Ana Gasteyer is back and hilarious as ever as Karen Grisham, the eccentric agent in "Lady Dynamite"
We’ve seen countless talent agents grace our screens before, but non quite like Karen Grisham — the ruthless and eccentric L.A. figure, played by Ana Gasteyer in Netflix’s Lady Dynamite.
The Saturday Night Live alum — who has been working in comedy for years, and also played Cady’s mom in Mean Girls!! — spoke with HelloGiggles about Karen’s quirks, her working relationship with Lady Dynamite star Maria Bamford, and how the show handles mental illness and presents a lesser-seen side to women.
Plus, more on Season 2: “When I started filming the new season I called my husband and said, ‘Okay, this is a show that is already jumping the shark. So I feel like this is a shark inside a shark that is already jumping. It’s just insane, and very satisfying,'” she says of Season 2, now streaming on Netflix.
And honestly, we’d expect nothing less from Lady Dynamite.
HelloGiggles: What attracted you to Karen and Lady Dynamite in the first place, and what excited you about the new season?
Ana Gasteyer: What attracted me in the first place was just the cast of characters. [Co-creator] Mitch Hurwitz obviously is someone I have great admiration for and I was a really major fan of Maria’s standup. I thought the idea alone was really interesting. And then, the cast that was in place even at the time I came on board was just chock-full of really specific, idiosyncratic, funny, funny female character actresses. I just thought, wow. There was no question that I wanted to be a part of it.
And honestly, Karen Grisham was the gravy. I wish I was a more method and deep actress and I could say that I worked the character but I knew exactly who she was the minute I read her and it came to life very quickly and they were very generous about writing to the strength of the character, which is her kind of super ADD, super self-engaged, self-involved point of view. And for a comedy actress, [it’s impossible to not have fun with] that part.
HG: How would you say she’s evolved, comparing the second season to the first?
AG: The show is insane, as you know, and is operating on its own grammar and on its own set of rules. And I think it has completely delivered on its second season, furthering its distance on its own shark jump, reality bending. [Co-creator] Pam Brady comes from South Park. And I think there’s a lot to what she writes that’s sort of a creative live-action version of animation. She’s got this speed in which the jokes come in really fast like animation.
With that said, Karen could have fallen into a sort of rut, showing up and saying things and leaving but instead, the fact that I was put into this storyline [warning: some plot details follow!] where I had this spiritual awakening, and what a spiritual awakening would mean to someone like Karen, is very funny. Which basically, on its surface, is real. She wants to expand her sense of self and move forward into managing and directing, and take advantage of the opportunity she’s given. But the flip side is she really wants to be more successful.
Whatever the trend is, she is willing to manipulate that trend. We were laughing so hard the day of the Tesla crash because of the instinct Karen would have to immediately know that even in the moment of being almost killed that she could sue somebody. And that it would be an enormously profitable car crash.
HG: How would you describe your working relationship with Maria? What kind of conversations did you have about Karen and Season 2?
AG: She’s just beyond. She’s a super generous human being. And really fun to be with on set. It’s the easiest show to work on, it really is. There’s enormous short-hand. She doesn’t have to explain anything really. You get what you get with her and she’s very honest and she’s very sincere and very gracious. And we dove in right away. I was yelling at her from the get-go. And it’s her show. She could have been totally bummed out, but we just got along really, really well. I really admire her deeply.
HG: You said that she was, obviously, a big draw initially. How did you first come to know each other? Were you friends first, or what’s the story there?
AG: I only knew her work. I knew her professionally, some of her specials. I knew her as a voice actor somewhat. And I knew she was really idiosyncratic. I really admire stand-ups because they kind of have to define a voice and it just seems really scary to have to do that yourself. I liked that she talked about things that were unusual. I liked that she came at things from a different angle. I liked her series with her house and her pugs and her parents, one of the best things I’ve ever seen in my life.
I just knew Mitch and Pam were the right people to develop that voice — and Netflix. I know that Netflix has exploded in the two or three years since we began the show, but the reputation they have for staying hands off creatively and letting people do what they do…For a comedian that is so seductive, coming out of a lifetime of network television where there is a lot of meddling.
It’s just exciting to be on a set where — and Saturday Night was also sort of off the grid of network; Lorne [Michaels is] very good at letting people do their thing — but all the life of half-hour is about being noted to death. There’s just a freedom on the Netflix sets. I think I saw an executive twice, the entire time we were filming. They’re all about just letting it play out, so that’s been really special. And of course, people like Maria attract brilliant writers, the staff was really impressive, that kind of thing.
HG: The show frequently and openly discusses mental health and mental illness. Why do you think it’s important that the show addresses that so fearlessly?
AG: Why isn’t it important? I am a female writer-performer. I think that storytelling tropes are changing, and I think that so many people struggle with it — from the severe PMS to the schizophrenia. I mean, the looser the constriction comes around the conversation overall, the easier it is to talk about the smaller more manageable parts of it in everyday life for everyone.
It does feel uniquely female. I think just being able to talk about it, and talk about what’s vulnerable, scary, and funny about it — all of them together. The thing about Maria is she’s really suffered, but is an enormously accomplished performer. She’s had a career in the peaks and valleys of her own diagnosis. She’s an incredible inspiration to people, I think because she shows creatively that it’s not impossible to make lemonade out of lemons if you will.
HG: The show challenges gender stereotypes, especially where women are concerned. What excites you about the different sides Lady Dynamite shows to women?
AG: Women have been having these conversations for a long time off camera. I’ve been working since 1996 in a very public way as a woman in comedy. I have been having off camera conversations that are very much self aware. And very much aware of the role my gender has played in my career. I think its fun to watch those receive their own public airing.
And I think Pam is the right person cause she’s not precious. She’s going to have a good time with it. What I find really interesting, Karen Grisham is also the first person to exploit the female trend. She’s the one that will make the horrible hangover movie because she knows that its profitable. So there’s also that cynicism to it, which I find really refreshing and satisfying. Look, no matter how you present it and how many women show up on the scene, ironically or sincerely, it’s opening doors and it’s not coincidental that it’s on television because I think that television is an incredible frontier for women. It always has been, it’s continuing to be, and it’s going to be more so.