When Rachel Dratch found herself unexpectedly expecting
BY MIKE THOMAS Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org March 27, 2012 8:20PM
Rachel Dratch has had trouble landing parts since leaving “SNL” and doesn’t mind admitting it. “This is the business I’m in,” she says, “and it’s crazy.”
Updated: April 29, 2012 8:07AM
Like so many “Saturday Night Live” cast members past and present, Rachel Dratch cut her comedic teeth in Chicago — first under improv legend Del Close at iO Theater (formerly ImprovOlympic) and then at Second City — before heading east in the late 1990s to find late-night fame and minor fortune. And though she was more successful than most (recall the Sully and Denise sketches with Jimmy Fallon and major buzzkill “Debbie Downer”), when her seven-year “SNL” stint ended and a regular role fell through at NBC’s “30 Rock,” Dratch’s ascendant career trajectory reversed course. Save for a smattering of “lesbian friend” roles, offers dried up.
Her love life wasn’t all that rosy, either. And then, out of the blue, she found herself with child — Eli Benjamin, now 19 months and scampering like a champ. His father, John, moved to New York to share kid-care duties, but Dratch has “no marriage plans in my future.”
“I just wasn’t one of those women who would want to have a child on their own,” she admits in her relentlessly self-deprecating memoir, Girl Walks into a Bar: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle. Out Thursday, it traces the 46-year-old comic actress’s life from childhood to motherhood — and seemingly leaves no humiliating tale untold.
“There was some stuff I wasn’t sure about [including],” Dratch admits. “But when you have a great, perfectly fine day, there’s no funny story.”
Q: How long did it take you to get over the shock of impending motherhood?
A: Well, the initial, crazy shock probably took about a month to get over. But then it was more of a low-level shock. I was starting to feel happy about it. I always thought, “I want kids,” then I thought it wasn’t going to happen. And then when it finally was going to happen, I was scared: “Am I going to be good at this? Do I even know what I’m doing around kids?” I started to have a lot of self-doubts.
Q: John seems very grounded, but before he came along you dated a lot of other dudes who were shaky. Was the guy who wondered what human flesh tasted like the scariest?
A: [laughs] No. I didn’t feel like I was in harm’s way. It was just a little odd. [laughs] It was more that he blew me off so hard the second date that I was like, “All right, I’m gonna tell everyone the human flesh story!” He wasn’t really scary, but he was the biggest disappointment, probably because I had the highest hopes for him.
Q: You know he’s going to read this book. Do you think he’ll say to his friends, “That’s me! I’m the cannibal guy!”
A: Well, I kind of hope not. I hope these guys [I dated] don’t see this book [laughs]. I really do. I have my own reasons for why I hope that. But, um, I don’t know that he’ll see this. We’ve never spoken since.
Q: Was it tougher than you thought to bare your insecurities and shortcomings?
A: Actually, I didn’t feel like I, Rachel, have these insecurities. This is just what I was faced with post-“SNL,” the parts I was getting offered. So I could either pretend I wasn’t getting offered these parts and just be like, “la-la-la,” or finally be like, “OK, what’s the deal here?” [There’s] this Hollywood thing where even the best friend is a beautiful model, but it hasn’t crept into my own psyche in a horrible way. I don’t want to buy into this whole Hollywood image of me. In real life I don’t walk around like, “Don’t look upon me!” [laughs]. This is the business I’m in and it’s crazy. I guess I just wanted to vomit it all out and talk about it instead of keeping this Pollyanna view of “things are going to turn around!” But the weird thing is, they finally did. [Dratch recently shot a pilot for NBC.]
Q: Did you feel confident in your comedic abilities while performing on the mainstage at Second City?
A: At the end I did. That’s when I was feeling like the cock of the walk. But my first year on the mainstage I felt really tentative. The space was so much bigger than anywhere I’d performed and I didn’t really feel like it was my turn when I first got there. It took about a year to really get used to it. And then you’re improvising every night and you get better and better. And the biggest thing about getting good at improv is losing your fear and just trusting that you’re going to come up with something.
Q: You landed “Saturday Night Live” on the second try. Did you find that Chicago had prepared you well?
A: Oh, hell no! Well, in one way yes. Because people who go into “SNL” and haven’t been to Second City or ‘[the Los Angeles improv company] the Groundlings have a much harder time, because they don’t know how to write a scene. But Second City’s writing process is just so different from “SNL’s” that there is a big learning curve. You could do a much slower scene at Second City. You could do a character that you really got to develop. But at “SNL” it’s like, “Get the joke out. What is this about?” People can change the channel, so it’s not this theatrical thing.
Q: So did the cock leave your walk once you got to “SNL”?
A: [laughs] Yes, the cock departed from the walk. Oh, my God, yes. You’re thrown into the pool, sink or swim. You’re on your own. You don’t get handed this manual that says, “Welcome. Here is your cookie package and your bottle of…” It’s like, “Write a scene! Figure it out!” My first year there I was the only new cast member. I think it’s easier when you come in with a few new cast members so you can all huddle in a room together. But when you’re on your own you’re kind of, like, wandering the halls.
Q: Toward the end of your time at “SNL” you were cast as a main character [Jenna] in the pilot of NBC’s “30 Rock.” When that didn’t pan out there were reports of a rift with your friend Tina Fey, the show’s creator.
A: Being an actor for as long as I was, when I got the call that the part had changed I wasn’t like, “What?!” I wasn’t crying. I was just like, “OK.” I wasn’t really this diva type, so I wasn’t too surprised. And then when I was told I was going to get the little character part, I felt way more comfortable. I thought, “This is me.” It was more about the media picking up the story and not letting it die. I just kept getting asked about it over and over again. People get replaced on pilots all the time. It’s pretty commonplace. But it’s not usually all over every magazine. I didn’t feel super famous and I was like, “Why does everyone care about this?” Tina and I did talk. When this happened she called me up and explained. And I was fine with it. It was more that we didn’t talk later, when my career was kind of stalling out. I didn’t initiate [contact], like, “Hey, things aren’t really going that well.” I didn’t feel like she was the person I wanted to go to with that because I didn’t want her to feel like she was responsible for solving everything or changing anything about the way things had happened.
Q: Are you guys in contact now?
A: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Q: Is it hard to not be a little jealous when you have so many friends who, like Tina, are sitting on giant piles of money?
A: [laughs] Well, it’s not even the money. It’s the work. When you come up with these other people who are your friends and everyone’s working and you’re not, you’re like, “Why is this happening to me?” I don’t really feel that now because I went through this whole transition. I think I was fighting this post-“SNL” [phase], when things weren’t going well. Everyone thinks, “Do ‘SNL’ and then all this stuff will happen!” Then it was dawning on me, “This isn’t going to happen.” And you’re slowly realizing, “Wait. I’m going to be one of those people.”