Aidy Bryant on Season 2 of Shrill, Reclaiming the Word ‘Fat’ and Her Future at SNL

Hollywood tried to pigeonhole her, so she's forging her own path

On Hulu’s Shrill, Bryant plays Annie, a plus-sized Portland blogger who is finding her voice and becoming comfortable in her own skin. Photo by Nina Westervelt for Adweek; Styled by Rebecca Grice; Dress by Tanya Taylor
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After seven seasons at Saturday Night Live, where she’s best known for impersonations like Sarah Huckabee Sanders and making all-female music videos like “(Do It on My) Twin Bed,” Aidy Bryant still has plenty of surprises up her sleeve. Last month, she became one of the only SNL cast members ever to simultaneously star in her own TV series (which she also co-created, co-wrote and co-executive produced): Shrill, a Hulu comedy based on Lindy West’s memoir and starring the two-time Emmy nominee as Annie, a plus-sized Portland blogger who is finding her voice and becoming comfortable in her own skin.

“She is so perfectly Hulu. She’s relevant, of the moment, multitalented and focused on doing her best work,” says Hulu CEO Randy Freer of Bryant.

Since Shrill debuted a month ago, it has been “one of our most popular shows across all of our metrics,” says Freer, including hours of viewing and bringing new subscribers to the service. So it’s no surprise that the streaming service, which has been steadily building on its Handmaid’s Tale momentum, has just renewed Shrill for a second season, as Bryant confirms for the first time in our interview with her.

She sat down with Adweek in between production on SNL and planning Shrill’s second season to talk about forging her own path in Hollywood with Shrill, reclaiming the word “fat” and how much longer she’ll stay on SNL. (This interview has been edited and condensed from two conversations.)

Adweek: Was one of the reasons you were drawn to Shrill and co-wrote it because of the mediocre other roles you were being offered?  
Bryant: That’s true. After my second or third season on SNL, people would start to send me things, and I would read them and be like, “This isn’t a good fit.” I know that if I take on a role, I am “the fat one,” so if that role is that she can never find a boyfriend, that becomes a fat woman that can never find a boyfriend. I carry that with me, and that meant something when I was choosing things. So certainly, the idea of being able to write this and have a role in how it’s put forward was huge.

What was the most ridiculous role you’ve been offered?
There was one where—and I don’t think it has ever seen the light of day—a man was in prison and the other guys in prison were like, “You’ve got to get an ugly girl to be your prison wife and she’ll come and bring you food and have sex with you!” And then they were like, “And that would be you.” [laughs] I remember being like, “Oh, they think that this is a fun thing for me, and it’s so insulting.” Those were some of the moments where I was like, “Is this what it is in Hollywood? I think I might have to write for myself … ”

How did you react when you got the news about Shrill’s Season 2 renewal?
I found out in one moment like three different ways, where I was getting texts and phone calls from different Hulu folks and my agents and our showrunner, and that was thrilling. I certainly felt positive based on the [initial] response and some of the reviews, and was like, OK, I think it would be a mistake to not make more, but it was really so affirming for what we’ve made. Now I can’t stop thinking about new ideas and stuff I want to do. It’s been great.

Will the next season be six episodes like Season 1 was? You had said that between writing and shooting them, that was the most you could fit in with your SNL schedule.  
I’m planning on going back to SNL [next season], so I would think it would be around that number, hopefully more. I probably can’t do 10 or 12; maybe eight? Nothing’s been locked in, but we’re of the mindset of, we’d like to do more than six. [UPDATE: Hulu said Monday morning that Season 2 will be eight episodes.]

While doing press for Shrill, you and the other producers talked about reclaiming the word “fat” on this show. How important has that been?
Words clearly are so powerful, and they can be used to hurt. I think there’s something to taking a word that has so much baggage for so many people and deflating it and letting it be what it is. It does take some of the emotion out of it and let it not mean so much, and I think there’s power to doing that—and letting this character be beautiful and have sexual relationships and friendships and a great family and all these things, that “fat” can mean that too. It doesn’t just mean someone in their basement, eating Cheetos. It means a lot of different things, and the full breadth of the word doesn’t have to be so hateful.

In one episode, Annie talks about always getting targeted ads about freezing your fat off. Is that something you’ve experienced?
During the writers’ room, we were talking so much about being fat, and suddenly I was constantly receiving targeted ads about, freeze your fat off, this diet, try eating this, this special tea will make you whatever. It’s such an assumption about fat women, or anyone of any kind of weight, that they would want to lose [weight], and that was something we wanted to include.

The key art for Shrill, on billboards and the sides of buses and buildings, featured you in a swimsuit. Was that your idea or Hulu’s?
Hulu was so great. They let us be super involved in the marketing, and that was important to us. We didn’t want to posture the show as patting ourselves on the back too much for being like, wow, we really have done a crazy thing by putting this fat woman at the center of the show, we deserve a medal of honor!

Promo art for Shrill

We also really wanted to make an effort, especially for people who have seen me on SNL, to make it clear that this is a different energy, a different vibe. We talked about referencing paintings—like [Botticelli’s] The Birth of Venus—and letting it be artful, rather than feeling like it had to be wacky or sitcom-y. And part of the show is about taking this person with a nontraditional television body and letting them be beautiful and the center of this thing. For me, being in a swimsuit, I don’t feel fear about it anymore. And her body is a huge part of the show, so I thought it would be weird to shy away from that, especially if we’re referencing this painting.

Your SNL boss, Lorne Michaels, is an executive producer on Shrill, which is a title he holds on several other TV shows. What has his involvement been?
I think people sometimes underestimate his involvement because they’re like, he’s everywhere. But he’s incredibly good with guidance. Anytime I’ve gotten in a jam or I felt like I don’t know what to do, he is the one I always call. He’s seen it all, because he’s been on a million shows and so he’s pretty unshakable in that way. He’s also really great with talking about things like casting and marketing. He has such an understanding of, “That’s not a good road to go down, and this is.” He can predict the future in a weird way, because he’s been at it so long.

Hulu execs told me that after people have seen you in three-minute SNL sketches for seven years, Shrill has been an opportunity for them to get to know the real you, or at least a closer version of it.
Much closer to me than like a lady in a crazy wig, screaming; yes, absolutely. It’s been maybe the most overwhelming part of this whole thing for me, because SNL is a very high-profile show and I thought I had a real understanding of like what it is to be famous. This experience has really showed me, I don’t know what it is. Even the way I get recognized now is completely different than my last seven years. It used to be, “You’re so funny on SNL. Thank you, bye.” Now I’ve had a lot of girls crying and people stopping me in the street and being really emotional. I’m so touched by that.

I really opened myself up, not just in my performance but talking about all this stuff. While promoting the show, there was a point I hit like, oh, my god, I have completely opened up my psyche, life, body and my relationship to myself to the public to discuss and have thoughts about—and that’s a bizarre experience. But I also feel like it’s been for the common good. This is what I mean when I say Lorne can predict the future. When I first went to talk to him about this project and why it mattered to me, he said, “I think this is the perfect way for audiences to get to know you the way we know you.” It literally came true, and I’m just so touched.

What are the biggest ways that the SNL process has changed for you over your seven seasons?
I used to be a lot more precious with my material, writing a sketch and being like, “Oh, god, it would mean everything to me to get this on!” Then if it got cut, feeling totally destroyed. I lost that completely. I’ve let go of any sense of, I think this is getting in or that’s not, because you’re just always wrong. The audience will tell you on Saturday what works and what doesn’t, and that’s the answer. Back then I felt like, OK, I have these three good ideas and I’ve got to make them work. Now I really trust in my ability to come up with a thousand ideas and throw away 999 of them.

After your Weekend Update appearance last month where you played astronaut Anne McClain, who couldn’t do the all-female spacewalk because there wasn’t a second suit in her size, she actually responded to it, from the space station.
Yes! Literally, I think that’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me in my entire time at SNL. Because they watched my face in outer space. I went to outer space, in a way! I was totally blown away by that. Then they gave an interview, from space, where they were like, “We had had a hard week, and it was the laugh we needed.” That was the coolest thing ever.

Earlier in the season on SNL, you participated in the Google Pixel 3 branded content spot, which mostly featured your castmate Kyle Mooney. How did you get involved?
I think Kyle wrote it, and he wanted a cast member in it and he asked me, and I was happy to do it. They shot it all on the Google Pixel.

Was that considered part of your SNL salary, or did you get something extra for that?
I got a little extra something. [laughs]

Have you been approached to do some actual brand partnerships, or would that be too weird after spoofing so many ads on SNL?
I don’t know that an offer has come that I’ve considered that seriously, but I feel like I could be swayed. Every now and then, I see a commercial where I go, “That’s great. That’s comedy!”

Like what?
I love those Old Navy ads. Julia Louis-Dreyfus did one, and Amy Poehler and Melissa McCarthy and Amy Schumer. Those are the funniest women on earth and are doing their thing with a brand. I could wrap my head around something like that.

And what type of ad wouldn’t you want to do?
I would certainly never do any weight-loss anything.

‘She is so perfectly Hulu,’ says Hulu CEO Randy Freer of Bryant.
Nina Westervelt for Adweek

This story first appeared in the April 15, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.