This Emmys Season, Don’t Forget About: Heidi Gardner, the Scene Stealer of ‘SNL’

Heidi Gardner in SNL

It’s not because she broke.

One of the most talked-about moments of the television season — if not the year — was longtime “Saturday Night Live” pro Heidi Gardner bursting into laughter during the April 13 episode upon seeing host Ryan Gosling and Mikey Day in full Beavis and Butt-Head cosplay. It was one of the biggest and longest breaks in the show’s history, one that became contagious to almost every performer on stage. And it involved Gardner, a consummate pro, who had never previously broken character, despite years of playing some of the most outrageous and scene-stealing roles.

The viral moment served as a reminder of how much Gardner’s talents can be taken for granted. Since her 2017 debut as a featured player, the comic has proven that her range is endless. She’s frequently cast as the “straight man” host in talk show or news segments, a precise skill that can be more challenging than delivering the zingers. (Indeed, Gardner was playing a “NewsNation” host interviewing an AI expert, Kenan Thompson, in the infamous sketch.)

Like the best “SNL” political impersonators, she excels in portraying figures such as Marjorie Taylor Greene or Kristi Noem, not by attempting spot-on mimicry but blurring the lines with over-the-top behavior that soon becomes more recognizable than the real thing. Gardner as Taylor Greene booing Mikey Day as Joe Biden wasn’t that far off from the truth, while recognizing how ludicrous the behavior was. It’s the hallmark of earlier “SNL” impersonations — think about how George W. Bush never actually said “Not gonna do it,” but thanks to Dana Carvey, we all assume he did.

Which is not to say Gardner can’t also pull off an eerie likeness. In the March 2 cold open, she earned raves for her dead-on portrayal of women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey, complete in a custom-made, all-pink blazer, festooned with giant flowers and frills.

There was a time when the supporting actress in a comedy field was riddled with “SNL” players — Kate McKinnon won twice in the category while her contemporaries Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler, Vanessa Bayer, Leslie Jones, Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong all earned nominations during their tenure. And back in the 1970s, Gilda Radner and Jane Curtain were nominated when the category was called outstanding continuing or single performance by a supporting actress in variety or music. Gardner, who has never been nominated, more than holds her own in such impressive company.

Also impressive is how, on a show that rewards familiar punchlines, Gardner rarely repeats herself. She has created so many slam-dunk characters in her “Weekend Update” segments that no one would fault her if she trotted the same ones out every week. It’s impressive that “SNL” hasn’t marketed an entire line of merch for her character, A Co-Worker Who’s Extremely Busy Doing Seemingly Nothing.

If we see a returning character with her, it’s usually with a twist or to let the host shine. The last time we saw Angel, Every Boxer’s Girlfriend From Every Movie About Boxing Ever, was when Michael B. Jordan hosted in 2023, and it was so the host could reprise his role as Adonis Creed opposite her. This season, she introduced the fast-talking secretary Trudy in the season premiere, only to bring her back in the April 6 episode so host Wiig could play her equally wacky counterpart, Tootie.

And in Season 49, Gardner continued to shine, particularly in the March 9 episode — most notably when paired with host Josh Brolin to play a married couple involved in a bank robbery that they hoped would turn sexual, and then as a trashy woman on a talk show, who accuses her man (an elderly, wheelchair-bound Brolin) of cheating on her.

Gardner is simply as good as it gets, and watching her lose it on live TV didn’t diminish that fact — it only accentuated it.

From Variety US