We’ve written about our comedy deity numerous times on the blog before – the queens that are Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Instead of writing about how much we adore and look up to these wonderfully smart, talented, confident women before their BLOCKBUSTER movie Sisters comes out on Friday (against Star Wars – #YouCanSeeBoth), let’s talk about the person who is responsible for bringing our First Ladies back together, the writer of Sisters, Paula Pell.
For comedy nerds, Paula and her impressive career shouldn’t be news to you. But for those who aren’t as geeked as us, here’s a brief intro to this hilarious human. Paula’s first big break was in the mecca itself, Saturday Night Live. She started as a writer in 1995 and continued working there until 2013, but she occasionally writes a few sketches here and there (and rumor has it she might be returning this weekend when Tina & Amy double up as hosts!). But more on SNL later.
Paula’s writing has spanned into her own webseries Hudson Valley Ballers, and she was hired by Judd Apatow to tweak, or “punch-up” the scripts for Bridesmaids and This Is 40. Plus she’s a great follow on Twitter.
On screen, you might remember her as Ron Swanson’s mom, Tammy Zero, on Parks and Rec:
or Pete Hornberger’s problematic wife Paul on 30 Rock:
But back to SNL. In her nearly 20 year tenure at the show, she wrote some of the most iconic sketches in the show’s history, and you’ve probably quoted her lines at least one point in your life.
Starting with the most recent, she returned for the SNL 40th Anniversary special, joining forces with longtime SNL writer/producer & Tonight Show announcer Steve Higgins and Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake for the musical journey through SNL history in the cold open:
And Paula’s work was mentioned multiple times throughout that song, since he work is so prevalent in SNL history. Here are just some of the sketches she’s written throughout the years. If you like any of these, you’ll probably like Sisters too. #YouCanSeeThemBoth.
Bobbi and Marty Culp
I remember truly getting into SNL when I was in 6th grade, when the main players included folks like Will Ferrell, Tracy Morgan, Tim Meadows, Ana Gasteyer, Molly Shannon, etc. Needless to say, it was a solid time for the show. During this era was a sketch featuring The Culps, a husband and wife team of music teachers and frequent random school assembly performers. Their shtick was to cover “hip” pop tunes but still sing it in a ridiculous way, and still to this day, sketches like The Culps and a few below have special places in my heart that feel like a warm hug.
Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri’s over enthusiastic and under qualified Spartan cheerleaders are two of the most recognizable and beloved characters to come out of SNL, and Paula helped bring them to life. She and Will and Cheri would write all the sketches together, and Paula has even said their late-night sessions even led to Will taking off his shirt in delusion. Oh to be in those offices. For the genius in the making – not shirtless Will Ferrell. To be clear.
Paula helped create possibly Rachel Dratch’s most memorable role as the depressing Debbie Downer who just could not catch a break. Years later, I feel like the term “Debbie Downer” is still used in regular vocabulary to describe anyone who is just downright miserable. Which I think is ironic, seeing as how Debbie Down only brings us joy to our lives. Plus, I will still watch that classic Lindsay Lohan episode every few months.
In 2003, Justin Timberlake was coming off ‘N Sync and setting himself apart as a solo artist. But when he signed up to host SNL for the first time, he also had to prove his acting and comedic chops. Little did we know he blew us all away and went on to become a member of the prestigious Five-Timers host club. In that very first ep he hosted in ’03 when he knocked it out of the park, he did a sketch called Omeletteville, in which he dressed up as a giant omelette in order to promote a nearby breakfast restaurant. His rival? Chris Parnell, dressed as bacon and eggs and also keen on getting customers into his diner. The sketch was such a hit, that JT has gone back to do it five more times, including visits to Homlessville, Wrappinville, Veganville, Liquorville, and more.
Appalachian Emergency Room
Paula’s sketch featured the emergency room where redneck folks who got into redneck medical issues would go to be healed. I feel like this sketch was so odd and obscure and weird and off-kilter that it was brilliant.
Paula continued her streak of writing iconic characters for cast members with Gilly, A mischievous schoolgirl with an afro and questionable facial expressions played by Kristen Wiig. The initial unassumingness of Gilly, the use of repetition, and Kristen’s natural comedic talent make this such a great character, and Paula is the one to credit.