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Central Standard

How Kansas City Native Heidi Gardner Ended Up On Saturday Night Live

Mary Ellen Matthews
Kansas City native Heidi Gardner was one of three new cast members on NBC's Saturday Night Live most recent season.

Last weekend wrapped up yet another season of Saturday Night Live.

For cast member and Kansas City native Heidi Gardner, it was an incredible debut.

Gardner was one of three new cast members who joined the show last September.

Now that the season is over, she had time to Skype with Central Standard guest host Michelle Tyrene Johnson about what it was like to work on NBC’s legendary show.

“Everyone’s been so friendly since I got there. It does feel like family,” Gardner said.

Gardner spent the season writing as well as performing, such as her character Angel, "every boxer’s girlfriend from every movie about boxing ever."

While an accomplished comedian in her own right, Gardner said she was star-struck when she shared the stage with Will Ferrell during "Weekend Update."

“The crew who had been there when he was there was so excited,” she said. “We were waiting in the wings each to do our parts. I looked over and he was waving at me, giving me the thumbs up and mouthing ‘You can do it!’ I couldn’t believe that was happening.”

Gardner left Kansas City for Los Angeles when she was 21.

“I had decided that I wanted to pursue hair and makeup,” she said. “I was dropping out of school, and a little insecure about that, so, 'If I do it in L.A that sounds more legit.'”

She worked in a salon for nine years.

“I had clientele. I thought that was my career path, probably forever. And then things changed.”

A friend invited Gardner to a show at the improvisational theater school The Groundlings.

“It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen,” said Gardner. “But I didn’t really know what to do with that information.”

Gardner’s friend suggested she take classes at the school. At first, Gardner didn’t consider herself an actress. She thought of her childhood performances in Kansas City as an experimental hobby.

“I used to do fun sketches in our talent shows. Things like that,” Gardner said. “But that’s about as far as I thought I’d get.”

Other memories of her time in Kansas City: the taste of Kansas City barbecue.

“Arthur Bryants I love, just across the board. But then I love how Gates’ is just so signature. I can taste Gates’ right now,” said Gardner. “And then for burnt ends, I love LC’s.”

But Gardner’s favorite thing about Kansas City is her relatives who still live here. Gardner, who graduated from Notre Dame De Sion School, said she hopes to visit Kansas City to see her dad, “mamo and bampo” (her grandparents) and her older brother sometime this summer.

“It’s always great to come back,” Gardner said.

Listen to the full conversation here.

Coy Dugger is an assistant producer for KCUR’s Central Standard. Reach out to him at coy@kcur.org.