After seven seasons on Saturday Night Live, Rachel Dratch left in 2006 to star opposite fellow Second City alum Tina Fey in 30 Rock, only to get replaced by Jane Krakowski. (Insert Debbie Downer's signature sound effect, wah-wah.) A little more than a year after she complained to New York magazine about lack of work, Dratch now springs back into the spotlight with two female-driven films: Spring Breakdown, a wild romp she cocreated about three 30-something misfits experiencing their first spring break (on DVD June 2), and My Life in Ruins, Nia Vardalos's big fat return to Grecian romantic comedy (in theaters June 5). Also no stranger to mullet-sporting lesbian parts, the 43-year-old comedian breaks down lazy gay jokes and tired gay stereotypes.
By Brandon Voss
Advocate.com: Your costar Amy Poehler recently told The Advocate that Spring Breakdown is "made for the gays." Did you and out director-screenwriter Ryan Shiraki really have the gay audience in mind when making it?
Rachel Dratch: Well, Ryan always has the gay audience in mind. We set out to make the kind of broad comedy you always see featuring guys, but with women in the leads. I guess it turned out a little campy, and gay men seem to dig it, which is good. It also stars Parker Posey and Jane Lynch, who have quite a following. Ryan does call the movie "a gay acid trip."
How did you and Ryan meet?
Ryan used to work in the talent office of Saturday Night Live, coordinating the musical guests. We actually met at my SNL audition; he came up to me afterwards. We only overlapped for a year, but we became instant buddies, and he would make me laugh all the time — like he'd just walk by, throw a white towel over his head like a turban, and say, "I'm Susan!" But we were like work buddies who didn't really hang out in our spare time. He left after a year to go become a writer, but we remained friends. Then one night when he was back in town from L.A. we had dinner with a group of people. He was supposed to stay with a friend in Brooklyn, but he had the flu or something, so he stayed on my couch because we were right by my apartment. Well, the next morning was 9/11. So we really bonded, even though that's kind of a morbid touch to the story. It sealed our friendship.
Why didn't Spring Breakdown get a theatrical release?
I've been told so many different reasons, and none of them really make sense to me. I've been told it's because there isn't a major movie star like Drew Barrymore or Cameron Diaz, so a studio would have to put twice as much into marketing than it cost to make it. When I found out we were going to screen it at Sundance, I was like, "OK, this'll be a fun little ending to the whole thing." It did pretty well, but it was just there as a fun midnight movie. But we just screened it at Seattle Film Festival, and it got so many laughs at both screenings. This is a goofy movie, so it did much better in front of regular people than the industry people at Sundance. It was kind of bittersweet because it made me wonder, Wait, why isn't this getting released? That kind of sucks, but I hope it has a life on DVD and maybe becomes a cult movie.
Were you working through some demons from your own college days at Dartmouth by making Breakdown?
It was some sort of catharsis. I went to parties and stuff, but I wish I had been more wild and crazy in college. Some stuff in the movie was definitely based on my real experiences. I did have a roommate who was always having sex, and I did not get into a sorority, so I put those in there. Whenever things would get really goofy, we tried to bring some reality to it as well.
Your character Judi dates a guy, played by Seth Meyers, who's obviously gay. It reminds me of your recurring SNL sketch "Nicole, the Girl with No Gaydar." Is your gaydar off in real life?
My senior year in college I had this huge crush on this guy, and now you'd be like, "Oh, my God, he's totally gay!" I'd like to think it's more honed now, but people always slip through the cracks.
You also get to make out with the hottest dude in the movie, Smallville 's Justin Hartley. Guess it pays to be the cowriter and executive producer, huh?
OK, I need to explain this hot dude make-out thing: That was all Ryan. Ryan insisted on casting him, but I was like, "He's too good-looking. We need to get someone more regular." Ryan was like, "No. In all these movies, the regular dude makes out with the super-hottie girl. So you are getting the super-hottie in this." I joke about it, but that's an interesting point. I just wish Ryan had cut the kiss down to about half its screen time.
The film also features girl-on-girl salsa wrestling. In what substance would you prefer to wrestle girls?
Chocolate pudding. Or macaroni and cheese.
Judi's fantasy sequence involves a hot-tub threesome with Justin and another girl. Does that scenario appeal to you?
No, that's definitely not based in reality. I have to turn away every time I see that part of the movie because it's so embarrassing.
Have you experimented with girls?
I haven't. Even in college, I missed out. I was kind of a nerd, so I wasn't experimenting with much of anybody.
Well, you've certainly played your fair share of lesbians, like Loretta in SNL 's "Gays in Space" sketches.
Yeah, it's like a joke between my friends. Every time my agent calls with an audition, I get all excited. Then I open up the script, and it's always like, "A 50-year-old lesbian walks in... " [Laughs] I'm straight, so I don't understand why I always get offered lesbian parts. If it's funny, I'll do it, but I've turned a bunch down. I have to sift through them so I don't get too typecast.
What's the key to creating a funny lesbian character?
For me it usually involves a mullet. That's the problem: I think they're all starting to run together. When you're on SNL, you want to go big and broad, but one of my favorites — this is like Rachel's Hall of Lesbians — was the cat wrangler I got to play on 30 Rock. That woman had the longest mullet in history.
You played frumpy nerd Beula in the recent Los Angeles production of Minsky's, a musical that's reportedly expected to come to Broadway. Is she a lesbian too?
No, but she does have a questionable bowl cut. Not to stereotype! It's so funny because when you're in comedy you're sort of allowed to make fun of stuff like that, but I can just imagine this in print on Advocate.com and having a lesbian mob angry at me for stereotyping lesbian hairstyles.
Speaking of stereotypes, you were hilarious as an obnoxious American tourist in My Life in Ruins, starring and cowritten by My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Nia Vardalos, but I wasn't a fan of one particular scene.
Oh, my God, I already know what you're going to say. That gay scene?
Yep. I wouldn't want to spoil it for readers, but suffice it to say it involves an "Entry at Rear" T-shirt and lecherous gay men. It's kind of cringe-worthy.
Totally cringe-worthy! I was horrified when I saw that. But here's the inside scoop: I know that Nia fought tooth and nail to get rid of that part. She's upset about that. I saw it at the Tribeca Film Festival, and that's the scene I was talking about the next day. I was like, "Oh, my God, I'm going to have to warn all my gay friends." On the page it was kind of bad, but those predatory slow-motion shots of the guys licking their lips were just horrifying. So I don't condone that moment.
As a comedian, how do you make a gay joke funny without being offensive?
That's a good question. Just like a joke based on race, it really depends on each individual joke, scenario, and person telling it. One of the faults of SNL that we were well aware of while I was on the show is that we often just went to a gay joke as a lazy, poorly crafted punch line. But a gay joke could be funny if it wasn't lazy and it had some real wit to it.
For a recent humor piece in Out ("Can I Be Blunt?"), you detailed how straight girls really feel about their gay buddies. Referring to the proclivities of your gay male friends, you joked about poppers, appletinis, and trolling parks for blow jobs. Aren't those tired gay stereotypes, or are you actually friends with the Village People?
Oh, my God, I'm so glad you brought that up. I know. I got such shit for that. Out wanted them to be salacious, so Ryan actually helped me write that. I saw some online message board where these British gays were ripping me a new one about it, but they were ripping on the stuff that Ryan wrote! So I'm sorry about that.
Forgiven. On the recent season finale of Ugly Betty, you appeared as grumpy twin sisters Penny and Mindy Meadows. One died, but do you think they'll bring the living sister back next season?
I'm sort of hoping. It would be awesome if they did because it was so fun, and that's such a funny set. I would love it if the sister somehow has another copy of that fashion report and comes back to try to take over her dead sister's position at Mode. So hopefully they'll be reading this. [Laughs]
Since you left the show on good terms, would you consider returning to SNL?
I would love to go back, but once you leave, that's sort of it. They may bring back people for guest spots, but they would never bring me back as a regular cast member again. Lorne Michaels likes fresh meat.
Any chance of seeing Debbie Downer on the big screen someday?
I think Debbie Downer's best in small doses. If you went beyond five minutes, it would be like, "OK, Debbie, we get it!"
Advocate.com, May 2009.