On a warm Wednesday night in June, a hip, young crowd formed a long line along 26th Street in Manhattan. They laughed among themselves, eyed the number of people in front of them, and clutched their blue ticket stubs to AIDY/TAMI/SPO, a sold-out three-woman show at Upright Citizens Brigade.
Billed as a performance by "three improvisers that you will either want to fuck, marry, or kill by the end of the show," AIDY/TAMI/SPO was an hourlong showcase by three improv greats, including Tami Sagher, Shannon O'Neill, and Aidy Bryant.
As the three entered the packed underground theater through two doors on stage, the crowd cheered and an excited (but failed) whisper reached the middle of the crowd: "She's on SNL!"
It's no secret that Aidy Bryant's comedy career is thriving. The 27-year-old draws crowds to comedy clubs around the country and has a following of tens of thousands on social media. And on Saturday, when millions tuned into NBC to watch the classic show's 40th season première, perhaps no one was cheering for Bryant louder than her fans in Arizona.
From center stage, dressed as CNN correspondent Candy Crowley, Bryant took jabs at the NFL before announcing, "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!" Throughout the show, she starred in funny skits alongside host Chris Pratt and musical guest Ariana Grande. And as the SNL cast took its final bow, it was clear Bryant had earned herself a rock-solid spot on late-night television.
Years before Bryant took on the national spotlight — and gained an arsenal of PR people at NBC (who, for the record, limited this story to a brief interview with the humble comedian) — Bryant was taking on a much younger comedy scene in Central Phoenix.
During a phone call between writing sessions and rehearsals, Bryant describes getting the performance bug during middle school theater classes and summer camps, where she discovered the art of improvisation.
She says her mom, Georganne (whom you might know as the owner of Frances, a boutique in Central Phoenix), and dad, Tom, would take her to improv workshops at the now-defunct Arizona Jewish Theatre Company. Later, she would take short-form classes in the style of Whose Line Is it Anyway? with performers who eventually would open The Torch Theatre on Central Avenue.
"I was so lucky to have met those people — Bill Binder, and the people who run the Torch Theatre," Bryant says. "I credit them for showing me what long-form improv was and what it could be."
After graduating from Xavier College Preparatory, where she often read the morning announcements, Bryant packed her bags and headed for Chicago, home to legendary improv houses The Second City, iO, and Annoyance Theatre.
She says she dove into the local comedy scene, took more classes, and developed her own sketches (that you can still watch on YouTube). After she graduated from Columbia College, she toured with the musical improv group Baby Wants Candy and was approached by Second City.
At Second City, Bryant says she honed the craft that audience members now see on stage.
"In Second City, it's all about ensemble and working together," Bryant says. "Everyone helps write every scene, but it's all about improv and saying yes to different people's ideas, and I think that was such a great way for me to start . . . I've taken all those tools from Second City and I've been able to apply them in a way that works for me."
In 2011, Bryant penned a revue, or an hourlong sketch show, that SNL creator Lorne Michaels and a few producers flew to Chicago to see. A few weeks later, Bryant says she got a call and was asked to bring five minutes of her best material to New York for an official audition.
"It was super nerve-wracking," she says. "But it was the moment I had been working for, so I just wanted to have fun and try and perform in a way that I would for a 500-person audience for these seven people in the room."
The rest, as we know, is history.
Since she joined the show in 2012, Bryant has made a national name for herself writing popular sketches, including the Emmy-nominated song "(Do It on My) Twin Bed," which she wrote with cast member Kate McKinnon and show writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider. She's played Adele, Candy Crowley, and Rebel Wilson, has danced around in a snowflake costume, and has taken to the Weekend Update desk as "The Worst Lady on an Airplane."
And while she won't admit to being a star, she says she doesn't mind bumping into a fan — or a friend — in New York and in Phoenix, which she says still feels like home.
"I'm not Madonna," she says. "I take the train, I live a normal life. It's not too crazy, it's super-manageable, and if anything, it's a lot more fun. So I'm really thankful."