Trying to schedule time with Rachel Dratch these days isn’t easy. The former Saturday Night Live star temporarily relocated from Manhattan to L.A. to film a sitcom pilot for NBC, and when she’s not on-set (or with her boyfriend John Wahl and their 19-month-old son Eli), she’s gearing up for the publication of her new memoir, Girl Walks into a Bar… “You don’t know what’s around the bend,” says Dratch, 46. “I keep learning that.”
Does she ever. A hit on SNL (remember Debbie Downer?), she was “face-planted” when press reports said she lost a role on 30 Rock because of her unglamorous looks. Even worse, she couldn’t find other work. In an excerpt from her memoir, she opens up about those rough days and about finding romance and motherhood in the midst of them. She hopes her book will inspire other women. “The unexpected,” she tells PEOPLE’s Lesley Messer, “can happen!”
“Hey, I know you,” said the stranger. “I miss seeing you on TV. What happened to you?”
How to answer this… What happened to me? Where have I been since you last saw me on TV? Some people think if they see you on reruns, that means you’re working. No. You are sitting in your apartment watching Judge Mathis. That’s what you are doing.
Don’t get me wrong. My agent still calls with offers. But pretty much the only parts I’m offered since I’ve been off SNL are for women much older than I am. Usually 100-200 pounds more than I am. The Unf…ables.
In reality, if you saw me walking down the street, you wouldn’t point at me and recoil and throw up and hide behind a shrub. But by Hollywood standards, I’m a troll, ogre, or woodland creature.
I was a cast member on Saturday Night Live for seven years. Then I was going to be in a new show called 30 Rock in the role of Jenna. Have you seen 30 Rock? Yeah…. I’m not Jenna.
After we shot the pilot, I got a call from my agent. “They’re going in a different direction.” Tina [Fey] said that, instead of playing Jenna, I would appear in various episodes as a different character each time, popping up in all sorts of incarnations. I felt way more comfortable doing that than playing Jenna, a diva type who, in the pilot, sort of tries to seduce Alec Baldwin. No one needs to see me try to seduce.
And then this story became public. News stories speculated that I had been replaced by a more attractive actor, Jane Krakowski, and that this was the only reason I’d been replaced. I started to feel like years of training and performing went out the window because I didn’t have a symmetrical face. This would have been OK if I’d gotten the memo: “Oh, and if you want to be a successful female comedian, you better have a symmetrical face.”
I grew up watching perfectly lovely female performers whom I don’t think anyone would call “hotties”: Gilda Radner, Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett. When did the rules change?
She played bit parts in early 30 Rock episodes, but as the show evolved, her characters were phased out.
A year passed, then two, then three. I took Spanish class. I dog-sat. And then I took on the biggest challenge of my life: I tried dating in New York.
It was no picnic, but her luck changed in 2009 when she met John Wahl, a California-based consultant to natural food businesses, in a bar. They began dating long-distance.
Around the New Year in 2010, I was having a wicked case of PMS that I couldn’t shake. It occurred to me: I’m going through menopause.
Instead, at 43, she was pregnant. Eli was born on Aug. 24, and John moved to New York City to be a dad.
The big slowdown of my career, which had felt like such a curse, actually felt quite fortunate now. “See that, Hollywood? Mwah hah hah! I’m the winner here! I get to stay home and not miss a moment!” Having a baby in your life is pretty wonderful.
I know new moms aren’t supposed to be thinking about how they look, but I still had one foot in an odd courtship phase. Once I stumbled out of the bedroom, hair unkempt, naked except for a nursing pillow around my waist. I looked like a feral child. John and I met eyes and I went on my way, back into the woods. It’s not easy keeping any mystique alive.
Though he denies it, sometimes I feel John would rather be with a woman who shops at Talbot’s and wears a headband and pearls and always has aspirin on hand in her fresh, square Coach bag. Looks like the Casting Directors on high ended up going in a Different Direction.