Rudolph, Maya 1972–
Maya Rudolph 1972–
Known for her hilarious spoofs of celebrities such as Italian fashion designer Donatella Versace, Saturday Night Live cast member Maya Rudolph is a versatile performer. Her strong musical skills have contributed to the success of her SNL skits, which frequently feature her portrayals of pop singers, including Nelly Furtado, Beyonce Knowles, and members of the hip-hop group Destiny’s Child. Though she feels most at home with comedy, she has also appeared in various dramatic roles and has worked professionally as a musician.
Born on July 27, 1972, in Gainesville, Florida, Rudolph grew up in a racially-mixed musical family. Her father, songwriter Richard Rudolph, is Jewish; her mother, Minnie Riperton, was a soul singer who died of breast cancer just before Maya turned seven. Maya Rudolph remembers standing backstage as a little girl, watching her mother perform. “She was such a diva in the most exquisite sense,” she told Interview magazine. “Those are very vivid memories for me. I always had the idea of wanting to be on a stage, in these beautiful gowns, with a microphone in my hand, and that comes from my mom.”
Rudolph and her older brother, Marc, grew up in Santa Monica, California, where the family had moved when the children were young. Struggling with the loss of her mother, Rudolph found some solace in comedy. As she told People Weekly reporter Galina Espinoza, she inherited her mother’s offbeat sense of humor and “learned quickly to laugh so I wouldn’t have to deal with pain.” Rudolph would stage skits about odd characters, and often starred in school plays with her friend and classmate at St. Augustine by the Sea School, Gwyneth Paltrow. “The comedy was always there,” Rudolph commented in Interview. “There’s this moment I remember from when I was seven or eight: I was with a friend and she hurt herself and started to cry, and I just started talking in a funny voice. I thought, This is much better than feeling bad; I want to make her feel good. And she started to laugh.”
After graduating in 1994 from the University of California at Santa Cruz, where she studied fashion design and majored in photography, Rudolph joined the Rentals, a pop band that was successful enough to open for
At a Glance…
Born on July 27, 1972, in Gainesville, FL; daughter of Richard Rudolph (a songwriter and music producer) and Minnie Riperton (a singer). Education: University of California-Santa Cruz, BA, photography, 1994,
Career: The Rentals (music group), keyboard player and backup singer, 1994-96; the Groundlings (comedy troupe), Los Angeles, CA, cast member, 1996-99; actor and comedienne, 1999–.
Addresses: Office—Saturday Night Live, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112.
Alanis Morissette and for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Rudolph played synthesizer and sang back-up in the band, which Boston Globe music critic Jim Sullivan described as a quirky mix of “killer pop sensibility and hard-rock guitar edge” similar to that of such 1970’sera bands as the Cars and Ultravox.
Rudolph stayed with the Rentals for two years, quitting in 1996 to join the Groundlings, the noted comedy improvisation troupe in Los Angeles. She also landed a small part on the television series Chicago Hope, playing Nurse Leah Martine in several episodes in 1996 and 1997. She also played the delivery room nurse in the 1997 film Gattaca. In 2000, Rudolph took a regular role on the series City of Angels, the first predominantly black medical drama on network television. She played Nurse Grace Patterson. Though the series was hailed as one of the most significant new shows of the season—especially after much criticism had been leveled at the entertainment media for failing to create roles and programming for African Americans—it was canceled after one season because of poor ratings.
In 2000, Rudolph made her first appearance on Saturday Night Live, impersonating former MTV veejay Ananda Lewis. She continued as a featured performer through the remainder of that season, becoming a regular cast member in 2001. “The truth is I had always felt most comfortable doing comedy,” she recalled in Interview. “My dream since I was a little girl was to be on Saturday Night Live” One of her most important comic inspirations was Gilda Radner, a member of SNL’s original cast. “I used to do impressions of her when I was five,” Rudolph said in Interview, “because I had hair that looked like [Radner’s character] Roseanne Roseannadanna.”
On the program, Rudolph has drawn on both her comedic talents and her musical background to create a wide range of acclaimed sketches. Among them are a skit featuring a hip-hop version of the “Oompa Loompa” song from the children’s film Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and several involving “Wake Up Wakefield,” a high school television talk-show co-hosted by Rudolph’s awkward and love-smitten character, Megan. New York Times writer Emily Nussbaum described Rudolph’s performance in a February 2003 “Wakefield” skit as a “great bit of giggle-inducing character work—a screen grab of a young girl’s self-dramatization.” Rudolph has also appeared as “Britannica,” half of the fictitious musical group Gemini’s Twin—a satirical reference to the group Destiny’s Child—and has created spoofs of such superstars as Liza Minnelli, Christina Aguilera, Macy Gray, and Halle Berry.
Perhaps Rudolph’s most famous creation is her parody of Donatella Versace, the Italian diva of fashion and style. Nussbaum considered this satiric portrayal to be one of the most notable examples of Rudolph’s “wide, outrageous range” as a comic actor. Donatella is usually drunk on champagne, imperious, and vulgar. She lounges in her luxurious villa surrounded by fabulous jewels and other luxurious trappings. As Newsweek writer Susannah Meadows noted, the Donatella sketches are written from a woman’s point of view: “Rudolph’s Versace regularly goes cross-eyed in her Jacuzzi, ordering her male slaves around, it bores me to tears to show up in a short skirt and say some lines probably some guy wrote because you’re his fantasy,’ [Rudolph] says.”
Building on her success with SNL, Rudolph has gone on to appear in films starring former castmates, including 50 First Dates, with Adam Sandler, and Anchorman, with Will Ferrell. Among the most notable of Rudolph’s recent films is Chuck and Buck, an independent production about the relationship between a successful man and a boyhood friend who is mentally ill. Rudolph plays Chuck’s assistant, Jamila, one of three female supporting characters whose strong performances, according to New York Times writer A.O. Wilson, accentuate the plight of the emotionally fragile Buck and help to make the movie “a strange, intense and moving film about friendship and loss.”
Rudolph, who is single and is a vegetarian, continues to garner positive reviews for her work on Saturday Night Live. In fact, she has jokingly described SNL as her boyfriend. She lives in Los Angeles and New York City.
As Good as It Gets, 1997.
Chuck & Buck, 2000.
Frank’s Book, 2001.
50 First Dates, 2004.
Chicago Hope, CBS, 1994.
City of Angels, CBS, 2000.
Boston Globe, December 2, 1995.
Interview, October 2002.
Los Angeles Times, October 8, 2002.
New York Times, July 14, 2000; May 11, 2003.
Newsweek, April 8, 2002.
People Weekly, January 21, 2002.