Actress Molly Shannon

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Actress-comedienne shares the challenges of working on her new animated series, TBS’ Neighbors from Hell.


Tavis: Pleased to welcome Molly Shannon back to this program. The former “SNL” star is lending her talents to the new animated series, “Neighbors from Hell” The show airs Monday nights at 10:00 on TBS. Here now, a scene from “Neighbors from Hell.”
Tavis: Andy Gibb get tortured by his own music. What a line.
Molly Shannon: What a line. (Laughter)
Tavis: How you been?
Shannon: Good, it’s so nice to be back, Tavis.
Tavis: Nice to have you back. So how’s working on this animated series?
Shannon: It’s so fun. It’s a great job for me, I have little kids. I like that there’s no hair and no makeup. You just show up, you do your recording – it’s 100 percent fun. I love it.
Tavis: This is the first time you’ve done an animated –
Shannon: Animation? I did a movie called “Igor” and I also did the American version of a Miyazaki movie, “My Neighbors the Yamadas,” so yeah, I have done it before.
Tavis: Other than the fact that you don’t have to get dressed up, what do you like about doing animation and what’s the challenge of doing animation as opposed to the acting that we see on “SNL?”
Shannon: Let’s see, what I like about it is that it’s just – like I said, you can do it so much faster. Because I think the hard thing with single camera is it takes so many hours and you get there so early, it’s just tedious that way. In animation you can do a whole episode in an hour. You just go and do your voice.
We do a table read with all the actors, but then when I do my part I’m just by myself, so I can drop my kids off at school, go do that, and then you’re done. So it just feels like you’re accomplishing a lot and you can do a lot of episodes very quickly.
Then the challenge, I guess, is that I’m very physical. I use my hands a lot when I’m talking so it feels strange that it’s just your voice. Yeah, so that’s a hard part.
Tavis: How do you know when you’re hitting the mark, hitting the mark – put another way, delivering what you want to deliver when you don’t have any visual to play off of. It is just you, this voice and this microphone, so you have to kind of visualize what you’re doing, what you’re – but there’s not a visual.
Shannon: Exactly – right, because you’re not –
Tavis: And you’re not playing off anybody, necessarily.
Shannon: No, you’re just by yourself in a booth and the producer and the writers are behind it. I guess it feels usually kind of musical, and sometimes if I’m not getting it right I’ll just have them give me a reading, like tell me how you want it to sound.
So some actors get offended by that. I’m like, “Just give it to me.” I never mind if somebody gives me a line reading. But a lot of times comedy can be kind of musical and I can usually feel how it sounds, if it sounds right.
Tavis: So for those who have not gotten hip to this yet, the storyline of “Neighbors from Hell” is what?
Shannon: It’s about a family from Hell that’s assigned to come to Earth to stop an oil drill, and we –
Tavis: Wow. (Laughter)
Shannon: I know, timely.
Tavis: Wow, yeah.
Shannon: We disguise ourselves as a normal Texas suburban family and we come to find out that the real hellish people are the actual Texas suburbanites. (Laughter) They give us a run for our money
Tavis: I said “Wow” when you said the oil spill. How propitious is that timing?
Shannon: I know, it’s so crazy. We had started shooting – we had started the series before all of that happened, and it’s just so crazy that it’s being released at this time and it’s just crazy that that happened.
Tavis: Of course, “The Simpsons” has been around for a long time, but since you’re a comedian, what’s your sense of why and how over the past few years animation has become a real turn-on for adults. Years ago you thought of animation you’d think of cartoons for kids. But now animation – the animation business is growing for adults. I saw those “Toy Story 3” numbers.
Shannon: Oh, my God.
Tavis: They ain’t just kids going to see that. (Laughter) Those numbers were humongous. What is it about adult and animation that seems to work?
Shannon: I don’t know. I think certainly with “The Simpsons” it just was sort of groundbreaking because they could do stuff like a Michael Jackson, or they didn’t actually have to have the real people there, but they could animate somebody and do all these crazy things that you wouldn’t be able to do in live action.
But I’m not such a big animation person, so I don’t know if I’d be really good to answer that.
Tavis: This isn’t the kind of stuff – how old are your kids?
Shannon: My son is five and my daughter’s six and a half.
Tavis: So they’re not ready for this yet.
Shannon: No, no, no. (Laughter) Too adult. They’re still into “Max and Ruby.”
Tavis: I was going to say, yeah, this is adult animation.
Shannon: I could show them a little clip or something.
Tavis: I was teasing you when you walked on – not teasing you, but when you walked on the set I saw a bit of the “SNL” sort of reunion, I guess it was.
Shannon: Oh, yeah.
Tavis: The Betty White episode.
Shannon: Wasn’t that amazing?
Tavis: So two questions about that – one, what do you make of – Betty White’s like the new rock star or something at 88. What do you make of this response to her at 88 years of age?
Shannon: It was amazing performing the show and just being there with that live audience. The feeling of love and warmth and just people were so excited to have tickets to that show.
I did that show for six years and never was there a feeling like that in the air when we started. Like just this roar and people being so excited and wanting to laugh so badly. I just think she’s such an icon and she’s been around for such a long time, and the fact that she’s that age and still doing what she loves and such – her comic timing is just impeccable.
On top of that she’s just the most down to Earth person. She reminds me of – you’re from the Midwest, I’m from the Midwest. She reminded me of one of my dad’s sisters, like, “Oh, honey, I love you.” (Laughter) She’s like the sweetest.
Then she likes to have her vodka on the rocks and her hot dog and she’s just, like, easygoing and loving. (Laughter) She really set the tone for all the women and that’s a lot to handle, that show, even for a young person, because it’s like a fast-moving train and they’re constantly changing and rewriting.
It’s like, “Ten seconds. Nine, eight, seven,” and you’re putting wigs on. It’s high pressure, and you’d think for a woman that age, that she could handle all that. She’s from the school of the old-time school of television where she’s used to memorizing everything, of course, so it was all new to her to kind of cue cards.
So I was just really impressed with her. She handled it all so well. Then she went to the party after, and when she walked in everybody stood up and gave her a standing ovation. She was up partying till, like, sunrise, drinking, having fun. I was like, “Oh, Betty, I hope you can get a good night’s sleep tonight,” and she was like, “Oh, honey, I have to get on a plane to go back to L.A. I’ve got to work on Monday.” (Laughter) She just doesn’t stop.
Tavis: When you mentioned a moment ago that her comedic timing is so good, again, you’re the expert here, does that get better over time? I’m trying to figure out if she is so good in her comedic timing because she’s done it for so long. Do you get better at that over time, or at 88 should she be missing a step now in her timing?
Shannon: I know; that’s a good question. I think she always had it and just never lost it and always had it, and she’s just a pro so it’s just gotten better. She’s just such a pro, a thoroughbred. So no, I think she was just always that way from Sue Ann Nivens to now, and just always impeccable and such a pro.
It was funny too thought because with “Saturday Night Live” (unintelligible) and they’re like, “Oh, that joke’s not working.” But they were like, “Oh, Betty, because she’s older, you might not want to rewrite, I don’t know.” I was like, “Trust me; I’m out there with her. This woman doesn’t miss a -” she knows when her jokes are coming and she hits them.
She’s a master. It was such a pleasure to perform with her.
Tavis: I’ve done public radio for years now. I was on – still am, but was on public radio before I came to PBS. I always get a kick out of the NPR stuff that you guys do. (Laughter) What, to your mind, makes NPR so ripe for being parodied.
Shannon: Oh, my God. Well, that was (unintelligible) idea that she brought to me to ask me to do it with her from the Groundlings that she had developed over there, and I guess it’s just that the people are very serious. (Laughter) They’re fun to perform because they’re so opposite of me. (Laughter) So I don’t know, there’s something very relaxing about performing it too, because they’re very cerebral and serious.
Tavis: On that night, the Betty White night, you guys were a little risqué with that skit, which I thought made it even funnier. You would never hear something like that on NPR.
Shannon: I know, that’s –
Tavis: But it was funny, I just thought.
Shannon: Oh, good, thanks. It was so fun to perform, I loved it. (Laughter) People loved it. We were both nervous, though, because it was just such a – we knew lots of people were going to watch the show and your heart pounds because it’s live television, and you’re just trying not to flub your line and just get it out there.
Because people ask, “Oh, it must be so hard to not laugh,” and I’m like, “I wouldn’t laugh at all.” We definitely get nervous.
Tavis: You miss “SNL?”
Shannon: (Laughs) Let me see. I loved it when I did it, but I also felt like I did it for all those years and I left at such a good point, and now I have kids and my life is so different. So I don’t miss it that much but I love going back. I went back to host and then going back on recently I was like, “God, you do love it.”
You go back and you feel like no time has passed. But the whole kind of collegey atmosphere of staying up Wednesday night, or Tuesday night, writing until the sun rises and that kind of crazy schedule, I don’t miss that too much. I feel like I outgrew that. You kind of feel like you graduated and bring on the next young, hungry comic that just wants to kill themselves. Yeah, I don’t miss that as much.
Tavis: For the moment, you’re cool with “Neighbors from Hell.”
Shannon: Yeah.
Tavis: You don’t have neighbors from hell, do you?
Shannon: No, no, we have really nice – thank goodness, very nice neighbors.
Tavis: Okay. If you do, you’re not going to say it on television.
Shannon: No, I know I’m not. I’m not going to say it on your show, Tavis.
Tavis: Just in case they’re watching. (Laughter)
Shannon: No, but we don’t.
Tavis: I saw you – you’ll get a knock at the door, “Did I see you on TV last night saying we were neighbors from hell?”
Shannon: Oh, God.
Tavis: Anyway, the show is called “Neighbors from Hell,” starring one Molly Shannon. Molly, good to have you on the program.
Shannon: Thanks, Tavis.
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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm