The two former SNL co-stars and real-life friends are bringing to life a new scripted audio comedy series just in time for the holidays. In Sugar and Booze, which Gasteyer co-wrote and co-created alongside playwright Mona Mansour, Rudolph is “Sugar” and Gasteyer is “Booze,” former inseparable college buddies who’ve become more distant busy working moms, struggling to keep in touch when life gets in the way.
In EW’s exclusive clip below from the premiere episode, which debuts Dec. 6, their characters live up to the boozy part of the show’s title, imbibing on some peppermintinis as Sugar deals with her not-so-sweet son.
The 8-episode series produced by Broadway Video and Audible follows the tale of Sugar and Booze’s friendship, tracking much of their relationship (and attempts to stay close) through their annual holiday letters. The Audible Original is packed with voice talent, including Patti LuPone, Rachel Dratch, Tim Bagley, Michael Hitchcock, Brian Huskey, Oscar Nunez, Dylan Gelula, and Richard Kind.
It’s not Gasteyer’s only holiday effort in 2019; she released a holiday album, also called Sugar and Booze, back in October. The record includes her take on Christmas classics, as well as some new original tracks, including a cheeky duet, “Secret Santa,” with none other than Rudolph. (And that doesn’t even include her possible stint as a festive “Tree” on Fox’s The Masked Singer).
In advance of the Audible Original’s debut, we called up Gasteyer to get all the details on what inspired the series, why it shares a name with her holiday album, and the importance of female friendship at all times of year. Listen to the clip above for a taste of the series and read more below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This Audible Original series shares a name with your new holiday album. Is there a connection between them? Did one of them come out of the other?
ANA GASTEYER: They’re definitely not thematically linked. But, basically, I was trying to think of something creative and interesting to do in the Audible world, incorporating my music. We love the name Sugar and Booze. Just the title itself is very heartwarming and ridiculous all at once. [That] accidentally fell into the storytelling. We definitely use some music from the album, and it’s part of the story. It’s not the focus of the story though. It’s a holiday mini-series based around the history of a friendship between two women nicknamed Sugar and Booze. Their love of old-fashioned music is a part of their bond. So, we use that music. It’s a very throwback-y, nostalgic album, in a fun, cheeky way. It just seemed like a nice way to use the music without doing a special.
You’ve done TV and film; you’ve done Broadway; you’ve released two albums now. What made you want to dip your toes into an audio comedy with this throwback vibe of an old radio show?
There’s an intimacy to the storytelling that’s totally unique to the Audible format. I was really interested in that challenge and figuring out how to write in that way. I keep coming up with the word intimate but a listening experience is a very personal experience. Holidays are a very heartwarming, “gather around the fire and listen to a story, folks” time of year. There’s something about the Audible format that lends itself very naturally to that idea. You could be wrapping presents or preparing food or there’s a lot of strangely idle time in the car on the way to the mall where you might want a little bit of a heartwarming distraction. It’s also a time that tradition comes into play. We wanted to play with this tradition of holiday greetings, which is in the title obviously, but these letters that people write, and how ridiculous those family letters can get. All of the information that’s either over presented in the form of bragging or read between the lines really intrigued me from the standpoint of storytelling. I wrote it with the playwright, Mona Mansour, who I’ve known since the Groundlings. We both liked the idea. We both like language a lot. We came up together at the Groundlings, but we also started out in our early career as voiceover actresses. Mona seemed like a really fun person to write that with because there’s a subtlety to voice acting that I was really excited about. Exploring in the room with vocal performance. It’s challenging because you have to drive a plot forward. You don’t have a lot of these conventional devices. You can’t just pop to a picture or title card — there’s things that we use all the time that we take for granted in visual storytelling. It was really a fun, language-driven challenge…. In an Audible series, you can play with what you’re not seeing and what you’re imagining — sound effects, jokes in the moment, suggestions in the dialogue.
Were you inspired by the recent podcasts boom, and the rising popularity of audiobooks? Was this something that you were into as an audience member and then decided you wanted to try as a creator and performer?
I know that’s it very hip and up and coming. I wouldn’t say that was my inspiration as much as I am a consumer of the form. I’m a musician. I’m a voice actor. I do like the subtlety of storytelling in the form. So as a writer, I definitely was interested in developing something unencumbered by how people look on camera and casting according to whatever your overlords think is the way it should be. You have a lot more latitude when you’re dealing with voice acting because you’re just going for quality or you’re going for a comedic sound of a voice as opposed to having to put the whole package together and worry about lights and cameras and makeup. As a result, you’re able to get talent because you’re utilizing them in a different way. But for me, it was mostly about being able to start to see something through from soup to nuts without it taking over my whole life for four years. I have a lot of experience sketch writing, and I wrote some of the songs on my record. I tell jokes in my shows, but I haven’t written a narrative form from the beginning all the way to the end like this before — over 100 minutes of content.
The story seems to have some basis in your real life. Your character went to Northwestern, and you and Maya are really friends. How much were you drawing from your own life for holiday memories and experiences?
There’s been a real shift in the public appetite for female-driven stories. At least that’s what we felt when we made Wine Country. I feel very fortunate because it wasn’t on purpose. But [it was] just as we started to talk about what the story was we wanted to tell. There are a lot of untold stories about female friendship. Women are pulled in a lot of different directions, working women with families especially. There’s still a lot to be examined in terms of what feeds them emotionally and what drains them? Even though [this story is] light-hearted and fun, it’s about community and found family and friendship and how those relationships are prioritized and devalued. We come back to: what’s our idea of family? That’s always a recurring theme for all of us at the holidays. That’s what I ended up being drawn to, wanting to write about what that means. What I’ve learned in the last several years, and I’m still learning, is friendship takes time. It takes the kind of time that work and children and spouses take. Things like modern technology [have helped] — the SNL girls talk every day via text. Other friendships have required maintenance in a way that I’ve had to make a priority and that feeds me. It’s not just [that] it takes something from me; it gives me something back. One ladies getaway for one night or going out with those girls for dinner can feed me emotionally for six months the way that nothing else can. I have a really close friend who lives in Los Angeles, and I always try to make a priority of seeing her when I go even if I’m only there for 24 hours. Because I can connect with her and find a part of myself that exists independent of all of my other obligations. That sounds corny, but that’s the heart of the story — how important those moments are in our lives.
In regards to you and Maya, you guys have this incredible ability to riff with each other. Did any of the scenes come out of the two of you riffing together in the studio?
It’s definitely a scripted show. For sure. But yeah, we very deliberately hired excellent improvisers. These are all people that have come from the Groundlings, so there’s a lot of comfort and freedom with improvisation. We’ve definitely had a lot of really funny moments happen in the booth that we held on to. Someone like Maya is fun to play with, so we deliberately had Sugar and Booze read as much as possible together in their scene-work because organic things are going to happen that aren’t on the page.
Looking back, what do these two holiday projects mean to you?
This has been a year of total personal bucket list challenges met. I’m super proud of the record. I’m so proud that I wrote music on it. It’s exactly the record I wanted to make. It’s nostalgic. It’s throwback. It’s joyful. It’s ridiculous. It’s happy. The Audible was its own entity entirely and has been a real labor of love.