‘SNL’ Stars Heidi Gardner and Ego Nwodim Reveal Secrets Behind Their Viral Sketches

Early on in Heidi Gardner and Ego Nwodim’s “Saturday Night Live” careers, the duo shared a dressing room. Being in proximity to each other amid a demanding schedule meant Gardner and Nwodim — who joined “SNL” in 2017 and 2018, respectively — became fast friends almost out of necessity. “We have a very special relationship,” Nwodim, 36, said. “The show is so grueling and your dressing room is a safe haven. I feel really fortunate that, in our case, it went so well.” Gardner, 40, added, “What I learned the most in that time about Ego was how respectful and wonderful she is.”

Their tight-knit bond was evident when they connected over video chat to discuss Season 49 of NBC’s late-night sketch comedy series, which produced some of their most memorable work to date.

Kenan Thompson as a professor, Mikey Day as Butt-Head, Ryan Gosling as Beavis and Heidi Gardner as a NewsNation anchor on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC)
Kenan Thompson as a professor, Mikey Day as Butt-Head, Ryan Gosling as Beavis and Heidi Gardner as a NewsNation anchor on “Saturday Night Live” (NBC)

You’re both now veterans of “Saturday Night Live.” Do you feel like you’ve earned your stripes?

EGO NWODIM Oh, boy. [Laughs] I don’t know while you’re on the show if you ever feel like you earned your stripes. But you do have this really cool catalog of work to look back on and remind you of how long you’ve been at the show, how many opportunities you’ve had to perform with people you admire and grew up watching. I feel like [I’m] in a groove.

HEIDI GARDNER It’s so insular, like it’s such a world inside those walls. Sometimes it’s not until you step outside and get clarity from friends, family and fans letting you know they see you. Oh wait, I have been earning my little notches
and badges. [Laughs] That can always feel good.

This past season was a comedy goldmine. Heidi, the “Beavis and Butt-Head” sketch took on a life of its own. Did you have any idea the impact it would have?

GARDNER No. “Beavis and Butt-Head” was supposed to go on the show, like, five years ago and didn’t make it. That whole week, it was a slightly under-the-radar sketch. There were other big productions happening in the show and it was just this silly little piece. Then it was something that a lot of people connected with and got everybody laughing. It’s a good reminder that you just never know; you certainly never know at “SNL.” Sometimes, when you’re not focused so hard on something, the most joy can be found in that, surprisingly.

Why do you think it struck a chord?

GARDNER It must have been a lot of reasons. The fact that people tuning in weren’t expecting to see this throwback “Beavis and Butt-Head” thing. I think there was a nostalgia that hit for people that was like, “Oh wait.” Either they had watched [the original show] or they got to tell their kids about it: “This was that show and these were those characters.”

And the fact that everybody got the giggles in it. I have to say, I felt bad at first for laughing but it’s been a really cool, freeing thing to hear that sometimes when you laugh, it gives other people the invitation to laugh. I’ve heard from people, “I needed a laugh like that.” That was cool.

NWODIM I can only imagine you guys ran “Beavis and Butt-Head” like we normally do — blocking and then run-through — but then seeing Ryan [Gosling] and Mikey [Day] in the prosthetics, that’s a very different experience.

Ego, one of my favorite recurring characters is Lisa from Temecula, who returned in a memorable sketch that had Bowen Yang losing it. 

NWODIM It can be a bit formulaic, which I do think if we were to do it again, we’d want to veer away from it and see where else we could place Lisa. Between dress [rehearsal] and air, [writer] Alex English wanted to see if he could break Bowen. That line was always, “Because I’m Negro-divergent,” but for air, it changed to pointing Bowen out [and saying, “He’s Negro-divergent”] because we thought, “Wonderful, this will make him break.”

What do you consider each other’s best work from the season?

GARDNER She did the Jamaican church sketch as Father Lawrence — that sketch was so alive and wonderful — but I also knew that was my friend having a blast. I will say, you as Katt Williams was killer. That almost started as an “Update,” right?

NWODIM It did, yeah.

Ego Nwodim as Katt Williams on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC)
Ego Nwodim as Katt Williams on “Saturday Night Live” (NBC)

GARDNER Having it filmed [as a sketch], they got to have every perfect reaction and look. It highlighted you and the job you were doing even more. It’s precision — every joke hit just the way it was supposed to. That’s why I’m so happy it
was filmed because you can’t miss it. The camera is so focused on who she is: a genius and hilarious.

NWODIM Thank you, Heidi. That’s so sweet. I was thinking about Trudy [in the “Secretaries” sketch]. [Laughs] The globe falling off your head and seeing the joy on your face, like, “Well, that wasn’t supposed to happen” — going with the flow and rolling with the punches. I also think a lot about the woman in the bank robbery sketch with Josh Brolin. All your choices in that performance are so phenomenal. I loved when you played the woman with tips on aging and the binder clips surprise at the end [where it was revealed she clipped her skin back]. It’s not my place to say but it feels so wonderful to be on the show at the same time as Heidi and get to watch her and thus, the rest of us, just play.

We’ve been, thankfully, in an amazing position to watch Kate [McKinnon], Aidy [Bryant] and Cecily [Strong] before us do what they do because I was watching them at home before I got to the show and [was] so in awe of their work. For so long, they were the seniors and we were the juniors. Getting to now have the space in the cast to feel like we can play and we can be silly and we don’t just have to be of service in pieces and that we can take up more space and have our performances be all that we hope them to be, is really, really special.

What do you see for yourselves in the future?

NWODIM I’m trying to open myself more to where life is going to take me and enjoying whatever that is. At the same time, I would love to do more comedy [and] do more drama as well. I would love to do more films. I want to direct at some point, but I want to be open to what comes my way.

GARDNER I do think that when you get on “SNL,” you always compare yourself to those who came before you, but those were different times. I would love to write a TV show and I would love to be in great movies — I’m very open to that. I want to stay open to those surprises and make sure that I’m welcoming in whatever’s for me.

How long do you envision yourselves on “SNL”?

GARDNER I’m grateful that we’re getting to spread our wings, so I want to enjoy that for a little bit.

NWODIM I feel like I will know when it’s time to go. Even if it is scary to make that leap, part of what I’ve become accustomed to is the uncertainty, the question marks and making bold choices. That time will make itself clear to me, and I’m in no rush to discern when that is or isn’t just yet.

A version of this story first appeared in the Comedy Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the Comedy Series issue here.

Larry David photographed by Mary Ellen Matthews for TheWrap
Larry David photographed by Mary Ellen Matthews for TheWrap

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