Bayer talks fame and growing up Jewish at Hillel event


Alison Albeda / Daily Senior Staffer

Comedian Vanessa Bayer at Hillel’s Annual Speaker Event on Tuesday. Bayer discussed her work on SNL and growing up Jewish.

Cameron Cook, Reporter

To be successful in comedy, one should be nice, be relatable and be “out in the world,” said actress and comedian Vanessa Bayer Tuesday at the Northwestern Hillel Annual Speaker Event.

Bayer, a seven season Saturday Night Live veteran, addressed her quick rise to fame, her experience working on SNL and how her experience growing up Jewish shaped her comedy.

One of Bayer’s most famous sketch roles, “Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy,” is based on the memories of the Bar Mitzvahs for 13-year-old boys with whom she grew up.

“Seventh grade is too young for a boy to be normal,” Bayer said to a laughing audience. “They haven’t figured out where to put their hands. They don’t know what to do. So I was sort of impersonating those boys.”

Beyond “Jacob,” Bayer’s Jewish heritage helped define her career at SNL. Though there was always what she described as “a Jewish sense around the place,” she found herself the only one pitching sketches about things like Rosh Hashanah.

“I never thought of myself as so Jewish,” she said. “But if no one else is going to do it, I’ll have to do it. We can’t just talk about Easter.”

The magic of Bayer’s content is in its relatability — middle-aged men, she said, would often come up to her after she performed “Jacob” and tell her how much they enjoyed it, which she attributes to being a little boy “they all remember.”

In fact, Bayer’s relatability is one of the reasons Hillel decided to bring her to NU.

Hillel religious life vice president Matthew Wertheim said Hillel’s executive board chose Bayer for the event after narrowing down speakers they thought would be a good fit.

“We thought she’d be a really good speaker, and relatable to students,” the McCormick junior said.

Another point Bayer stressed was that part of creating relatable comedy — or any art for that matter — requires involving oneself in the “real world.” Working a nine to five job during the day and doing improv at night was tiring, but necessary to create content, Bayer said.

“It’s so good to go out and work in the world, because that’s where comedy is,” she said. “People are so funny. And also your comedy — or whatever creative thing you’re doing — is more relatable, if you’ve had real experience with people doing real things.”

Bayer’s emphasis on being in the real world struck a chord with Courtney Chatterton, who had been looking forward to attending the event since she learned about it.

“You can’t write comedy if you’re never around people,” the Communication senior said. “You’ve got to get your hands dirty, and get out there and talk to people.”

Bayer’s rise to success was quicker than that of most comedians. After performing in a Chicago SNL showcase, it was only around a month before she was moving to New York to start working for them, she said.

Now, having left SNL, been nominated for an Emmy and starred in a handful of movies, Bayer enjoys a certain sense of having “made it.”

She added that the way her life has changed really hits her when she comes back to Chicago and sees places she used to work and perform.

“When I’m back for things like this, and a car is picking me up and taking me here?”
she asked. “It’s surreal.”

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Twitter: @cam_e_cook