Heidi Gardner SNL portrait

SNL star, actress and comedian Heidi Gardner

“Saturday Night Live” cast member Heidi Gardner joined lecturer Jon Niccum’s Intermediate Screenwriting class for a virtual Q&A session on Feb. 7, where students held up homemade cue cards and even impersonated Lorne Michaels while asking questions about her career and writing process. 

The virtual event was open to all film and media studies students, not just Niccum's class. 

“Every semester, I try to recruit a high-profile guest or two to speak to my class. But I also open these events up to all FMS students via Zoom,” said Niccum, who wrote one of the first feature articles on Gardner for the Kansas City Star in 2018. “The whole department isn’t going to fit into my classroom. This gives them the opportunity to still be part of the experience.”

After graduating from Notre Dame de Sion High School in Kansas City, where classmates voted her ‘most likely to be on SNL,’ Gardner came to the University of Kansas in 2001. Not sure what she wanted to study, she tried her hand at a film class. 

“I was thinking, I just get to watch movies,” Gardner said. “It was still hard, though.”

Gardner spent two years at the University before transferring to the University of Missouri for a semester and then moving to Los Angeles to become a hairstylist. Reluctantly, Gardner took an improv class at the suggestion of a friend and later joined The Groundlings, an LA improvisation and sketch comedy group.  

In 2017, Gardner became a cast member of the 43rd season of ‘SNL.’ She gained attention for her recurring characters, such as “every boxer’s girlfriend from every movie about boxing ever” and “YouTube teen film critic.” 

“Every skit I’m prominently featured in, I usually had some part in writing,” said Gardner. 

Gardner said “dissecting real human beings” is how she gets most of her writing inspiration. She recalled characters she wrote based on her parents and recent instances of garnering inspiration from a pilates instructor or old photos of Goldie Hawn.  

“It’s also helpful to find someone who is as talented and personable as Ms. Gardner, whose skillset dovetails so neatly into the intermediate screenwriting course,” said Matthew Jacobson, director of undergraduate studies for the department of film and media studies. 

As someone who joined SNL with a background in sketch comedy, Gardner said it was important to have a balance between writers who do character based-work and the charismatic “unpolished, off the cut” stand-up-driven comedians, such as former SNL cast member Pete Davidson. 

“It made me want to think more deeply about how I write after hearing how thoughtful other writers are,” said Hannah Davis, a sophomore film major. 

After her first season on SNL, Gardner starred in Melissa McCarthy’s 2018 movie “Life of the Party” and has since appeared on TV shows such as “Veep,” “Superstore” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

“It’s always beneficial for students to see how someone from KU who had no ties to the entertainment industry finds a way to become successful,” Niccum said. “I think students will see a lot of themselves in her.”

Gardner said her favorite SNL hosts during her time on the show have been actor Sterling K. Brown and Harry Styles, who she was not a fan of before he hosted but was impressed with how he could do “almost anything.” 

She shared a story from when Styles hosted in 2019, and the two rehearsed a skit where they played an obnoxious couple. After much frustration, Gardner confronted Styles and asked why he wasn’t acting affectionately toward her. Styles replied, “I just haven’t been invited to touch you yet.”

Gardner joined the meeting from Los Angeles, and she was trying to find tickets to Super Bowl LVII in Arizona. If her beloved Kansas City Chiefs win on Sunday, she said Patrick Mahomes or Travis Kelce would make great SNL hosts. 

The next episode of SNL with host Woody Harrelson and musical guest Jack White airs on Feb. 25 at 10:30 p.m. on NBC.