At last, Maya Rudolph is channeling her inner Carol Burnett.
The daughter of singer Minnie Riperton and ??songwriter-producer Richard Rudolph grew up with a dream of combining a little song and dance, plenty of jokes and a dollop of sketch comedy — plus a few surprise guests — into, yes, her own variety show.
By the time she became a comic mainstay on Saturday Night Live (2000-07) and in films (Grown Ups in 2010 and Bridesmaids in 2011), Rudolph thought she finally had the clout to realize her ambition.
A trip through Hollywood with the idea, though, proved humbling.
“There were people who told me: ‘Well, it’s been tried, and I’m just not sure. It might not be the right time. It’s just never going to work,’??” she said.
Still, Rudolph — whose childhood was informed by The Carol Burnett Show and The Muppet Show, and who is raising her children to be variety fans — wasn’t inclined to take no for an answer.
“I never think in terms of what worked in the past,” she said. “I’m more interested in what’s going to feel good. Creatively, when you’re at your best is when you’re doing something that you love.”
The result is The Maya Rudolph Show, a one-shot special airing Monday on NBC.
If the special draws respectable ratings, it could lead to others — even an ongoing series.
“It’s filled with comedy, music and people turning up,” Rudolph said. “I wanted it to just feel like a party. It’s fun and joyful. The audience needs to be able to tell that the people making the show are having just as much fun.”
Some of her fellow Saturday Night Live alumni, she indicated, will turn up.
“One of the things that I missed after I left SNL was just getting to play with my friends,” she said. “That’s a recipe that you can’t manufacture. It’s just a case of, when people have chemistry, that’s palpable. So I was lucky enough to have Fred Armisen and Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell on it. Those guys are like my brothers; I know them so well.”
Other guests include actress Kristen Bell; musical guest Janelle Monae; and actor, singer and comedian Craig Robinson. Rudolph also has Sean Hayes, a former co-star on Up All Night, on board.
A variety show has long been Plan A for Rudolph.
“I’ve always wanted to do something like this show,” she said. “Once I left SNL, I had the bug and couldn’t really cure it. It’s hard when you perform live on a regular basis and then you stop performing live. It feels like a part of you is missing.”
Working with SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels on Up All Night gave her the chance to pitch the idea. (Michaels is listed as one of the executive producers along with Rudolph, Erin David and Dave Becky.)
“I think, more than ever before, people want to watch TV, feel good and laugh,” she said. ” Variety is the ultimate feel-good show. It’s something that’s very precious to me. It’s a language I understand very well. I taught myself, based on the shows that I loved and the performers I loved.”
Her variety show won’t consist simply of a series of comedy sketches.
“I’m a sucker for anything musical,” she said. “Music is such a huge part of my life and such a big love. I love when a special guest turns up in a piece and just starts singing a song. Those are the moments that just blow you away.”
Rudolph grew up in a musical family and spent her formative years in Los Angeles, around show business. In fact, she was in the studio listening as her mother recorded her biggest hit, Lovin’ You (1975).
Riperton learned that she had breast cancer in 1976 and died three years later at age 31. Her daughter was 6.
“It was hard,” said Rudolph, 41. “You grow up feeling odd because you don’t have a mother. It hurt.”
Her first foray into show business involved music: She formed a band called Supersauce in school, then joined the Rentals, led by future Weezer bassist Matt Sharp. Only after that group broke up did she decide to pursue a career in comedy.
Work with the famous Los Angeles improv troupe the Groundlings led Rudolph to Saturday Night Live, where she performed memorable impersonations of Beyonce, Paris Hilton, Lucy Liu, Liza Minnelli, Michelle Obama, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities.
Since leaving the show in 2007, she has bounced from project to project, more or less by design.
“My feeling is always ‘Funny is funny,’??” she said.
“I’m always someone who looks for the funny. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a movie or TV or some other kind of project.”
Rudolph spends her off hours at home with her partner, director Paul Thomas Anderson, and their children: Pearl Minnie, 9; Lucille, 5; Jack, 2; and a newborn daughter.
The children, she said, are getting their recommended daily allowances of old variety shows.
″ The Muppet Show is actually the first variety show I loved,” Rudolph said. “When guests came on and entered the world of the Muppets, it was just pure escapism. Suddenly a big star was singing a duet with a strange creature.
“I have the boxed set and put it on all the time for my kids.”
Rudolph treasures her ability to pass on her passion for the genre.
“I get to share something I loved as a kid with my children,” she said. “It’s exciting to turn somebody onto something that you know is so fantastic and cool.
“Plus, I like watching their eyes pop.”