Maya Rudolph Joins the Cast of "Saturday Night Live"
On May 6, 2000, Jewish comedian, actor, and writer Maya Rudolph appeared for the first time on Saturday Night Live, where she remained as a cast member until 2007. When she joined SNL in the show’s twenty-fifth season, she became the fourth Black female cast member in the show’s history. Rudolph received widespread praise for her work on SNL, where she portrayed Oprah Winfrey, Whitney Houston, Donatella Versace, Beyoncé, and other figures, as well as several fictional characters in recurring sketches like “Wake Up Wakefield” and “Bronx Beat.”
Rudolph was born in Gainesville, Florida, to singer-songwriter Minnie Riperton, who was Black, and composer Richard Rudolph, who is white and Jewish. Her paternal great-grandfather emigrated to the United States from Vilnius, Lithuania, and changed his surname from “Rudashevsky” to “Rudolph.” He was one of the founding members of Congregation Beth Shalom, a Conservative Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Rudolph’s parents moved from Florida when she was young to the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, where she became interested in the entertainment industry while watching her mother’s performances and participating in school musicals alongside other future comedians, such as Jack Black.
After receiving a Bachelor’s degree in photography from the University of California, Santa Cruz, Rudolph joined the improv troupe the Groundlings. When an SNL producer attended a Groundlings performance, he asked Rudolph to audition, after which she was invited to appear on the last three episodes of SNL’s 1999-2000 season. Since her seven seasons as a cast member, Rudolph has returned to the show several times as a host and in guest appearances. In 2020 and 2021, she won Emmy Awards for guest appearances in which she portrayed Vice President Kamala Harris. After the first of these portrayals in 2019, then-Senator Harris tweeted positive comments about Rudolph’s impression. In a 2021 sketch, Rudolph impersonated Harris hosting a “unity Seder” with Jewish Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, portrayed by Martin Short.
Outside of SNL, Rudolph has cast a wide net in television and film. Her film credits include the comedies Bridesmaids (with SNL castmate Kristen Wiig) and Sisters (with SNL castmates Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) and the dramas Inherent Vice and The Way Way Back. In 2014, Rudolph hosted the variety special The Maya Rudolph Show. She revisited the variety show genre in 2016 with The Maya and Marty Show, which aired for one season. Hosted by Rudolph and Martin Short, the show featured SNL alumni Steve Martin, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Will Forte, as well as current cast members Kenan Thompson and Mikey Day.
“When I left SNL, I wanted to work with my friends,” Rudolph told Vulture in 2014. “That’s what I missed the most.” With her frequent film and television work alongside former castmates and regular guest appearances on SNL, Rudolph seems to have realized that goal, establishing herself as an acclaimed comedian along the way.
Framke, Caroline. “Maya Rudolph and Martin Short’s Variety Show Was Short, Sweet, and Beautifully Bizarre.” Vox, July 17, 2016. https://www.vox.com/2016/7/17/12195176/maya-and-marty-review-rudolph-short.
Itzkoff, Dave. “On ‘S.N.L.’, Maya Rudolph Hosts a Unity Seder as Kamala Harris.” The New York Times, March 28, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/28/arts/television/snl-maya-rudolph-recap.html.
López Restrepo, Manuela. “Maya Rudolph Once Struggled with Identity and Belonging. Now It’s Her Inspiration: It’s Been a Minute.” NPR.org, August 20, 2021. https://www.npr.org/2021/08/10/1026604366/maya-rudolph-snl-big-mouth.
“Maya Rudolph.” Finding Your Roots. Accessed March 27, 2022. https://www.pbs.org/weta/finding-your-roots/about/meet-our-guests/maya-rudolph.
“Maya Rudolph.” Television Academy. Accessed March 27, 2022. https://www.emmys.com/bios/maya-rudolph.
Morris, Alex. “The New Carol Burnett: Maya Rudolph on Fulfilling Her Variety-Show Dream.” Vulture, May 8, 2014. https://www.vulture.com/2014/05/maya-rudolph-show-throwback-to-carol-burnett.html.
DeSantis, Rachel. “Kamala Harris Responds after Maya Rudolph Hilariously Spoofs Her on Saturday Night Live.” People, September 30, 2019. https://people.com/politics/kamala-harris-responds-maya-rudolph-spoof-saturday-night-live/.
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Maya Rudolph Joins the Cast of "Saturday Night Live"." (Viewed on December 1, 2023) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/maya-rudolph-joins-cast-saturday-night-live>.