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She's 'Live from New York!'

By Alexandra Wertz '12
November 22, 2010

Next time you see a Fred Armisen impersonation of President Obama or one of Andy Samberg's characters on Saturday Night Live, you could very well be watching the work of Shelly Gossman '99.

Just a decade after she left the Hill, Gossman has become a writer for the iconic sketch comedy and variety show Saturday Night Live. In August she was plucked from The Second City in Chicago, a comedy theater and school of improvisation that has nurtured stars like Tina Fey and Chris Farley. After writing and acting there for the past four years, Gossman will now follow in the footsteps of Fey and Farley to the big stage in New York.

What does your gig with Saturday Night Live entail?
I am a writer for SNL. In the past some people have crossed over from writing to performing, but right now I am very happy being a writer. I get to learn new stuff every day from some of the funniest people in the world. It’s really fun.

What are you most excited for in your new job?
I was a performer and writer at Second City in Chicago prior to getting this job. Writing for live theater is very different from writing for live television. For me the most exciting part of this job is that I get to challenge myself in an entirely new and creative way.

Is working at SNL something you've always wanted to do?
I would definitely say this is a dream job. I think people in comedy do it primarily because they love it. The fact that you can get an awesome job is something you dream about, but don’t rely on. I feel extremely lucky.

What is the career path that took you to SNL?
I moved to Chicago and immersed myself in the improvisation scene. I studied in the conservatories at The Second City and Improv Olympic. I had fabulous teachers (including Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock). I improved, taught, and wrote sketch with amazingly talented people in Chicago for almost 10 years. Lorne Michaels saw two of my mainstage shows at The Second City, and I was hired from there.

What advice would you give St. Olaf students hoping to make a career in the arts?

If you work hard and are kind, really cool things can happen.

How influential were your theatre and communications majors in your career path?
During my junior year a professor in the Theatre Department (Lavinia Moyer) suggested that I seek more intense theater training. I ended up going to the National Theatre Institute in Connecticut for half of my senior year. It was there that I had my first improvisation class. If I hadn’t gone to NTI, I would have never started improvising. So I would say my major ended up being really important and super influential.

How did St. Olaf prepare you for your career?
I had some very difficult classes at Olaf. My freshman year I had to write a 30-page paper on the use of gas warfare in WWI (this was before the Internet existed). My Ellingson Hall roommate (my best friend to this day) and I dared each other to use puns to title all of our papers that year. I worked so hard, then titled my paper "Past Gas." The professor wrote "This should be interesting ... " on the top, but luckily I still passed. Anyhow, I had to work hard at Olaf, and it prepared me to work even harder in the real world. Also, the fact that choir is way cooler than football at St. Olaf taught me to respect nerds, which is a huge asset in comedy.

What is your favorite part about St. Olaf?
Besides limestone, my favorite part about St. Olaf was studying abroad. I spent over half of my four years off campus. According to my research, St. Olaf has the greatest abroad program of any college, anywhere — it really taught me how big and cool the world is. Um! Yah! Yah!

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or