Reign­ing queen of com­edy

The crit­i­cal re­ac­tion to Brides­maids, and its box of­fice suc­cess, might make you suspect that no woman has ever demon­strated comic flair be­fore. But Kris­ten Wiig sees her­self as just the lat­est in a long line of suc­cess­ful fe­male comic ac­tors, she tells T

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story -

HAVE YOU HEARD the one about the funny woman? The mo­ment Brides­maids, a rau­cous gal-pal ri­poste of The Hang­over, sailed past its first $100 mil­lion at the US box of­fice, there was no avoid­ing the pa­tro­n­is­ing pseudo-fem­i­nist clap­trap. News­pa­pers and pro­fes­sional chin­stro­kers duly ap­peared – ex­clu­sively across all news­pa­pers and me­dia out­lets – to trum­pet the late ar­rival of the Funny Woman.

Long-time con­sumers may well have felt a fris­son of recog­ni­tion as the same fetid thought-pieces once at­tached to Tina Fey and Sarah Silverman reap­peared in re­cent weeks with Kris­ten Wiig’s name parachuted in.

Hours be­fore the film’s Dublin pre­miere, screen­writer and star Wiig, a dainty sylph of a woman, puts her head in her hands.

“Oh God, that stuff makes me want to poke my own eyes out,” she sighs. “I think if you look at news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines from 20 years ago, you’ll find that same ar­ti­cle ex­cept it’s about The Mary Tyler Moore show. I don’t know where these peo­ple have been. I grew up watch­ing SNL with Carol Bur­nett and also Made­line Kahn and Dianne Wi­est and Cather­ine O’Hara and Gilda Rad­ner. Maybe what they’re see­ing is that women have more plat­forms now; Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have their own shows now. But even then, they’re ig­nor­ing The Mary Tyler Moore Show and all kinds of stuff.”

Many other com­men­ta­tors have dwelled on the film’s sig­nif­i­cance as a Judd Apa­tow pro­duc­tion; the peren­ni­ally whiny shrew-women who have pre­vi­ously pop­u­lated Team Apa­tow’s come­dies – Les­lie Mann, any­one? – are rarely tol­er­a­ble let alone funny. But Brides­maids’ fresh, in­no­va­tive screen­play avoids tra­di­tional chick-flick tropes in favour of a struc­ture that looks and feels like a bro­mance pic­ture, a sort of hos be­fore bros com­edy. Wiig nods in agree­ment yet in­sists that any sim­i­lar­ity to the Seth Ro­gen mi­lieu is en­tirely co­in­ci­den­tal.

“The bro­mance thing keeps com­ing up, which is funny be­cause when we wrote it we didn’t think about any of that stuff,” says Wiig. “Now that the movie has come out we’re sud­denly get­ting ques­tions about this

whole fe­male/male thing. We were like ‘let’s write a com­edy’. We need some­thing with a lot of funny women be­cause we know a of lot of them. An­nie [Mu­molo] – my writ­ing part­ner – has a very sim­i­lar sen­si­bil­ity. We fin­ish each other’s sen­tences. We wrote some­thing we thought made us laugh. We didn’t think through the other stuff. But a lot of peo­ple have no­ticed it so there must be some­thing to it.”

Brides­maids is a huge deal for Kris­ten Wiig. Long iden­ti­fied as the fun­ni­est thing in any TV show or movie to bare her name on the cred­its, she rou­tinely wipes the floor with Satur­day Night Live co-star Tina Fey and has swiped scenes from un­der the noses of Ricky Ger­vais ( Ghost Town), Ellen Page ( Whip It), Je­maine Cle­ment and Bret McKen­zie ( Flight of the Con­chords). Just min­utes into Knocked Up she walks off with the pic­ture when she in­forms Kather­ine Heigl’s char­ac­ter that she can­not legally ask her to lose weight. “We would just like it if you go home and step on a scale and write down how much you weigh,” she says. “And sub­tract it by, like, 20.”

Her sud­den el­e­va­tion to head­liner and box­of­fice at­trac­tion has, she says, taken her en­tirely un­awares.

“I did feel pres­sure com­ing up to Brides­maids in that it was a first lead­ing role, and it was a movie I have co-writ­ten. I laughed but I didn’t know if any­one else would. It’s al­ways a lit­tle scary when you cre­ate some­thing and you feel it rep­re­sents your hu­mour or style or what­ever you want to call it. You don’t know what peo­ple are go­ing to think. We had no idea whether peo­ple were go­ing to like it or not. So this has all been a nice sur­prise.”

Wiig’s most notable gifts as a comic per­former de­rive from the art of self-de­fence.

At their most hi­lar­i­ous, her char­ac­ters lie, ob­fus­cate, back­track and squirm con­vinc­ingly as they at­tempt to main­tain their dig­nity. (“You died but just a lit­tle bit,” she mum­bles in­audi­bly at Ricky Ger­vais in Ghost Town.) She is equally adept at the sweetly de­liv­ered pas­sive-ag­gres­sive barb: “I do be­lieve in you,” she tells her hus­band in The Dewey Cox Story, “I just know you’re gonna fail.”

“I don’t know where it comes from,” she says. “Maybe just from ob­serv­ing peo­ple in the world. A lot of per­form­ing just ba­si­cally comes from look­ing at peo­ple in the world and then in movies and books. Fam­ily and friends are usu­ally the best place to go. But the thing is I don’t see it when I do it. I’m not aware in real life at all.”

Her SNL col­leagues have of­ten mar­velled at the sheer va­ri­ety and num­ber of peo­ple to which Kris­ten Wiig has been ex­posed. A pro­fes­sional no­mad, she’s worked as a florist, as a fruit seller and as the com­puter-imagining per­son show­ing pre-op cos­metic surgery pa­tients what they’ll look like af­ter the pro­ce­dure.

“I was a lit­tle bit of a drifter,” she says.

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