Q&A: Aidy Bryant and ‘Shrill’ turn the tables on fat-shaming
“Shrill” is a powerful comedy that centers on Annie, a cute, smart, talented, fat young woman living in Portland, Ore., who one day makes the radical decision to stop apologizing for taking up space in the world. Aidy Bryant plays Annie with an easy charm that makes her every move relatable, even when the repercussions are messy. The Hulu series is based on Lindy West’s 2016 memoir “Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman.” Bryant is co-creator with West and Alexandra Rushfield, and produces as well as stars.
She’s also a popular cast member of “Saturday Night Live,” especially beloved for her Sarah Huckabee Sanders impersonation. “Shrill’s” first season was filmed on her hiatus from “SNL,” but for the second season she had to overlap by about three weeks. “Now I’m going to ‘Shrill’ in the mornings and then to ‘SNL’ in the afternoon and evenings,” she says, speaking by phone while traveling from one to the other.
How is that doubling up going?
It is incredibly tough. I would say it’s not something I could do forever. But I’ve been on “SNL” for almost seven years, over 140-some shows, so I’m trying not to be too precious about these three weeks.
Has your time working at “SNL” helped you create and produce this show?
Massively. I went into the beginning of “Shrill” feeling like, “Oh, man, I’m way out of my league,” and then I realized really quickly, this is exactly the same as producing an “SNL” sketch, except instead of having six days, it’s a year or more.
The show is very funny, but it’s also heart-wrenching to watch someone finally stop asking permission to exist from a society that wants her to disappear.
When every message that you’re receiving is that you are bad, that’s a lot to go up against. Obviously we wanted the show to be funny, but especially in the beginning there’s some pain there, so we wanted it to be really grounded.
One of the things I’m excited about the second season is I get to start having some more fun, because she’s changing how she feels about herself and her life. But there’s something to seeing someone who you probably experience in daily life as a happy person, or a good hard worker, and then seeing their pain that they have at night when they go home.
I so loved how much people have loved our cast because that is one of the things I’m most proud of.
In the first episode, Annie becomes pregnant after using birth control that doesn’t work on women over 175 pounds, which the pharmacist didn’t even bother to mention. That’s when she hits tilt. Then, as in the book, she has an abortion, which proves to be a transformative experience.
Lindy has done a lot of work to destigmatize abortion, and I’m so glad that we could show that scene, because I think for a lot of women that is their experience of abortion, where they get to make a decision that brings their lives back into their control. I know many women who have gone on to do things that they feel they couldn’t have done had they taken that time to drastically alter their life. I did think that for many women, it’s the common experience.
Lindy reclaimed the word “fat” without the accompanying negative associations, but I have to admit it’s hard to use the word. And I’ve seen a lot of articles that called Annie “plus-sized” or “curvy” instead.
I’ve noticed that too, even in interviews, especially if I’m being interviewed by a man, they almost never will say “a fat character.” They’re really nervous about it. I understand why — it’s an emotional word for a lot of people — but I think that’s all the more reason why we should use it and talk about it. I spent years of my life living in fear of being the word “fat,” or someone calling me fat, or thinking I’m fat, but that’s stuff I can’t control, and guess what? I am fat, so to run from it for the rest of my life seems like an exhausting way to live.
The whole ensemble is strong, and the characters all have a great deal of depth to them. Annie’s relationship with her best friend Fran (Lolly Adefope) feels thoroughly genuine.
I so loved how much people have loved our cast because that is one of the things I’m most proud of. Lolly especially is someone who brings so much realness and heart to the show, and you buy her and Annie as really good, longtime friends, where it’s not always perfect but you always have each other’s backs. It’s been so formative in my life that I love that we get to have that as part of the show.
It reminds me of Mary and Rhoda.
That’s not wrong — when we were pitching the show around, we were saying, “It’s a really traditional show, it’s like ‘Mary Tyler Moore.’” And Lindy would always say, “It’s Mary Tyler More to Love.”
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