Entertainment

Maya Rudolph Is Keeping the ’70s Alive with Her New Variety Show

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"I think I'm an analog person by nature."

Maya Rudolph is the kind of comedian who could be funny in any time period. Her humor is warm and accessible, and her singing, dancing, and easy charm feel like throwbacks to an earlier showbiz time. So it only makes sense that she'd take a crack at reviving the primetime variety show, the staple of '60s and '70s television that has languished since the early '80s. The Maya Rudolph Show, which will premiere May 19th at 10pm on NBC, is an hour-long variety special that could become a weekly series. It will include appearances by Andy Samberg, Kristen Bell, and Fred Armisen, as well as many other funny people, as well as bandleader Raphael Saadiq, and musical guest Janelle Monae.

Rudolph has wanted to do a variety show of the sort she grew up watching for some time. "I had always wanted to do something like this but wasn't really sure exactly what it was," she told Nerve. "Once I left SNL, I sort of had the bug and couldn't really cure it. It's hard when you perform live on a regular basis and then you stop performing live because it feels like there's a part of you missing. And so I started talking about it to people." One of those people was SNL boss Lorne Michaels, executive producer of The Maya Rudolph Show and Up All Night, which Rudolph was on at the time. "One of the reasons I wanted to do Up All Night was to continue to be a part of my SNL family and keep that alive," Rudolph said. "[Lorne and I] got to talking and I said, 'You know, I really want to do a variety show.'"

When asked if she had any hesitation reviving the variety show format, which has been dormant, Rudolph answered, "No. I think I'm an analog person by nature. I've always thought it would be a good idea. And I think years ago when I was talking about it, people with real business sense would say, 'I'm not sure, I don't know if it's the right time.' And I never really think in those terms. I'm more interested in what's going to feel good. And I feel like, creatively you're at your best when you're doing something that you love. So I'm just glad that people were actually receptive to it right now."

"It was sort of good timing, because I was going to try to do it no matter what," she added. "I mean nine times out 10 some of my ideas tend to be, you know, deep-rooted in the '70s or somewhere that has nothing to do with what's going on now.

So I think this was just a lucky timing thing that people really thought, 'You know what, I really feel like this is what people want right now.' I think people want to watch TV and feel good and laugh."

Rudolph can't pinpoint what exactly TV is missing that a variety show provides, but she's certain that it's something. "Variety is what I was raised on," she said. "I think it's something that everyone from my generation appreciates and says, 'Yes, we need that.'"

She praised Jimmy Fallon for reminding people of the joy of the variety spirit, and how good he is at allowing familiar guests to do something out of the norm for them, and introducing younger people who weren't around for the variety show to the format. 

"I feel like it's a great thing to introduce. I mean, I watch The Carol Burnett Show with my kids and they love it."

She also mentioned The Muppet Show as an influence, and that she encouraged her writers to emulate the playful quality of that show. "What was always nice about The Muppet Show was when guests came on they entered the world of the Muppets and you just felt like anything could happen. But you could tell that they were having fun," she said. "There's just something that lights people's eyes up when they're around the Muppets and they're doing things that they don't normally do, and you know, some strange creature is singing a duet with them. "

"And you know, The Muppet Show is probably the first variety show that I was so happy I could buy a box set and put it on for my kids and sit and watch it with them and relive everything and enjoy it."

While Rudolph's show is not made for kids, it won't exclude any age group, either. "I think first and foremost it's important to establish the show that you want to do that makes you laugh and not fall prey to the idea that you need to make it for a specific type of audience," she said. "My feeling has always been, 'Funny is funny.'"

"I think that there is a place for edgy, and I feel like there is a place for entertainment, and there is a place for just about everything," she added. "I think that what makes this show feel special to me is that it is purely from a joyful place."