Cecily Strong on Life Post-SNL — and Possibly Going Back
For the past nine years, we've relied on SNL cast member Cecily Strong to provide the much-needed late-night laughs that distract us from whatever might be happening that week. But when Strong lost her beloved cousin Owen to glioblastoma in January 2020 and then the pandemic took hold, she needed to find her own form of catharsis, so she quarantined in upstate New York and began writing. The result is a relatable, diary-like memoir, This Will All Be Over Soon, which is out this month.
By last September, Strong was back on set, producing and shooting the jolly six-episode Apple TV+ series Schmigadoon! — executive produced by Lorne Michaels and co-created by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio — about a couple (Strong and Keegan-Michael Key) who are trapped in a 1940s-era-musical town they can't escape. (Come for the Martin Short cameo, stay for Strong's reproductive lesson set to The Sound of Music's "Do-Re-Mi.") Then, of course, there is SNL, which Strong closed out with a wine-soaked bang as Fox News host Jeanine Pirro in May. Was it the end of an era? Only time — and a bit more healing — will tell.
Can we discuss your number from the SNL closer? You've played her before, but that was Jeanine at her jazziest.
We had a full audience [for the first time this season], and they stood for us. We were all crying at the start of the show just from that. It was a gift to feel that and to share it. I'm good in front of a live crowd, and I got to be silly and sing. Bryan Tucker, who I wrote that scene with, texted me earlier that week that he wanted to do Jeanine Pirro. He said, "And I want her to sing 'My Way.'" I always have to up the ante, and since the last time [I did her] I vomited wine, I said, "Well, then, I think I should get into a big tub of wine." And the SNL team made it happen.
After that the Internet was all atwitter that maybe it was your last show.
I've gone back and forth, like, "Should I write something on Instagram?" But I hadn't decided, and I still haven't. No matter what, it was our last show [of the year]. Hopefully, I'll figure it out before the [next] season starts. But I don't do many things like wink, wink. I'd come out and say it. I'm releasing my diary. My therapy. I'll tell you. But now, if I do leave, it looks great — like I did it on purpose. And if I stay, maybe I've built up some performance karma or something. I never know when I'm going to love something and the audience will too, so it's always a real treat when that happens.
Meanwhile, Schmigadoon!, which co-stars Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth, Ariana DeBose, and Fred Armisen, is pure, unadulterated joy.
I was crying happy tears every day. Keegan and I immediately connected. I felt completely safe working in this world that doesn't feel totally safe right now. Everybody got two takes [to get it right], so all of my big, doofy smiles watching everybody perform in the show are all very genuine. We're all still on a group email. I'm not somebody who can watch things that I've done, but if I'm feeling blah, I'll put on Schmigadoon! And then I'm singing along and doing everybody's parts. I think I've seen it 800 times.
Do you see a Broadway show in your future?
You know, I love doing theater, so it's never been a thing I didn't think about, but while I'm doing SNL, it's just very hard to schedule in eight shows a week. But, of course, I would hope for that to be in the cards someday.
It seems like you were quite productive during the pandemic with SNL, writing your book, preparing for Schmigadoon!, and trying to heal all at the same time.
I'll tell you, I wasn't that productive. [laughs] Some days were just, "I'm going to only write one thing today," or "I'm going to cook dinner," or "I may not even cook dinner. I may just get out of bed today." If it was raining, it wasn't going to be a big day for me at all. Writing the book meant thinking a lot about my cousin and what he'd gone through, so he became a guiding light. He kept me going. It would be so easy to drown, especially with depression, anxiety. I just wanted to keep moving.
What have been the reactions of the friends and family who have read your memoir so far?
I'm really the open book in my family. They're not publishing-a-diary-type people. My mom was first [to read it], and she's always a little bit of a tough audience, but she started writing me these sweet emails. It just feels like there's a whole new world that's opening up to me now in sharing this. It's Owen's story, in a way, and there are new connections that will be made. I think that's been a really nice thing. I don't know what I'm doing or what it is to publish a book. But as scared as I can be about it — or feeling like, "Did I make the right choice? Is this too insane?" — it always goes back to "I'm sharing someone I love very much, so I can't go wrong."
How does it feel to be back upstate? [Strong returned after the SNL season ended.]
I loved it so much, I bought a house before I went to Vancouver [to shoot Schmigadoon!], so I got to come back to it. You know, everything's moving slowly, but I've got sunshine now, and I'm trying to garden more. Still not great at it. I have this whole new thing with animals — I've got woodchucks, squirrels, and chipmunks. I'm like, "Wow, look at this bean sprout I've grown from a seed," and then it's gone within a week. So this weekend I'm going to make some ugly structure out of chicken wire to protect my cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, and lettuce.
Gotta protect your produce.
Yes, that's right, because I'm a farmer now too.
For more stories like this, pick up the August 2021 issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download July 16th.