Paula Pell on being out in the “SNL” writers’ room and her new web series


SNL has taken a hit for its lack of diversity (most recently for having no black women in the cast), but current cast member Kate McKinnon is the first out lesbian to be on the show, and Paula said she enjoys writing for her, although she has started writing less for the show since Kate came on.

“I wrote the ‘Last Call’ sketch with Louis CK with her that did real well. She played kind of a bar rat and at last call was trying to get in on with him. They do a really disgusting make out session that was really, really, really funny,” Paula said “But I am very, very in love with her, she’s a great powerhouse. She’s going to be one of the great great comedy people of this generation. The fact that she’s an incredibly talented, young, beautiful gay gal is just a tremendous thing for the show and for all of us, for comedy.”

As for if we could end up seeing a more androgynous or butch-presenting person on SNL in the future, Paula said anything’s possible. The issue is that it can be hard to find them.

“I think one thing I hope to expect to happen in comedy and hope to happen is… as TV and comedy becomes more inclusive with all different types of people, obviously on the drama side there’s been a lot more gay people in shows and not just a straight person playing a gay person but actual gay people and gay actors… I think it will start synthesizing all these sort of subsets of ‘gay theater’ or ‘gay short films,’” Paula said. “They’ll just be short films, with a gay person in it. I think that’s true of what has happened with television. I think movies are starting to do it more, but it’s really happening with television.”

Meaning, LGBT people can’t ghettoize themselves if they want to become part of the mainstream.

“People of different diversities have to really put themselves out there because no one is going to come find them if they’re really hidden in that community, super exclusively,” Paula said. “So I find, like with all different subgroups of people in the arts, the more things are getting mainstream, the more you see different people on TV, different looking movie stars or different looking musicians…there was a whole big thing about Adele being a heavy lady, because who has number one pop songs that is a big heavy lady? There’s all sorts of areas of our world that I hope and get excited about that those super talented and funny as shit people will say ‘I’m going to make myself known’ and get in there in that mainstream because it takes two to tango and you gotta get in there, too. You can’t expect people to come find you if you’re hard to find.”

These last two seasons, Paula has semi-retired from SNL. She does six episodes  per season and says she has the great freedom of choosing when she wants to participate in writing sessions. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her partner and is happy to be commuting less to the city every week. She’s also thrilled about her newest project, Hudson Valley Ballers. Paula and James are starring as several different characters as well as heightened versions of themselves for the web series in what sounds like a Portlandia-esque portal into a quirky, fun, musical place where special guests are frequently stopping by.

“It’s these two old — we’re both over 50 — these two farts from SNL that now live up in the Hudson Valley and we kind of take in creative people, artists and funny weirdos and we’re playing some of those weirdos,” Paula said. “We’ll have some friends come, like Paul Rudd‘s gonna do it and people from SNL will come. It’s just gonna be us playing heightened versions of ourselves and it goes into little sketches of different people. It’s just going to be a total, very joyful few days of shooting with some of my oldest and newest good friends.”

Paula and James are working with out cinematographer Michelle Lawler on the series, having met while working on a short film from Jane Baker in Vermont. Paula said that during that time, she began to think about all the creative people she’d worked with throughout her life.

“We can start gathering some of these people and making more projects—creating things that might be on a smaller scale right now, but as I know from doing a lot of TV over 20 years and movie stuff, you never know when something is going to become popular and you can do it on a bigger scale,” Paula said. “Or you might be happy as a clam to do it small. It’s really a fun little storm of creativity and it’s making me feel very excited to actually do comedy with people that make me laugh super hard, because no one makes me laugh harder than James.”

Since Paula and James will be playing versions of themselves, Hudson Valley Ballers will definitely have some gay themes and characters.

“We came up with this one scene where I say that I rented out my shed to a feminist group up here and the name of the group is—you kind of have to see it in writing to appreciate it—Womaugn’s Femposium of the Herdson Valley,” Paula says. She says they have some fantastic wigs for the scene, which will also include James playing a non-evolved woman who begins to talk about how much she loves cooking for her husband.

Some other characters include “a country western couple that walked here from Nashville to get a respite from the biz” and “an old Broadway couple that’s super bitter about who is still getting cast on Broadway.” Paula said she’s been getting so much joy out of writing the series.

“I’m so excited about it because, you know we’ve written—I’ve written for SNL almost 19 years and I’m now kind of semi-retired. I just have never really had time or could really wrap my brain around doing things that were just in this kind of scale, for pure joy of it. And now that I’m doing it, I’m like ‘Oh my god, I should always have this going in my life,’” Paula said.


Not that she’s just sitting around her house otherwise. Outside of Hudson Valley Ballers, Paula has written a new film for Universal called The Nest, which will be directed by Jason Moore (Pitch Perfect).

“I just started this movie career three years ago. Up until then, I had done almost nothing in the movie world and I started doing rewriting and pitching on the set. I did Bridesmaids and I did The Heat. I wrote a movie with Judd Apatow and I also executive produced This is 40 with him and did a lot of rewriting with him,” Paula said. “During that whole time, I had written a movie that is based on my sister and I and Tina Fey produced it and it’s called The Nest and she’s starring in it and we’re right at the point of casting the other sister and sort of hoping to do it maybe next spring. With movies you never know, so you never say ‘We’re going to do it!’ Because there could be a million reasons why don’t end up doing it.”

The Nest is also based on Paula’s real life, specifically about her childhood.

“It’s really really close to my heart because it’s about me and my sister and it’s about two sisters that come home to see that their parents are selling their childhood home so they have one last weekend in the childhood bedroom and one last weekend to have this rip-shit high school-style party and do all the things they didn’t get to do,” Paula said. “One used to be the wild ass and one never was the wild ass ever and never made out in her house and never had the romance and all that in her home when she was young. Each are trying to get things from the weekend that they need and it’s real fun, I think, for some great comedy actors and I’m hoping to have it happen.”

They’re currently casting for the younger sister, aka the woman who will play Paula.

“I have this journal when I was 12 that is pretty hilarious and my sister had a journal, she was three years older, and she was kind of a wild, boy-crazy girl that all the boys were crazy for. I looked like I was 50. Her [journal] is like, ‘Oh my god, I went camping with Bill and I told Mom and Dad I was at Christine’s house! And oh my god I love him so much. Oh my god I might be pregnant!’ Really, really juicy stuff,” Paula said. “And mine is like ‘I changed the grip on my rock tumbler today and the amethyst is looking really top notch. I got a new fish for my aquarium and the grow light on my fern…” An old maid at 12.”

But then there would be a few instances of childhood crushes.

“I would have these crazy bursts of being in love with Rocky from the first Rocky movie, Sylvester Stallone,” Paula said. “I would have all these weird crushes that I would obsess about. So it kind of came out of a lot of that stuff.”

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