Comedian Ana Gasteyer Gives Us Plenty of Sugar and Booze

Published December 27, 2019

Photo by Shervin Lainez.

We needn’t all subscribe to the belief that the Christmas season dies with the last embers on December 25th. (Surely there are risks to pulling the plug on Bing Crosby and Ariana Grande so soon?) Ana Gasteyer, the Saturday Night Live veteran of Shweddy Balls fame, certainly thinks so; she’s staking her reputation on the lasting power of the holiday season.

Gasteyer’s latest project is the Audible original Sugar and Booze, a Christmas album and podcast made with her long-time collaborator Maya Rudolph. The album features an array of Christmas classics and original songs sung with Gasteyer’s trademark brassy schmaltz and paired with emphatic jazz arrangements. 

Sugar and booze may be central Christmas trappings, but these vices are no less tempting today than they were during the tinseled and cheery days that precede the holiday. Gasteyer’s vocal pizazz, in any case, will certainly help to boost the serotonin after yesterday’s prosecco. In celebration of perpetual Christmas, we sat down with Gasteyer to discuss the album and opine on the merits of mezcal and Malibu.

VEITCH: You’re touring the Sugar and Booze album and you’ve also got a podcast on Audible by the same name. How did you arrive at sugar and booze? How did you come to distill this season into these two substances?

GASTEYER: It’s sort of amazing how much it resonates with people. I had sweaters made with “Sugar and Booze” embroidered on them as a thank you gift for Maya Rudolph, who sang “Secret Santa” with me. I was wearing mine this morning and five people stopped me like, “That’s the essence of holiday.”

VEITCH: How did the project come together?

GASTEYER: This is the one time of year when people don’t blink at tradition. It’s not irritating or phony. People fire up their Nat King Cole and their Bing Crosby without batting an eyelash. So, for me, it’s a good fit. It just felt like, okay, I can do this inconspicuously.

VEITCH: Did you feel pressure to make this a comedy record?

GASTEYER: People become very confused in our modern time when people have more than one lane. But I started as a singer, and I have always felt like I missed my era. In the late ’50s, early ’60s, an entertainer had to be able to sing and tell a joke. I’m also attracted to the music of that era. It’s very ballsy and female-driven. You could belt. But my comedy is also a huge part of what I do, so it’s about finding the middle ground. The songs that I wrote are not comedy songs, but they’re humorous. I’m not a serious person. That would be a hard thing for me to try to pull off.

VEITCH: You mentioned how resistant people are to artists whose work takes multiple forms. You’ve performed live on SNL as well as for TV and film, and now you’ve released this album. Have you found any overlap in the skills required in all of these lanes?

GASTEYER: They all require attention to detail. The kind of comedy I do is all about texture and dialogue. Nuance is still my favorite thing. But there’s a reason that a lot of comedians sing well—they have organic rhythm. It was interesting to me how many people at SNL just had a natural ear. People like Maya Rudolph and Jimmy Fallon are so good in their impressions that they can usually do a lot of vocal mimicry as well.

VEITCH: Maya Rudolph joins you for a song on the record. You’ve worked together for a long time. Were there any notable moments when you were recording?

GASTEYER: Maya’s a natural songwriter and harmonizer. And one thing that’s great about working with people from the improv and sketch world is that they’re fast. At SNL, you get used to moving at lightning speed, and everybody’s speaking the shorthand to get things done really quickly.

VEITCH: What’s your favorite thing about this time of year?

GASTEYER: It’s a great time to get together with people, to make drinks, to celebrate. If we could just let go of the whole gift part of things, and just connect around food and drink and being together, I’d be perfectly content.

VEITCH: I guess the flip side of the connective power of sugar and booze is that they’re both great coping tools if the holidays are rough.

GASTEYER: One hundred percent. I lean into the positive on the record, because I wanted it to be a Christmas party record. I wanted a bartending record, I wanted a wrapping presents record. But you’re right, there are also the moments of stressing about money and fighting with your family. So, sugar and booze are kind of a cure-all for that.

VEITCH: What do you imagine people doing as they listen to this record?

GASTEYER: One of the happiest moments of my life was this morning at the Nashville TSA. The woman behind me in line said, “Oh, my God, I listened to your album on the way to the airport.”

VEITCH: You may be the only person in the entire world to say that the best thing that ever happened to them was in the Nashville TSA line.

GASTEYER: [Laughs] I know. Then we also sold a CD to a woman flying Southwest.

VEITCH: What is your ultimate holiday cocktail?

GASTEYER: It’s a classic—a hot toddy. We’ve got a great recipe from Brenton Land, a mixologist at Vig Bar in Nolita.

VEITCH: What’s your stance on port?

GASTEYER: Too heavy for me. I don’t like to end a dinner with… cough syrup. It’s too lugubrious.

VEITCH: Okay. How do we feel about mezcal?

GASTEYER: Love. It’s mostly what I’m drinking these days. And apparently, it’s very on trend, which I’m always embarrassed about.

VEITCH: How about bourbon?

GASTEYER: I’m a devoted bourbon drinker. It’s pretty sugary for me as I get older, but I will never turn down bourbon.

VEITCH: Bailey’s?

GASTEYER: Can’t do it. I shouldn’t say that because I tried to get a sponsorship with them but… too sweet for me.

VEITCH: Schnapps?

GASTEYER: That’s such a hilarious ’70s childhood thing—literally when we were tiny children, our parents would splash peppermint liqueur over our ice cream.

VEITCH: That’s how they got you to bed, I guess. How about a peach vodka?

GASTEYER: Lately all the gluten-free people are doing Cîroc, which used to be so gauche, but I kind of love that it’s having another moment.

VEITCH: What about Malibu?

GASTEYER: Oh, Malibu is hell on earth.

———

VIG’S HOT TODDY:

2 oz. Rye Whiskey

0.5 oz. Allspice Dram

1 oz. Earl Gray Simple Syrup

0.25 oz. Lemon Juice

1 cup Boiling Water

1 clove-studded orange peel

Add boiling water to remaining liquids in a mug and stir. Garnish with orange peel.