Aidy Bryant has juggled two jobs for the last three years. She is co-creator (with Lindy West and Alexandra Rushfield), executive producer, writer and star of Hulu’s “Shrill.” And on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” where she started in 2012, she continues to be a silly and hilarious fixture. “I’m not the boss there. I am just a passenger, and I get to write my little stupid idea, throw it in the pile; they choose it or they don’t,” Bryant says. “I love being so goofy on ‘SNL’ — the dumber the better.”
She has been duly lauded for her performance on both shows, capped by Emmy nominations in two categories: supporting actress in a comedy for “SNL” and lead actress in a comedy for the third and final season of “Shrill.”
Loosely based on West’s 2016 memoir “Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman,” about a fat woman who decides to stop apologizing for her very existence, “Shrill” follows Bryant’s 20-something Annie Easton as she navigates her way through life in Portland, Ore., enduring gantlets of casual cruelty. “SNL” it ain’t.
“In a lot of ways, the first season is her realizing, ‘This is not from within me; it’s something that’s been pushed on me,’” Bryant says of her character’s revelations, speaking via Zoom from New York. “In the second and third seasons, you see her doing the work to unlearn that bias, and also to advocate for herself. It’s complicated when you’ve basically lived your whole life a different way because of how you felt about yourself.”
Every time Annie seems to find some equilibrium, she risks sabotaging it, as people who’ve grown up without knowing whom to trust often do.
Season 3 goes where Annie hasn’t gone before, for good and ill. At the alternative weekly where she writes, she angles for an assignment exposing white supremacist separatists in order to show off her chops but instead proves she’s in over her head. “She thinks she’s going undercover, but it becomes this spineless weenie’s journey that shows how misguided she is,” Bryant says. “She leaves thinking she absolutely nailed them, and ultimately what she did was ingratiate herself with them, and platform people who didn’t need to be platformed” and must try to repair her careless damage.
Set up on a blind date with Will (Cameron Britton), a man who, to her horror, turns out to be fat, she behaves even worse, aiming her old self-loathing outward. Later running into Will at a party, she tries to set things right. “I would say that’s my favorite story line of probably all three seasons,” Bryant says. “I don’t think we ever knew what a major self-realization moment that would be for her until we were in the writers’ room talking about our own experiences of feeling fearful of being labeled as ‘a pair of fats,’ or that [having a fat partner] reflects on who you are.” In a deeply vulnerable moment, Annie admits those fears to Will, and to herself.
“Particularly performance-wise, it was something I was proud of,” Bryant notes. “In the beginning it was like a classic comedic setup, where it just feels like this awkward date. Then it blossoms into this much more complicated thing that then culminates in this conversation in the kitchen that becomes a weirdly romantic apology that launches this beautiful relationship,” an outcome that surprises them both.
Throughout her travails, Annie’s mainstay is her best friend and roommate, Fran, played by Lolly Adefope. When, in Season 3 they each face the prospect of new love, they both react with fear at the change that accompanies it. “They’re holding on to each other for dear life, as they’ve done at every turn, and sometimes that’s keeping other people out,” Bryant says of the characters, calling Adefope “my one true scene partner who I had every season. She’s so funny, she’s so quick. We love to improvise. She’s maybe the first person ever in my life who I love doing comedic scenes and the more emotional scenes with, in equal measure. She’s like my other half.”
Overlapping schedules had Bryant going back to work on “SNL” before she had finished “Shrill,” so “I was keeping my toe in both,” even sending in a filmed piece for “Weekend Update” from Portland.
Hulu unexpectedly canceled “Shrill” after the last episode of Season 3 was shot, but before it was edited, which led to a scramble to create a satisfying series finale from existing footage. “Certainly it felt a little bit like the rug coming out from underneath us,” she notes. “But at the same time, it allowed us to give a really realistic ending that feels much truer to these characters,” rather than wrapping the series up with a contrived bow.
The final scene brings Annie and Fran together, contemplating the latest messes they’ve made and how they might get out of them. The moment is wry and hopeful, just as they are. “It’s like, ‘We’re going to keep trying our hardest,’” Bryant says. “’And that will probably be bad, but we’ll have each other.’”
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