Maya Rudolph Gets Candid About the Craft of Comedy

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In the Envelope: The Actor’s Podcast features in-depth conversations with today’s most noteworthy actors and creators. Join host and senior editor Vinnie Mancuso for this guide to living the creative life from those who are doing it every day.

Maya Rudolph being really, really funny is, at this point, less an opinion than an objective truth. And for proof, look to anything she’s ever been in—from her pitch-perfect Beyonce on “Saturday Night Live” to her Emmy-winning voice work on “Big Mouth” or, most recently, her performance as philanthropic billionaire Molly Wells on Season 2 of Apple TV+’s “Loot.” But if you’re looking for the blueprint to follow in Rudolph’s footsteps, it’ll be the only time a comedian of her caliber will ever let you down.

“I think that there is this idea that there’s a formula to some of these things. I don't have one,” Rudolph tells us. You get into your own rhythms, and some things work for you, but if you asked me to tell you what those things were, I'd have no clue.… And that probably is really disappointing for people to hear. They're like, ‘OK, but I need the formula.’”

On this episode of In the Envelope: The Actor’s Podcast, Rudolph dives deep into the magic and musicality of making people laugh.

Rudolph is honest about the age-old question “Can someone learn to be funny?”  

“We've all experienced people who just aren't funny, and it's wild because they have no idea. But there’s variations within that answer. Because I always say, the more I look at comedy, I think of it as almost like a language, or the same skill set as being a musician. There's something about it that is innate. Yes, you can teach yourself to play an instrument. That doesn't mean that the music is good. There's comedians who I don't find funny, but they're comedians and they have careers and there's so many types of comedy. So I guess there's variations within all of that. But I think the common denominator for most funny people is that ‘thing,’ and who knows where the hell that comes from? For some people, it's nature; some people, it's nurture. Most of us, it's our black, dark hearts, all of that stuff, sort of horrible trauma, PTSD, you name it.”


“Loot” Courtesy Apple TV+

If there’s one thing she believes in, it’s comedic chemistry.

“The first thing that comes to mind is why people really responded to elements of ‘Bridesmaids.’ A lot of us knew each other already, so we had chemistry. I think there's this invisible quality to that, that you can’t put your finger on but that people feel. You want to reach out and touch it. There's something about it. I think it absolutely exists. And it's either something that you can create or, when you have a long-standing relationship with someone, obviously, you can recreate it every time or it's just naturally there. And then there's those other times where there is no chemistry and you’ve got to fake it till you make it, but it absolutely exists. In so many of the work experiences I've had, and especially I think when you have the opportunity to create with someone you know, that's such a luxurious part of it. That's such an added bonus and the thing that you can't really explain, but it's right there. When it exists, it exists. It's there.”

Rudolph found inspiration in one particular 2023 performance.  

“I'm always inspired when I see a performance that makes me feel like I want to do that. I feel like I've now recognized it enough within my body where it’s  like, Oh, that's inspiration you're feeling. I really felt it in ‘Barbie’ watching Ryan Gosling. That performance was so inspiring to me. I couldn't stop thinking about it. Because I just wanted to do it. And I've recognized by now that greedy little desire to want to do something is inspiration for me, this thing in my head that fantasizes that I can be something. I love that it really doesn't require that I'm any particular gender thing, it's just the fun of that performance and getting to play a character that looks so fucking fun. I just wanted to devour it.…

Sometimes I get bummed out that I'm not as inspired as I'd like to be all the time. Sometimes I feel like things aren't as good as they should be, or there's not enough care in things as there can be, and so on. I love to be inspired. I feel like it's the fuel that drives all of us; that exciting element that makes you want to go out and do it.”

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