Client: Melissa Villaseñor – Talent
When you first see the cover of Whoops… I'm Awesome, the upcoming workbook with activities, art and charmingly funny stories by Melissa Villaseñor, you really can't help but smile. It's bright but soft, boldly asking you to jump in and have a little fun — which is exactly how she comes across in person.
"My first book," sighs Villaseñor as she smiles at a copy in her hand. "I like telling people, 'It's a book for an adults inner child'. You don't have to feel worried if people there are like, 'Oh, I don't want to read.' I'm like, 'Don't worry. Lots of pictures.'"
The California born comic has spent the last six years making people laugh through sketches and impressions on the long-running comedy series, Saturday Night Live. Now using all she learned after her time on SNL — she announced her departure alongside castmates Alex Moffat and Aristotle Athari earlier this month — she is going on the road to perform, to showcase her art, and to promote her book.
"We started working on it a couple years ago and I was always drawing and doodling," she shares in the latest episode of Bold School, EW's video series celebrating female power players. "I started just seeing drawings in my head, in visions kind of, for the past six years, almost like the time I've been at SNL. I think there's this real sensitive part of me that couldn't be shared in comedy or, it's too hard. If you see my standup, it's all goof. It's all goof town. There's no room for me to be like, 'I'm really feeling…' It doesn't work like that for my comedy. But for my art, heartbreaks and comparing and just any emotions like that. I put that through my art and I feel like it's been really healthy for me."
That prompted her to create an Instagram account for her art, @melissavart which led to the idea for the book, which was slightly inspired by one of her favorite authors, Shel Silverstein. "People love workbooks these days," she says of her choice to release a playful but sort-of self help book "[People] love to connect. So that's what I do with my art. There's a lot of stories, but then there's a lot of my pieces in here as well, so there's…" she says as she spots one of the many drawings throughout the book. Smiling, she points out, "that's supposed to be my doggy walking in Brooklyn on a winter day and she's the one that brings all the color for me."
"The four main chapters are the things I do to get to that sillier side of myself," she explains around the theme of her book. "I could get pretty serious and dark." Each of the four chapters of Whoops… I'm Awesome shares stories, drawings and little activities the reader can do to "embrace" their "wonderfully awesome self."
While her first step outside of the SNL world is a journey into helping others connect with the joy and inner child inside of them through her book and art, the road to embodying that self love for herself grew through her work on SNL. "When I play powerful women like Dolly Parton and Lady Gaga and JLo, I feel their confidence," she shares, "I mumble sometimes when I have low esteem or when I need to speak up for myself. But when I would get in those impressions, all that faded away."
The new author admits that while "Dolly is my go-to for affirmations self talk" the "cool tool" in her back pocket she uses to get some instant confidence is being able to "hop into Gaga" or any iconic woman in the industry, feeling the "confidence," "strength," and "power" of each woman she embodied. "Being on SNL has shaped me in many ways", she reflects. Not just as a comedian, but that the experience taught her how to collaborate with others.
"I came from standup where I was solo all the time, and then, I got to that show and it's all about collaboration, working together. Having that experience now, I'm going to be doing that in the next things I do, the next TV shows and movies, just being a team player. And I didn't have that before, I was a little brat and I had to learn how to share."
The 34 year old performer was a fan favorite for her eerily accurate impressions, and laid back demeanor but she didn't feel empowered until this past season, which became her final season on the show. "I think through the years of me being there, I shared a lot of impressions, celebrity impressions and singing impressions, and I've always done that. But last season was really special because I shared a character that was based on my Uncle Caesar."
"I did that on Weekend Update and that one brought me the most joy because it was embracing my family, my Mexican family. I had their photos, my brother, my Tia Lola, my abuelita… and I was like, 'I can't believe they're here. They're in this segment.' I'm just embracing everything more. I think when I got this show and they're like, 'Oh, the first Latina.' I was like, 'Hey, no, don't pressure me!' I'm second generation, I'm so Americanized. And I'm like, 'Oh God, I hope I'm good enough. I hope I did a good job and I tried my best.'"
"I also did that funny sketch with Selena Gomez, the 'Das sah' girls. That was just a chick I heard at Target on New Year's Eve. I was in the notebook section on New Year's Eve, and if you remember that day, it was a sad day because everyone found out Betty White passed away. And so, I was in Target and everyone's whispering around Target like, 'Hey, did you hear Betty White passed away?' And I was like, 'Oh no.' And then this chick next to me goes, 'Oh, Betty White died? Das sah.' And I was like, 'Man, you don't sound sad.' I felt empowered then because I was sharing L.A. — this is sharing my family and all of it."
She now takes that spark ignited by her last season and continues to celebrate her culture through her work by sharing more family stories on stage, and she says she wants to learn how to imitate singers she grew up with like Latino legends Ana Gabriel and Selena.
"I think Melissa celebrates her heritage of today by embracing more colorful things. I feel like there's a lot of color in Mexican art," she reminisces on a recent trip she took to Mexico to explore and meet family members. "I'm working on my Spanish too"
"I'm excited to learn more about my family. My grandma who just passed in July, she has so many photo albums of all her travels and she would write notes, so I can dive in there. I even asked my mom more about her childhood because [older Latinos] don't share a lot. It's almost like, 'I know maybe it was tough, maybe you want to push it away, but I want to hear the stories. I want to hear them.' Because, I don't know. I'm already American enough, it's time to go the opposite way and learn about the family now."
Whoops… I'm Awesome releases Oct. 25 on Chronicle Books.