Aidy Bryant did not plan on becoming a body positivity role model. When she landed on Saturday Night Live seven years ago, she was more interested in creating absurdist comedy and a girl group that felt more like the female version of the Lonely Island crew. She’s comfortable playing a young woman lusting uncomfortably after father figures, or a talking chicken in a star-crossed romance with Ryan Gosling.
But leading her own show, a Hulu series called Shrill, Bryant tackles everything from harmful stereotypes about weight, self-love, online harassment, toxic relationships, and confronting our trolls. Which is why her new show, set to premiere March 15th, is so watchable. Bryant plays a young woman in the midst of finding herself, trying to assert her independence despite abusive megalomaniacs in her workplace, controlling parents at home, and f*ckboys that make her slip out the back door whenever their roommates return home. The show pushes Bryant out of her comfort zone and the comedian proves she’s more than capable of handling the challenge.
Uproxx chatted with Bryant about headlining her own series, why Sarah Huckabee Sanders made her delete Twitter, and how Kate McKinnon keeps attacking her on SNL.
We’ll get this out of the way first because I’m sure it’s what everyone’s dying to know: where did you get that rainbow sequined dress in the trailer?
Oh man, okay I’ve got some bad news for you.
Dammit, Aidy …
Everything that I wear on the show, they’ve made from scratch. It’s funny that you mention it because I [questioned], ‘Should we be only having her wear things that one, she could afford, and two, that like exist?’ But I think the thing I kept kind of coming back to is I’ve wanted to feel like a cool fat character that dresses cool, that has some sense of style. It wasn’t always out there on the racks and so we were like, ‘If we’re going to make this person in this world, let’s make it right.’ So, I’m sorry because I want that dress too and I’m also very sad.
I’ve heard you make a lot of your own clothes too.
Yeah, I mean I shouldn’t act like I’m sewing them. A lot of stuff I wear is just because I haven’t always found stuff that I love so I end up making my own.
Shrill is based off a book by Lindy West. It follows a character named Annie who’s trying to love herself, find confidence in her body, figure out her relationships, everyday things. How did you take the book and make it your own?
When I read the book, it was really the first time I ever consumed a piece of media and I was like, ‘There’s so much overlap for me in this story.’ I just related to feeling so tortured by my own body for so long and just feeling like ‘God, why won’t it do what I’m telling it to. Be small, you know? Then ultimately getting fed up with that and feeling like I wanted my life to start and so reading her book and seeing that in action I was like, ‘Yes!’ You know? Once I got attached to this project and was going to help write it, we got right to work on finding the universal point to the book that we could sort of blow out and make a part of Annie’s life.
There are definitely some cringe-worthy moments on this show. There’s a meeting with a fitness instructor in a coffee shop that is the visual equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. Did you want to push people a bit and maybe make them feel uncomfortable in the same ways that Annie is made to feel uncomfortable because of her weight?
I hadn’t thought about it that way, but I think you’re probably right. That coffee shop scene really happened to me. Someone grabbed my wrist and said, ‘You aren’t meant to carry around all this weight, you’re really small underneath.’ I really believe that the person thought she was helping me. She thought she was doing me a favor and telling me something that was possible for me. I smiled and said, ‘Oh thank you, wow.’ I think part of what we were trying to show is that there are these assertions made and you’re sort of meant to smile and say thanks but [to see] that from Annie’s point of view, if someone’s watching and they’ve maybe said something like that to someone that now, they understand how it makes a person feel. It’s just the other side of the coin.
Annie does have a few victories in the show. She at one point confronts a troll that’s been making life hell for her. What is your advice for dealing with trolls? Are you going to their houses and knocking on their doors?
No, I’m really not. I feel the opposite. I haven’t experienced the targeted harassment that Lindy has, so in a lot of ways I don’t feel I could even speak to how to deal with it. I mean, I think when I did experience it a little bit was when I started playing Sarah Huckabee Sanders on SNL. I would kind of get hate from both sides. Half my mentions were like, ‘You’re too fat to play this dignified woman,’ and the other half was, ‘You’re too beautiful to play this fat pig liar.’ There was something extremely saddening to me about humanity in that it all boiled down to both of our looks. To be honest, it’s why I deleted Twitter. Because I was like, ‘What do I have this for? This isn’t fun.’ I just got out of there. And I know that’s what Lindy’s done too, she’s not on Twitter anymore. That’s a shame because you want these voices in the conversation but …
Sometimes you have to kind of think about your own personal mental health and wellbeing.
Absolutely! Actually, that’s the only thing you should think about!
Obviously, you didn’t get into comedy to be a body positivity activist but, with this show, are you now more comfortable with that role?
When I was in Chicago and starting to do comedy, that was not part of my plan. But I think what I realized pretty quickly in being on SNL is, just by being there, you are kind of an activist in that you’re representing a group on screen. I think sometimes I feel pressure to make sure I’m doing the right thing or taking on a project that has dignity or wouldn’t make a young fat girl somewhere in the middle of the country feel bad if she saw me doing it. Just being thoughtful about those kinds of things.
As far as the show I think you’re right, it kind of is like a statement about body positivity but more than that and the way I approach it honestly, this is a story about a person … who also is fat. I think just calling it a body positivity show, I wouldn’t say that’s totally true because it’s a lot more and that’s one piece of who she is and honestly, I hope if we get to do more seasons that we can kind of start to veer even further from that and just let her live.
I’m kind of upset there are only six episodes of this thing.
[Laughs] I’m so sorry.
And I feel like you’ve apologized a lot to me in this interview and it’s something I really thought about while watching the show as well. How many times a day do we, as women, apologize for things we just shouldn’t?
Oh totally, I mean I have apologized to chairs. It’s the kind of thing where you’re like, ‘Oh why is this my default word, sentence, anything?’ It’s something to think about, I think. And if you’re constantly positioning yourself as sorry, I don’t know … can you be heard?
The fact that this show is called Shrill feels empowering. What’s another term that women are normally called that’s meant as an insult, but you think we need to reclaim?
I mean, I think “meek” is an interesting one because I think it can be used as a very submissive thing and I also feel like it’s particularly feminine, but there’s something to be said for just listening. I think listening is something that women do much better than men often. I think someone could be perceived as meek just for being quiet and listening and taking in their surroundings and it’s like, ‘Is that such a bad thing? To not be the one yelling in the room but to just listen?’
On an unrelated note, your “Close Encounters” sketches with Kate McKinnon are a highlight on SNL. Are we ever going to get a sketch where everyone involved keeps it together around Kate?
[Laughs] I mean, that’s the ultimate question. I would say no. A part of that is, and I hope people know this, Kate is targeting us. She’s doing new things that she didn’t do in rehearsal. Normally we look at the cue cards, but she’s like staring right at me. That’s not normal. She’s like climbing the chair or suddenly, she’s performing it at 2000 percent. She’s attacking us.
‘Shrill’ premieres on Hulu on March 15.