this commercial for leggings. They both shot on the same day. I can’t believe I made it through that.

On her pre-show routine on Saturday:
At 12:30 p.m. on Saturday you’re in the studio for the show. I’m usually pretty tired so I’m feeling less wistful and more practical about walking into 30 Rock. I go to my dressing room, I’ll put on NPR. I’ll stretch for 15 minutes and I’ll have some sort of lunch and look over my scripts and make a list of things I still need to do. I rarely get that shaking-in-my-boots nervous feeling anymore right before the show starts. If there’s something hard to execute, maybe I’ll be nervous about that. Or if I’m comfortable, I’m excited.

On planning meals throughout the week:
I stick to the same three or four meals because the job is figured out for me, and I can keep it simple. When I wake up, I’ll make myself an apple with peanut butter. That will last me until 2. Then I’ll order avocado toast from Le Pain Quotidien or a vegetable soup from Hale & Hearty. Those are my 30 Rock spots. For dinner, it depends. If I’m on set, I’ll eat the catering. Or I eat at the host dinner on Tuesday nights.

On her go-to drink:
I don’t drink any caffeine because I don’t like it. I don’t want to feel jittery, which happens with caffeine. I’m conscious that I have to perform and if my hands are shaking because I had a bunch of coffee, it’s going to affect my performance. Sometimes I’ll have a green tea if I’m dying but mostly I just run on seltzer. I drink club soda all damn day.

On choosing when to sleep:
Sleep is key. I learned that the hard way from working 24-hour days. So I’m strict about going to bed when I have to go to bed. I’ll take five to six hours a night. And certain nights I get a full 11. During my second season is when I started to figure it out. Like, okay I know when to gas it and when to pull back during the week. And on Sundays I know I can sleep in until 11 and do nothing. That’s truly a day of rest.

On her guilty pleasure:
On Sundays, oh my God, I’m catching up on trash reality TV like the Real Housewives. Atlanta, Dallas, the O.C., New York, and Beverly Hills. I’ll watch them all, truly. I’m incredibly proud of my knowledge.

On making Shrill nonstop:
I feel incredibly privileged that I can write, star, and produce a whole other television show at the same time as doing SNL. This is adapted from a book [by Lindy West]. I found out on my honeymoon that the show was getting picked up. So I came back, packed a bag, went to L.A., wrote for two months, then went to Portland [Oregon] and shot it for two months. Then I went back to L.A. for the Emmys and then the next day I went back to SNL. I didn’t have even have a day off. It was a wild turnaround. But I’m super-proud of being able to helm this other ship.

On having a husband in the business:
We both work in comedy so we run ideas past each other. I’m constantly like, “What do you think?” and I’ll do the same for him. We love the comedy so much that it’s a joy to talk through it, you know? It doesn’t feel like work. We also do try to have dinner together on Monday and Thursday nights and have little points where we find each other during the week. We love to go to grocery stores and buy little snacks and make jokes together in the aisles. Gristedes, baby!

On working two jobs at once:
I didn’t know how intense it would be to do another show and SNL at the same time. It’s been extremely difficult. Sometimes I have an eight-hour day working on Shrill and a 15-hour day on SNL and the hours are overlapping. I’m split-brained. But I’ve found you have to compartmentalize. Like for 30 minutes I’m going to work on SNL and for 30 minutes I’m going to work on Shrill and for ten minutes I’m going to text with my mom. Discipline is really the word for it. I enjoy what I do, so that makes it a lot easier.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

How I Get It Done: Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant