Cecily Strong of ‘SNL’ has written a memoir
During the season finale of “Saturday Night Live” in May, Cecily Strong climbed into a large clear cube marked “boxed wine” and belted Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” lowering herself triumphantly into a pool of red wine as the song crescendoed. She was playing Fox News’ Judge Jeanine Pirro, a frequent highlight of “Weekend Update,” sloshing her booze onto co-anchor Colin Jost while rat-a-tat-tating litanies of racist scorn. Strong, for nine seasons, had been “SNL’s” dependable, renewable energy source, the go-to cast member for all matters of outsized confidence masking outsized obliviousness. Think of her Melania Trump. Think of her Girl You Wished You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With. Still, a showstopper in a vat of vino — that played like somebody saying goodbye.
As bittersweet as it was funny.
She was leaving “SNL,” right?
That night, there were hints of Pete Davidson (7 seasons), Kate McKinnon (9 seasons) and Kenan Thompson (18 seasons) leaving, too. But by midsummer, we didn’t know the status of any of them. I asked Strong myself if she was leaving, and she was still weighing her pros and cons, saying “SNL” is not the “SNL” of decades ago, that “SNL” can be a headquarters while you try other stuff, etc. She sounded sincerely conflicted. It would be a loss if she left: As large as “SNL” casts have grown (it’s up to 20 now), Strong has the designated hitter role in the lineup once held by Phil Hartman, Bill Hader, Dan Aykroyd — not the biggest star on the show, but arguably the most valuable.
On the other hand, she would go out on a high point: She was just nominated for an Emmy for “SNL,” she’s co-starring and coproducing “Schmigadoon!” a new series for Apple TV+ about a backpacking couple (played by Strong and Keegan-Michael Key) trapped in a musical. Most interestingly, she just wrote her first book, “This Will All Be Over Soon,” a memoir, decidedly less funny, about a cousin’s death, a relationship souring and a pandemic year spent adrift, anxious and, well, uncertain of what’s next.
Q: Let’s start with the book. You begin, on page one, so unsure of what you’re doing you write you don’t how to tell this story and don’t know what the story is.
A: And it’s still that way. At the beginning of 2020, in January, I lost my cousin Owen to glioblastoma (a form of brain cancer) and I didn’t really grieve it. I didn’t know how. It felt like there’s no way for me to talk about this yet. I will break down and everyone around me will break down. In March, the guy I was seeing got (COVID-19), and right after (the pandemic shut down “SNL”) I was home in my apartment for two weeks by myself, breaking down. I wasn’t able to write. On off-weeks (for “SNL”), I will at least be thinking of sketches. But I couldn’t write anything and was kind of swinging between anxiety and depression. Finally, I booked an Airbnb to get out of the city, and the day I knew I was leaving, in the shower, the first essay in this book hit me. I needed to write something down, and in my rush, I spilled my garbage and a million tiny clam shells fell on the floor. I have always written for myself but never thought of a book. I sent what I had to some people, got a nice response (and was later published by the online entertainment-news site Vulture). I’m not a poet, but I’m very honest and if it was helping somebody, I figured I’d keep going, see what happens.
Q: Was there hesitancy to do a pandemic book — of all the loss, why my story?
A: Oh sure, I didn’t feel my story was special or worse than anyone’s. I didn’t want it to be all pandemic, either. I had all this time to examine past griefs I hadn’t processed. I have had other losses. But maybe there’s something about this age I’m at (37) — I didn’t have the shock of being 19, when you’re understanding your mortality for the first time. I was fully loving someone and their life, then it was cut off. And I don’t know. I really don’t. Some people have read the book and said it’s a lot for one person, but I never felt that.
Q: You didn’t write much about “SNL.”
A: Because it wasn’t what was in my head and heart during that time. I tried to touch on it some, it’s a big part of my life and identity, but it often wasn’t what I was thinking about. I mostly write about the “SNL at Home” episodes (coordinated from the cast’s homes just after the lockdowns) because, day to day, I was concerned about those.
Q: Did you want to do those episodes?
A: I did and I didn’t. I wasn’t ready by the first one. I pushed to have the (Vulture) essay come out because I wanted to respect my grief first. Certainly before I went publicly silly again. As far as the technical stuff (of those episodes), for me, it’s hard, it brings a new layer of stress — something that takes someone like five minutes takes me five hours.
Q: When the usual show returned, you were off for most of the fall.
A: I was in Vancouver (shooting “Schmigadoon!”).
Q: So did it feel anxious to return that December?
A: Absolutely. I mean, I remember Bowen (Yang) and Fran Gillespie (“SNL” writer and former Chicago native) were writing a cabaret sketch that was set in a restaurant, and I thought, “Wait, you’re serious? People are eating in restaurants right now? We’re New York, we’re supposed to do the right thing.” I just didn’t understand why anyone would go out if they didn’t have to right then.
Q: Are you leaving “SNL”?
A: I have no idea. I know that’s a boring answer. I go back and forth every day. Someone said, “Weak.” What am I supposed to say? There’s a couple things I want to do which would leave it open to do more “SNL.” Talking to Lorne, you understand: The show is different now, you can stay longer, do different projects. I don’t want to feel like I am getting stale or taking up space that others could use. There are a lot of reasons to stay and a lot of reason to leave, and I haven’t really figured it out yet.
Q: What do you want to do?
A: I want to leave it open. Like everyone in this business, I’m worried about my career: What’s my narrative? Am I done? Then the world cracked open and I didn’t know I could write a book or produce. So I decided to stay open, and see what happens and not beat myself for not being on the path I thought I would be on by now.