Natasha Lyonne and Maya Rudolph on Comedy and Collaboration
For this year’s New Yorker Festival, Maya Rudolph and Natasha Lyonne spoke, over Zoom, with the magazine’s culture correspondent Michael Schulman. Lyonne is known for her role as a gravel-voiced Casanova on “Orange Is the New Black” and for her bingeable, existential Netflix series “Russian Doll”; she is also beloved for her lead role in the L.G.B.T.Q. fantasia “But I’m a Cheerleader.” Rudolph is an icon of early two-thousands “Saturday Night Live” and a two-time Emmy recipient (most recently for her “S.N.L.” portrayal of Kamala Harris) who has also delivered one of the past decade’s most indelible comedic moments, from the film “Bridesmaids”: a woman in a wedding gown, stricken with incontinence, slowly deflating in the middle of the street. In highlights from the event, which you can watch in the video above, the two describe the foundation of their long friendship and how each helps bring a pitch meeting home.
Rudolph describes how she fell in love, artistically, with Lyonne when she saw “Slums of Beverly Hills,” saying, “I felt like I was watching my person.” Their friendship began during Rudolph’s first year on “S.N.L.,” when she and Lyonne crossed paths amid a group of cast members and assorted “cool New Yorker kids.” Rudolph reënacts Lyonne’s fateful overture: “She sauntered over and said”—here, Rudolph’s voice drops into a replica of Lyonne’s throaty twang—“ ‘You wanna be in a fashion show?’ ” At this, Lyonne breaks into a huge grin that, like Rudolph’s half-smiles, broadcasts the semi-private pleasures of seeing an old friend do her thing. Such pleasures are gratifying to witness, both for laypeople and fans of their collaborations, which include a surrealist short film for the fashion house Kenzo and a joint production company, Animal Pictures.
Rudolph, the child of the composer Richard Rudolph and the singer Minnie Riperton, offers an explanation for her uncanny mimesis: “Music is really, truly, for me, the key into any sort of impression . . . because it’s just about being a human parrot, reënacting the sounds that I hear.” Having given voice to Michelle Obama, Ivanka Trump, and Lisa Kudrow alike, Rudolph knows something about the strange song of humanity. So, too, does Lyonne, who offers a reflection on the current moment, saying that the pandemic has “forced everyone to do a slowdown. And, you know, life is this fast-moving train of warped ideas about what’s important.” For her, a new Zelda gamer who has been wearing pajamas during Zoom pitches, she was “just enjoying the slower pace and time to think instead of run.” Rudolph nods sagely. “I’m a big fan of that,” she said. “I’m a big fan of thinking instead of running.”