Julia Louis-Dreyfus on SNL: ‘It was a very sexist environment’


Julia Louis-Dreyfus is hosting Saturday Night Live for the third time tomorrow night. Julia was a cast member on SNL from 1982 to 1985, right before Lorne Micheals returned to the show. While on SNL, she met Larry David who would later co-create Seinfeld and give Julia her career-making role of Elaine Benes. She recently sat down with The New York Times to promote the new season of VEEP, which begins April 24th. You can read the full article here, much of it speaks of the parallels between VEEP’s bumbling President Selina Meyer and the current election but she also spoke about her days at SNL and how hard women struggled on the show.

On how she views her “Saturday Night Live” days:

On SNL’s sexist environment:
I did not come out of “S.N.L.” as any kind of name. I didn’t do anything particularly great when I was there. I didn’t. It’s fine. But I learned a tremendous amount. It was a very sexist environment. Since I’ve gone back, I can tell you it’s much more of an equal-opportunity environment.

On her SNL experience:
I was on it for three years, and when I left, I made this conscious decision that I would not take any jobs that didn’t seem as if they would be really fun. That’s very simplistic and Pollyannaish sounding, but really, I noted that. I’m not doing this unless I can have a deep sense of happiness while doing it. I’ve applied that, moving forward, and it’s worked. So in that sense, I have “S.N.L.” to thank.

On SNL’s cast member kinship:
“Saturday Night Live” is like its own university. Once you’ve been there, there is a kinship with everyone who’s been there and everyone who is there. Your eyes lock and you both know that you have this in common. Tina and Amy [Poehler] and I are friends. I met them both when I hosted, and we’ve been in touch since then. I like those guys. I feel a connection to them.

On being a pioneer:
I don’t think of myself as a pioneer. I’m not sure that I am. Opportunity for women in television has increased. It’s because the landscape has widened. More women got on the playing field. But opportunity for women in film has not increased. I just think it’s that simple. By the way, I’m certain that there’s more much more in television that can be done. And I’m trying to do it. But I’ve certainly seen it change in my lifetime.

[From The New York Times]

I really like Julia both as a comedian and a person. I’ve always admired that she worked her way up in the industry. However, I think having the financial security her family does, it made the “decision that I would not take any jobs that didn’t seem as if they would be really fun” easier than an actress who has to take any job she can get.

In 2011, Jane Curtin gave a bleak example of SNL’s sexism back in her day. She described John Belushi as actively trying to sabotage sketches written by female writers by whispering the lines instead of speaking them. However, Laraine Newman, in the documentary Live From New York that debuted Wednesday at the Tribeca Film Festival, said she felt, “The show has always been, in my mind, a meritocracy. If a sketch worked, it went on. That’s it.” Tina Fey said SNL had become a far healthier environment when she was a cast member but that it was still 70/30 in favor of men. I am, however, glad to hear from most sources that things have improved over time. Of course, after 40+ years, I should hope so.


Photo credit: Getty Images and WENN Photos

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26 Responses to “Julia Louis-Dreyfus on SNL: ‘It was a very sexist environment’”

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  1. Bettyrose says:

    So, after 40 years it’s improved a little? That’s good, I guess. But when you think of all the amazing comic actresses who’ve come out of SNL, it’s still been a better vehicle for comediennes to launch careers than most of the comedy world. FWIW

    • joan says:

      As for her wealth allowing her to be picky:

      Many wouldn’t — and actually couldn’t — play the parts she’s played.

      Elaine and Selena are both complicated and borderline unlikeable. She makes them funny, likeable, and relateable. They could be none of those things with a different actress.

      As great as they are, I don’t see Tiny Fey or Amy Poehler as Elaine. Or anyone else.

      • Bettyrose says:

        ITA about Elaine. She was my hero in the 90s. Sassy, opinionated, unapologetic about sleeping with the numerous men in and out of her life (and her sex life was never discussed any differently than the make characters). And yeah she was just as borderline dislikeable as the rest of them. You know you’ve arrived when you get to be a jerk too.

        I actually loved her in NAO- Christine, also.

  2. Pinky says:

    Love her. That is alll

    Except that, if I’m reading this right, it still kinda sux to be a women in…any field, whether white, light, bright, or dark as midnight. Yay progress?


    • K says:

      No you read that right, it sucks but it doesn’t suck as bad now as when she started.

      Which as sad as that sounds is progress and good but not what it should be.

  3. Nancy says:

    So many amazing women launched their careers on SNL. Julia is an awesome, funny and smart woman….no scandals or whispers of bad behavior. Elaine Benes, she owned Jerry, George and Kramer. GET OUT!!!

  4. Neelyo says:

    ‘However, I think having the financial security her family does, it made the “decision that I would not take any jobs that didn’t seem as if they would be really fun” easier than an actress who has to take any job she can get.’


    • SJO says:

      Its true but I still like her, and I am the first to point fingers and roll my eyes at privilege and or nepotism in that business.

      • K says:

        But her family wasn’t connected in the business she didn’t have help getting work there she just had money to fall back on.

        This idea that this makes her accomplishments or work less is so offensive. Coming from money or privilege doesn’t make you a horrible person. It doesn’t mean you haven’t earned your success. I just can’t understand this new thing in our culture where we attack anyone who has money.

        I’m not saying money doesn’t open doors, it does, it gives you advantages but I don’t think we need to vilify it either.

        Sorry I’m seeing this so much lately and I just don’t get it. When did it become ok in our society to attack people- people attack the poor for needing help and the Rich for being the root of all problems. Why can’t we judge people as the individual person they are not on their income.

      • Locke Lamora says:

        Her family maybe wasn’t connected in the industry, but having family money to fall back on is an immense luxury. Even getting to pick a career just based on what you love doing without thinking about wheter or not it’s going to be financially lucrative is incredible. I certainly didn’t have that luxury.
        It doesn’t make her acomplishments any less amazing, but it does put things in perspective. And we should not shade people who come from money, but their priviledge has to be pointed out, especially now when the doors for low income people are closing more and more. We can not judge a person as an individual and not by their income because their income matters so much and made them into the individual they are. The circumstances you were born in influemce your life in a major way.

      • Timbuktu says:

        but no one said that her accomplishments are less. What was said is that she had the luxury of doing only what she loved – the luxury that most of us do not have. How is that offensive if it’s very true? No one is not saying that she shouldn’t work or that we shouldn’t give her an Emmy because she is rich.

        I honestly do not get why people are defending the rich so much. Everyday women are facing far more serious problems than (arguably) harsh opinions on Celebitchy.
        I mean, seriously, if I had the choice between being wealthy and successful, yet called out on my privilege on Celebitchy, and being poor and struggling, I’d not mind the “attacks” on Celebitchy one bit. And I’d want to believe that I’d have the good sense to recognize the truth in them.

    • bella says:

      I’ve always believed that whatever anyone has achieved, they’ve worked for.
      So, if that puts others ahead, who am I to begrudge.
      Good for her and all of them.

      Not all of us were put on this earth to have celebrity, fame and $$$.

      • Timbuktu says:

        why begrudge?
        There’s a difference between “acknowledge” and “begrudge”. I read an article about the myth of most billionaires being self-made… Turns out very few started from scratch. Yes, not everyone had a billionaire Daddy, but many came from wealthy families, got top-notch education, connections, inheritance, etc. If I want that acknowledged does not mean I begrudge them. What I see, though, is that some wealthy people tend to assume that anyone who has not achieved the same level of success is just lazy or stupid. It is very easy to forget the breaks you got in life. I’m not wealthy by any measure, but even I have to admit that I got some lucky breaks and some fantastic help from others in my life. What’s wrong with wanting the rich people to do the same?

  5. Talie says:

    Look, without a doubt, she’s been the most relevant person to come out of Seinfeld and that was not accident. She worked her butt off.

    • bella says:

      Seeing your post @Talie after just posting above.
      She’s mega talented and working for decades.

      If SNL put her in a position to pick and choose the projects that followed – more power to her.

      • Timbuktu says:

        Mega-talented, really?
        Sheesh, I like her as a person, I even liked her as Christine, but I hated her in Seinfelt and I hate her in VEEP, and find her brand of humor very un-appealing. I’d pick Tina and Amy over her ANY DAY.

  6. GoodNamesAllTaken says:

    Every job was a sexist environment in the 80s. It was a macho era, greed is good, all that. My first husband was an investment banker, and that was such a disgusting environment for women. One of the women who graduated with him from a top business school was told on her job interview that she had nice tits. I worked as a paralegal then and sexual comments, comments about my appearance, being hit on by the boss was all very common, and there was no recourse. So things are better, yes. But there’s a long way to go.

    • Jaded says:

      Oh yeah….I remember those days. My first husband was a lawyer – the bacchanalia that went at his firm was legendary. In fact it was one of the main reasons I left him. And I got groped and hit on a lot at the company I was working for then, and when I did speak up I was basically told it was my behaviour that instigated it. Oh…since when is sitting quietly doing my job a blatant invitation to get harassed?

  7. anniefannie says:

    In the late 80′s (i was a teen) a particularly creepy guy asked me to get up and turn around when I stammered out “why” he said ” I want to see if you”ll fit into the receptionist outfit?!”
    Even though I desperately needed the job I beat it out of there. I reflect with disbelief at those experiences

    • GoodNamesAllTaken says:

      I had an interview where the man said he took his staff on a hobbie cat once a year and he said he would love to see me in a bikini. I really wanted the job before that – it was more money and a great location for me but I didn’t take it. And of course, I wondered if my skirt was too short or I said something wrong to give him that impression of me. Younger me needed older me to sit her down for a talk.

  8. lucy2 says:

    I love her – I think she’s incredibly talented and I’m so happy she keeps have success after success. Plus she keeps her life low key and seems fairly normal despite her long Hollywood career.
    SNL sounds like such a tough environment, even now when things have improved for women there. I can’t imagine what it was like in her day.

  9. PK says:

    I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to call out her career philosophy when Louis-Dreyfus has never hidden or disavowed where she comes from. She herself calls it “simplistic” and “Pollyanna-ish.” She gets it.

    We also have heard many over the years liken their time at SNL to basically a soul-destroying death march into comedy obscurity, so it doesn’t seem out of place that someone might emerge from it with a “just have fun” ethos. Being financially secure – or not – wouldn’t make it any less of a learning experience.

    • GoodNamesAllTaken says:

      Agree. It worked for her. She didn’t say everybody should or could have that philosophy.

  10. Tough Cookie says:

    Jane Curtin, not Curtain (I have a last name that gets misspelled a lot so I’m hyper-sensitive LOL)

    And just seeing her name reminds me how much I loved SNL back in the 70s and 80s. I still enjoy it now and look forward to Julia’s guest hosting,

  11. Spike says:

    They gave Julia horrible material during her stint. It was so bad that I thought she was a horrible comedian, boring. The icing on the cake was meeting her husband Brad there.

    When she killed it on Seinfeld I realized what a great comedian she is. It is the case of succeeding despite the circumstances. Good for her.