‘SNL’ Star Sarah Sherman Predicts Parkway Theater Shows Will be ‘Just Rude. Nasty and Rude.’
"Hopefully you will scream in terror, but also laugh a little!" she tells us ahead of the shows.
11:58 AM CDT on June 15, 2023
Through the happenstance alchemy of running a tiny newsroom, this month has become... um, let's call it... Yuk-tastic June here at Racket. Welcome to Yuk-tastic June! That, of course, means we've got comedy interviews with the wonderfully funny and creative John Early (click here to read), the podcast stars behind Doughboys (next week!), and, today, a chat with breakout Saturday Night Live comedian Sarah Sherman.
Six years ago, Sherman was opening for locally launched comedian Geoffrey Asmus down in Minneapolis's tiny Comedy Corner Underground dungeon as Sarah Squirm—her gory, grinning clown persona who splashes around in blood, piss, and any number of other bodily fluids. But today she's known to all your aunts and uncles as Sarah Sherman, the most exciting SNL cast member to arrive in years. Having just wrapped a second (strike-shortened) season, the 30-year-old New Yorker has already left her singular mark with weirdo sketches like "Meatballs," where a chorus of anthropomorphized meat orbs growing from her flesh sing a little ditty to the horror of her date. And, perhaps most famously, there's her "Sarah News" mini segment on "Weekend Update," where she cheerfully roasts Colin Jost with allegations of pedophilia and antisemitism.
Sherman's live show, which she'll bring to Minneapolis for two performances next Friday at Parkway Theater, might surprise fans who only know her from TV. "Now that I'm off work, it gets 25 times crazier because I'm being sooo good all year, so behaved and so polite," the magnetic comic told us by phone last month. Enjoy our full conversation about getting discovered, earning the admiration of Adam Sandler, and what she was loudly preparing for breakfast that day.
Thank you for making time for probably most obscure news outlet on your current press tour.
Ya know what? I've talked to people in an island I've never even heard of in Canada.
An island in Canada?
It's like near Van... people take seaplanes from Vancouver to this island? I was doing a show in Vancouver. I don't know, I did the radio there!
I learned on the Stavvy's World podcast that "Sarah Squirm" originates from a childhood nickname. Can you take me from the beginning, through its evolution into this sorta body horror, performance art persona?
How old are you when you're a freshman in high school?
That can't be true! I was young, I had a freaky look, and I had scoliosis. I was skinny like a string bean, and I had this big, curly Jewfro, and I wore crazy clothes and was, like, squealing all the time. I was doing improv in my basement, and all my friends on the improv team called me Squirmin' Sherman because I was a sight to behold. That was truly my essence, and it evolved into doing gross-out performance art comedy. Definitely I'm still the same person I was in the basement in high school.
OK so we're time-jumping a bit here, but tell me how this teenage sight to behold in her basement in high school lands an audition at SNL?
I did that Just for Laughs Comedy Festival, and I guess people from SNL saw me there. They asked me to do a screen showcase audition for SNL, and I was like... OK. I don't know, auditioning makes me feel really bad. You're doing comedy because you're a reject, ya know? And then further rejection is scary to me, and auditioning has never gone well for me—I'd never fucking booked anything. Standup is free from that, other than, like most immediately, if you're doing bad and it sucks.
I was like, "OK, I'll showcase from them at the Groundlings." I was really, really nervous. James Austin Johnson was right before me in the audition, and I was like, "I don't want to do this, it's going to make me feel bad, I'm not going to get this..." And James was like, "What are you talking about dude? SNL is a live comedy show. You live for live comedy; don't be stupid." He was so right. I forgot to think about it as the only live comedy show on TV, so I went into the audition with good vibes because of James and, LOL, we both got it.
What'd you do for your audition?
I did standup. I didn't have any impressions or characters. It was disgusting, I'm talking about genitals. People think you have to do stuff to get stuff, like doing five minutes of characters and this and this and this to get SNL. You don't have to do anything. Be yourself, do whatever you want.
So was that it, you didn't have to fly to New York to audition?
Oh yeah, after that they fly you out for a screen test. They have you audition on the Studio 8H stage in front of all the producers and a camera. I was really, really scared; they keep you waiting for a long time in the dressing room and you don't know what's happening. By the time I got on the stage, I noticed the room is really small with a low ceiling. You feel like you're at a comedy club, and it isn't so bad. The comfortability of SNL can't be overstated. It's not as daunting as you think, making the live TV element way less scary. There's a big rumor that they don't laugh during the audition, like you're sweating bullets up there, working your ass off, and they don't laugh at what you're doing. That's not true! They do laugh, you can get them to laugh.
Did [SNL creator/producer] Lorne Michaels give you any feedback then or at any point that has kinda stuck with you?
I do so much, as you can see on the show, with crazy special effects, crazy costumers, crazy props. His big thing is like, "Bro, focus on the performance." And I'm like, "I know, but I really want to make this papier-mâché eyeball!" Which is interesting, going into this tour, there's a lot of emphasis on crazy videos and production and sound cues. So I'm taking his notes to heart.
You read a lot of SNL reviews that say that really innovative stuff, the stuff that's not reacting to a Twitter timeline, is what works best on the show these days. That's kind of your lane, your role. Who could forget the "Meatballs" or the Penis Brothers? Do you view that as your niche?
I'm sorry, say that again. My toaster was beeping really loud.
Do you kind of view your role as the boundary pusher, who takes sketches to weird extremes that aren't really riffing on the news?
It's just what comes natural to me. I'm telling ya, me and Dan Bulla, who I write with on the show, we've tried to write, as a challenge, a current event thing. It's not our strong suit! Dan came up with the "Meatballs" thing. That's where things come naturally to us. The Penis Brothers is something I wrote with the Please Don't Destroy boys. I like to push myself, I've tried to do more conventional Twitter timeline sketch comedy... but I'm not very good at it.
It's funny to like, my mom, the "Meatballs" sketch would probably be the most insane, on acid, weirdo shit possible, but compare that to your stage show where you're drinking urine. It seems pretty tame.
Totally. When Bulla came up with the idea, he said it was kind of out there, so the way you make meatballs something that can easily fit into the network format is making a catchy song. I'm learning that if you want to do something crazy, there are ways to make it... not digestible... like identifiable to people who aren't the freaks who come to my solo show. You want everyone to like it.
Tell me about the Adam Sandler relationship. You've opened stadium tours for him, you're in this upcoming movie as a rabbi. What did he see in you?
I think he saw me in the show and was like, "Heeey, wanna be the rabbi?"
Ha, OK that's easy.
I was like, 100% of course. He's the best, obviously. His live show is sooo weird and surreal and bizarre. At first I was nervous about opening for him, thinking I was too out of left field. But he does two hours of the most insane bat-shit comedy I've ever seen. It's so encouraging. He's always trying new things, experimenting.
So you're now a mainstream TV star, but you're also a person who's in punk-rock clubs doing weird shit. Do you think about your audience, and how maybe bifurcated it might be, with people who are coming to see Sherman or coming to see Squirm?
People ask me all the time if I want to be billed as Sarah Sherman or Sarah Squirm. I legitimately don't know! I get to clock into work as one thing, and then at night go crazy as Sarah Squirm. It's funny to be Sarah Sherman in the sheets... Sarah Squirm in the streets, or whatever? A nurse who had a long day of work who didn't necessarily sign up for something crazy... and I like to play with different crazy noise musicians in different cities, and so it's people wouldn't have gone to a harsh-noise show, they suddenly have a front-row seat for it. I think that's cool. Even if you don't like it, it's expansive.
Can you tell me what the live show will look like at The Parkway?
It's gonna be a lot of gross things to look at, a lot of gross things to listen to. And hopefully you will scream in terror, but also laugh a little!
Ha, OK. That pitch sounds practiced and good. So feel free to punt on this if it would be interpersonally weird for you, but I'm curious if you'd share your all-time fantasy SNL cast, if you could pull from any era?
Ummmm, I don't know! I guess my like... this is a good answer: I am obsessed with Norm MacDonald. If I could be in a timeline where I'd be even near him... can you imagine being on a show with Norm MacDonald, someone who's so fearless every week, saying the craziest shit on TV and getting in trouble for it?
His "Update" run was the best. He's so fucking incredible.
Right after I found out I got the job, he passed away. It was freaky. Like my life changed in an instant, but I couldn't tell anyone because there's a couple weeks where it's a secret. I was holding onto this secret, Norm died, and I was like, "Waaait, but I have to tell my friends why this is really important!"
So you're working, at least from my vantage point, really, really hard these days. Are you enjoying life right now, is it good?
Ya know... yes. My entire life I wanted to be a working comedian, and I can safely say I'm a working comedian. It doesn't hurt that I have, not like fucking crazy money, but enough money to pay a really cool artist to help me get my eyes gouged out for my tour poster. It's cool to work a lot, get to know people, and have resources to make things happen. SNL is really intense—a lot of working, every single day, nonstop. But it's a full show business crash course. You learn 100 million years of production stuff in a week. I'm learning a lot really fast, and I'm not sleeping so I don't remember half of it, but at least I'm learning.
You're obviously still new on the show still, but have you game planned or fanaticized about where the career is going to go?
I'm just thankful that it's gotten this far, and I constantly think it's going to away. [Laughs.]
Anything we didn't talk about that you either wanna talk about or don't get asked about enough?
I think being on SNL, because I'm so well-behaved all year because of FCC guidelines and live television, you have to be behaved. Now that I'm off work, it gets 25 times crazier because I'm being sooo good all year, so behaved and so polite, my summer shows last year were just rude. Nasty and rude. So... get ready for that!
Sarah it has been a treat to talk with you, but I'll let you go. Real quick, for color for my piece, what sort of toast and breakfast situation have you been making this whole time?
I made sourdough toast, spinach, and eggs. Because hey, we got a big summer tour—we gotta be going Popeye mode on it.
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