The scene-stealing ''SNL'' vet and ''Whip It'' star leaves all her wacky energy on stage

Kristen Wiig can relate to Jenny Slate, her new Saturday Night Live costar and recent F-bomb dropper. After all, it was four years ago this November that a rookie Wiig, whose biggest credit was nine episodes of the short-lived Spike TV reality spoof The Joe Schmo Show, was standing backstage at Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center about to make her SNL debut. The recent Los Angeles transplant was an emotional and nervous wreck, crying from happiness when she heard announcer Don Pardo say her name, and then freaking out over the prospect of tripping and ending her career on the same stage where stars like Eddie Murphy and Tina Fey were born. But her biggest worry was over keeping her potty mouth in check. ”When I drop something, I say, ‘S—,”’ explains the 36-year-old actress, sitting in the lobby of New York’s Algonquin Hotel. ”If I do something wrong, I say, ‘F—.’ I’m so nervous I’m going to say a line and go, ‘Oh, s—. I mean, ‘f—!”’

Wiig didn’t curse that night, but if she had known then how quickly her career would take off, she might have been powerless to restrain a ”Holy s—!” In just five short seasons, she has become one of the series’ busiest players by creating some of SNL‘s buzziest characters, including the eccentric, knickknack-loving Target Lady, the disturbingly mischievous schoolgirl Gilly, and financial expert Suze Orman, whom Wiig plays as a squawking jacket fetishist. ”She’s up there in the top three women who have ever done the show,” says SNL exec producer Lorne Michaels. ”She’s a genius…[and] she’s one of those people that everyone agrees on.”

She’s also become a popular hire for big-screen directors; it started with scene-stealing spots in Knocked Up and Semi-Pro, and this year, Wiig graduated to major roles in Adventureland, Extract, and, most recently, Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, Whip It. ”First and foremost, she’s one of the best comedians that’s ever lived on the planet,” says Barrymore. ”But she’s also one of the coolest chicks you’ve ever known.” Adds costar Ellen Page, ”I’m just continually jealous of whoever is getting to work with her. Like, kind of becoming a stalker. She’s the funniest person I’ve ever met and such a sweetheart.” Of course, the one person who won’t call Kristen Wiig ”funny” is Kristen Wiig. In person, the actress is a soft-spoken woman of few words. ”I think people do expect me to talk in voices when I order dinner,” she says. ”I’m not really like that. For me, comedy is just one thing I do, and I can’t wait to branch out and do other things.”

Growing up in Rochester, N.Y., Wiig never liked speaking in public, and she always envisioned following in her mother’s footsteps and becoming an art teacher. But an acting class during her freshman year at the University of Arizona opened her eyes to a world of exhibitionism, and by the end of the school year she’d dropped out to try to make it in Los Angeles. ”I just packed my car and drove there and didn’t tell my parents,” says Wiig. ”But they were okay with it later.” Upon arriving in L.A., Wiig felt insecure about her lack of acting experience and instead held a series of odd jobs to make ends meet, including stints at Anthropologie and Hollywood Hot Dog. ”My first time back to Rochester, a friend called and said that she heard that I moved to L.A. because a psychic told me to, and that I have my own hot dog stand on the street. I didn’t really know how to defend myself…. I was like, ‘Yeah. That’s what happened. Absolutely.”’