This article originally appeared in the July issue of ELLE.
For our first-ever Women in Comedy Issue, we bring you wit, wisdom, and war stories from some of the world’s most hilarious women—Maya Rudolph, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Silverman, Chelsea Handler, and more. Today, Maya on her imitation game.
For seven seasons on Saturday Night Live, Maya Rudolph carried sketch after sketch with her over-the-top but somehow totally dead-on impressions—Donatella Versace, Beyoncé, and Oprah among them. Now, with Maya & Marty, the hour-long NBC variety show she cohosts with Martin Short, Rudolph is back in the live format she knows best, delighting audiences with guest star–laden skits, song, and dance, and, of course, her homage-style mimicry that never makes any one celebrity the butt of a joke.
Her first impression: “Roseanne Roseannadanna! As a kid I could wear my hair naturally and make the scrunched-up face and complain like her. I was 100 percent about getting the laugh.”
The character we’ve yet to see: “I’ve always wanted to do Gwen Stefani. I did her over the years at [improv school] The Groundlings, and I played in a band—we even played some shows with No Doubt!—so I came up with an impression of her, but there was never a reason to do her on SNL. It’s all about the voice.”
Her fondest miss: “I was asked to come back to SNL and play Barack Obama when he was running. I had no take on him whatsoever. I just couldn’t figure out the voice. At dress rehearsal, I was in this little Brooks Brothers suit and my Scott Joplin wig, and Barack came up behind me. I turned to him and said, ‘Well, how do I look?’ He said, ‘I don’t wear a three-button suit.’ I was like, What does that mean? Is that a man joke? But I went out and did it, and it was terrible and humiliating. But this is comedy—it’s fight or flight!”