Melissa Villaseñor is comfortable in her skin and confident in her wackiness

Saturday Night Live‘s Melissa Villaseñor discusses working hard, paying dues and being okay with who she sees in the mirror.

Melissa Villaseñor Montreal
Melissa Villaseñor perform at Montreal Improv July 25, 27 & 28

The funniest episode of the most recent season of Saturday Night Live (Season 43, Episode 21 for the sticklers) was hosted by Donald Glover on May 5, and because it was so good, a simple but hilarious little sketch didn’t get nearly the attention it deserved. In it, Melissa Villaseñor and Donald Glover play a couple in bed attempting dirty talk (you may remember an earlier iteration of this sketch featuring Villaseñor and Aziz Ansari). Things to go horribly and hilariously awry because Villaseñor’s girlfriend character gets way too literal and way too weird.

Glover asks her to be mean to him. “Come on girl, hurt me,” he says. “Your dad’s dead,” Villaseñor responds. Later, he calls her “a little freak.” She responds in character as the Elephant Man. You get the picture.

It’s a bit one-note, but it’s clever and funny and much more Melissa than audiences had seen since she became the show’s first Latina cast member in 2016.

I recently spoke with Melissa Villaseñor about SNL, her insanely good impressions and how she’s feeling about coming back to Montreal for Just for Laughs, where she was among the New Faces of 2010.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Dave Jaffer: It’s Montreal, it’s the biggest comedy festival in the world, and it’s the best part of summer. How are you feeling about returning to Just for Laughs?

Melissa Villaseñor: I’m really excited. I feel great, I feel very excited to share all the new jokes and just, you know, the new me. I’ve changed so much — I’m excited to share this new creature that breathes within me, I guess. (Laughs) It’s really funny, it’s going to be fun.

DJ: It’s been a while since your first appearance at Just For Laughs and, as you say, you’ve grown as a person and as a comic. What are you bringing now that maybe you didn’t bring in the past? Where do you think you’ve grown the most?

MV: I think confidence and sexiness, being onstage, and more confidence in my wackiness and feeling free and being myself. [I’m] not afraid that I’m not like another comedian; I just love what I have and I love my jokes because they definitely make me laugh. I have a good time onstage now. I feel like I engage the crowd more. I’m more connected with myself when I look at myself and when I look at the folks in the crowd.

DJ: Were you not confident or comfortable onstage? Was it something that you didn’t enjoy? How did it used to feel?

MV: My old thoughts were, “I hope they like me” and maybe now it’s [that] I don’t care if they don’t like me. I like me.

DJ: You do a lot more things than you used to. You act, you tell jokes, you are in sketches and you do voices. What do you consider yourself?

MV: I see myself as an all-around performer, because I love a lot of things. I feel like I like to share what I feel inside through different art forms, whether it’s stand-up, my impressions, my music or my artwork [or] acting. There’s always something within me that needs to get out, and all those art forms help me release what I am feeling. So, yeah, that’s what’s so beautiful about that. When I look at myself in the mirror, I see myself as a light and an open book.

DJ: Over the last bunch of years, comedy has seemingly become more inclusive and more diverse. There seem to be more opportunities for more people. Have you found it’s become easier to be part of the scene?

MV: I feel like we’ve come a long way, and I think it is better now. We can keep getting better, but I guess for me, personally, it was just about working hard and making friends and being kind to everyone and doing the best I can. That was all I tried to keep focusing on: just to get good.

DJ: Have you ever found it to be a detriment to be a woman in comedy?

MV: No. I’m sure there were plenty of little times where I felt small, but I didn’t overthink it so much. I just kept the focus on being funny. I didn’t have that much of a struggle with that world. I’ve made a lot of friends and thankfully I’ve had a lot of great comics support me and help me.

DJ: You do impressions that nobody does. Everybody’s got an Owen Wilson, but I don’t know how many people have a Kristen Wiig; everybody’s got a Christopher Walken, but not everybody’s got a Joan Cusack. Do you seek to do the impressions that no one is doing?

MV: I started doing impressions when I was 12, with a lot of singing impressions: Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Shakira. And I loved it. With impressions now? Yeah, I always try to go out of the box but sometimes it’s best for me to just go see a movie that I hadn’t seen with like, Sandra Bullock in it, and not try to set out to learn it but just listen, [soak] it in, and then usually I’ll start feeling the voice happening, the impression or some face that a celebrity makes, and then it just pieces itself together. I kind of prefer when it happens like that. With Kristen Wiig, I had attempted to learn her a long time ago, and I just gave up on it, and then a few years after, I watched a couple interviews — maybe it was Bridesmaids that connected that impression — and then it just happened. I don’t think I sit down and try. Unless it’s for SNL, then yes, I’m going to dedicate every minute to watching movies and interviews and scenes from their most famous movies.

DJ: Speaking of SNL, are you going to get more screen time this season? Can we expect more Melissa on this year’s SNL or do all newer cast members get kept in the background for a few years?

MV: I sure hope so, and I’m going to keep doing my best, but it is the type of show where if you work hard, you get more. I think, also, it depends on everyone’s strengths. I didn’t come from the sketch comedy world and working in improv groups; I don’t have that much training with writing. But I’ve done better at being confident in my own funny ideas that can carry out a sketch. I don’t mind the patience. For myself it’s good, and I’ve been learning a lot of lessons about teamwork and I think everything is [happening] at a good pace. ■

Melissa Villaseñor will perform at Montreal Improv July 25, 27 & 28, 9 p.m., $24.57.

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