She brought joy to the world during her six seasons on Saturday Night Live, but Ana Gasteyer is also a seriously gifted singer.
While sitcoms and supporting film roles keep the Christmas lights on, the 52-year-old Groundlings alum has unwrapped her vocal talents as the star of many musicals on Broadway and beyond. Her new holiday album, Sugar & Booze—a follow-up to her jazzy debut, I’m Hip—showcases her powerful pipes on festive classics and original tunes with a swingin’ retro flair.
Gasteyer, who may or may not be disguised as Tree on Fox’s The Masked Singer, tells NewNowNext how she makes the Yuletide as gay as her most faithful following.
Sugar & Booze already has me in the holiday spirit.
Oh, I’m so glad!
Are you trying to dethrone Mariah Carey as Queen of Christmas?
I’m not trying to dethrone anyone, but I do feel there’s room for more jollity and a throwback feel in modern holiday music. I’m in a different lane. But I’m not big on a riff in a Christmas song—and that’s all I’m going to say.
The title track sets the tone for a listening experience that’s not too Jesus-y.
Yeah, I like to call it a collection of seasonal secular favorites. There’s “In the Market for a Miracle,” a fun Hanukkah song Pasek and Paul wrote for me for A Christmas Story Live! I also have “Children Go Where I Send Thee,” which is a traditional spiritual. But aside from that, it’s not a religious album in any way, shape, or form. It’s much more about the joy of the season.
“Sugar & Booze” begs the question: What’s your holiday snack and beverage of choice?
I’m all for a signature holiday cocktail. I’m a sucker for anything with a splash of cran—and cranberries float, so that looks nice in a Prosecco or maybe a punch with lots of seltzer. I like any beverage that’s a little watered down so I can drink a lot of them. And my favorite holiday snack isn’t sweet, shockingly, but a ham, which is a real crowd-pleaser with mustards and chutneys. I will go ham on a ham.
You’re touring the country to promote the album. Does your patter address politics?
I’m just going to assume that everyone at my show knows it’s a dumpster fire out there. I think the holidays are an opportunity to press pause and consciously remove yourself from all that, almost like a form of meditation. We can take a minute to connect, to sing and dance, to eat too much sugar, and to enjoy some ham—or vegan ham, if that’s who you are.
Maya Rudolph, who’s featured on the album, also co-stars in your Audible audio comedy series, Greetings From Sugar & Booze, about old friends who are now working moms. What inspired that?
My friend Mona Mansour, who’s a playwright in New York, and I liked the idea of those terrible holiday newsletters where people brag about their families, and we wanted to tell a story over time through the form of those letters. It’s really a story of friendship, so I’m lucky that Maya agreed to do it. We’re such good friends, and there’s a chemistry between us that you can’t manufacture. My friend Rachel Dratch is also in the show.
Speaking of your fellow SNL alums, Christmas came early this year with the Netflix release of Wine Country. Did you ladies know that would be a gift to gay fans?
[Laughs] I think we did suspect that the community would continue to embrace us. Gay men love their comedy divas, and they’re also so great about supporting aging divas. You can aspire to become a drunk old broad and they’ll still be nice to you, which is delightful.
Your characters spend a weekend together in Napa, but it reminded me of older gay friends sharing a Fire Island house.
I’m happy to hear you say that, because the movie is really about the love of a chosen family, which I know resonates with the gay community.
Wine Country was inspired by Rachel Dratch’s 50th birthday getaway in Napa. I want to see a sequel based on your 50th birthday in Palm Springs, because it would probably include more gay guys.
Okay, I’ll spread the word. I’ve been pushing for an Oktoberfest setting but it hasn’t taken.
When did you become aware that you were connecting with the LGBTQ audience?
It was during my first or second season on SNL. There was a musical theater sing-along night at a gay club in New York where they would show clips on big screens—I think it was Splash? I was there with some friends, and they played a sketch of mine—I was doing either Martha Stewart or Céline Dion—and I suddenly became painfully aware that I was in the room. So yeah, very early on at SNL I was aware that gay gentlemen had gotten onboard, and there’s no greater gift.
You played your fair share of lesbians on SNL. Do you have a favorite?
I loved my character Cinder Calhoun, the humorless protest singer at Lilith Fair. I did a run at the actual Lilith Fair as Cinder Calhoun, which was one of the greatest experiences of my life. She might not have been totally out of the closet, but there’s no question that was her side of the menu.
I asked Rachel Dratch the same question. She recalled a sketch where frat boys wished on a magic amulet for hot girl-on-girl action, but instead they got you two as earthy lesbian beekeepers.
Oh, god, yes! I think maybe we were feeding each other yogurt?
Is Delicious Dish co-host Margaret Jo McCullen more into Schweddy Balls or Dusty Muffins?
[Laughs] I’ve never thought about it. In this new world, she would probably be one of the letters in LGBTQIA+ that I’m too old to understand—maybe an A?
I spoke to Wendi McLendon-Covey about how you played lovers dealing with “lesbian bed death” in the 2011 indie Fully Loaded.
Oh, that’s so funny. I love Wendi. She’s so fun and such a great collaborator, so we had a great time doing that. But wow, that’s a deep cut. I don’t even think I’ve seen that movie.
When did your relationship to the LGBTQ community begin?
Well, I was recently explaining to my oldest kid, who’s applying to colleges right now, that everyone I knew in college was gay, but no one was out until five years after graduation. Gay kids today still have lots of challenges, of course, but it’s so great that they’re growing up in a culture that’s more accepting and understanding, so it’s easier for them to be out at a younger age.
Since playing Cady’s mom in Mean Girls, which has a huge gay following, you’ve played maternal figures in queer coming-of-age movies Dare, Geography Club, and Adam. Is it fair to assume the filmmakers responded to familiar and comforting qualities that made you a good fit for those narratives?
I’ve never thought of it that way, but that’s a great way of putting it. I think it’s an appropriate generational observation that I am very maternal and accepting. Hopefully that’s something viewers can project on me as soon I walk into a scene, so they don’t have to do a lot of heavy lifting.
Larry David must’ve picked up on that vibe when he cast you as the mom of a “pre-gay” son on Curb Your Enthusiasm.
That’s so true! That’s a keen observation—on your part and Larry’s.
Do you watch RuPaul’s Drag Race?
Not enough but I try.
Last season a queen did a Céline Dion impression for “Snatch Game” that flopped. Any advice for future queens who want to impersonate divas?
Some people are good at imitating a voice, but I think you have to lock into a celebrity’s super-quality. The thing with Céline, for example, is that she has a lack of self-awareness. She’s just a fucking unbelievable singer, and she’s so genuine. I love her. English is her second language, remember, so she has this hyper-focus because she’s always listening, and you can see her translating. She’s not a bitch—that’s not what you’re going for when you do Céline. You’re going for sincerity.
Take notes, queens.
Yeah, that’s my hot tip—on my 20-year-old impression!