Let’s talk about New York.
I love New York. It’s funny because pretty much my whole New York experience, I’ve been on Saturday Night Live. I moved here seven years ago—I still don’t know the city that well, because I’m either at 30 Rock or at home. But I’ve lived in different areas, and you know areas that way.
Where was the first place—restaurant, café, whatever—you became a regular?
I like Joe’s Coffee in Chelsea. When I lived in Chelsea, I used to go to Joe’s Coffee all the time. I just liked the coffee, and they have these crazy raspberry doughnuts that I had to try and quit because I was gaining tons of weight. I would have one every morning because liked them so much. Also, I met this barista there, which is where I got the voice and look for [his SNL character] Stefon, so that was helpful.
What do you look for in a place where you might become a regular?
The thing I like about New York—and you kind of get it in other places, but definitely New York—is that they fully recognize when you come in a couple of times. And just how quick people are, you know what I mean? I know when I go someplace outside of New York, I suddenly grow really impatient. I’m like: “Why isn’t my coffee in my hand five seconds after I order it? Why is this line taking so long?” Whereas in New York, [for example], there’s this place on the Upper West Side called Muffins Café or something, and you walk up, and you see a big line there. But I never worry. I’m like: “Oh, I’ll be out of here in a minute. They’re getting people in and out.” But [in other cities], you see a big line, and you’re like, this is going to be 30 minutes.
I like that people are honest. I was walking down the street once in New York with my in-laws, and a cab was stopped, and the passenger in the cab rolled down his window and said: “Hey, SNL! You and your show fucking suck!” I was like, right. I told my in-laws: “Oh, that’s Ryan. He works with the show. He’s being funny. It’s a bit we have.” But there was a weird part of me that at least appreciated it and was like, well, at least I know where I stand with that guy.
I lived in L.A. for six years before I moved to New York.
What was the transition like moving from L.A. to New York?
Being in traffic. In L.A., it was more like, “Oh, my god, just to get to my friend’s house took an hour, and I’m still in the city.” Growing up in Tulsa, you would drive an hour to go out to the lake. You’re on a freeway for an hour, and when I was a kid, that was a vacation—driving for an hour to go out to some little secluded place or whatever. But, yeah, just a lot culture. I remember the first time I came to New York, I was with my dad. I want to say my dad was here on business, and we came out of a train station, Penn Station, and the first thing I saw was a guy kneeling down next to a car with a woman’s billfold, taking all the stuff out of it, and then ditching the billfold underneath the parked car and walking away. And I was like: “Oh. My. God.” I was so freaked out. And then my dad had to go to a meeting, and we were in Times Square or someplace, and I was like, “I’m gonna go into a video store.” So I was in a video store looking at movies, and the guy behind the counter said: “Hey, stretch! Are you gonna rent anything?” And I said no. And he said, “Well, then get the fuck outta my store.” [Laughs.] And I was like, “Whoa.”
How old were you?
I was 17. It was a big eye-opener. But I loved it. I was also shocked at how big everything was. Not seeing the skyline when I first came to New York—just not being able to see the horizon—was surreal. Now it doesn’t bother me. Now it’s the opposite. If I do see the horizon, I’m like, “Wha-wha-what’s happening?”
If you were not on SNL, do you think you’d live in New York?
Probably not. We have friends at UCB who are actors there, and I barely made it by in L.A., which is cheaper. I don’t know how people live out here. Even when I moved out here and was on SNL—which wasn’t, in retrospect, a lot of money, but at the time it was more money than I’d ever seen in my life—we were still on a budget. It’s an expensive city. I don’t know how people do it, when they’re just like, “Oh, I’m an intern at someplace, and I do stuff at UCB.” And I go, “Well, where do you live?” And they say, “Well, I live in the city.” And I say, “How?” Then again, because I don’t get out much, there’s neighborhoods that I know nothing about.
People always talk about the charming aspect of being “broke in New York.” Did you ever feel that?
No. No. I was on SNL. That’s the thing, I’ve always been on SNL, so not only was I OK money-wise, but I was also on television. I wasn’t getting recognized a ton or anything. It was just a different experience, though. Every once and a while, somebody would say, “Hey, aren’t you the guy from The Office?” And I said: “No, but I’m on television.” And they say, “Well, what are you on?” And I say, “I’m not Rainn Wilson.” And they say, “Oh, OK.” My favorite was a woman who stopped me on the street and said, “I love your books.” And I went, “Oh, uh, well, I don’t write.” And she thought I was Stephen King.
You should have went with it.
Yeah, I know. I was like: “Well, he’s at least 30 years older than me. Maybe you only know him from the Carrie dust jacket? I don’t know.”
What’s an ideal date night for you in New York?
My wife and I are pretty chill. I don’t go out that much. That’s the other thing: By the time I moved to the city, I was married. I was never even single in the city. And I was working constantly. So we really enjoy just laid-back nights, going to Momofuku or Piadina.
What do you like about those places?
Well, Momofuku is packed all the time. [Laughs.] I just like the food there. It’s just really good food. And Piadina is just super laid-back and fantastic food, and the waitstaff is great, and I like everyone there. And then going to see a movie at Angelika or Film Forum. Or just walking around. Sometimes we’ll go eat someplace and then walk to the other side of town, you know what I mean?
What do you enjoy about those walks?
I just like it. You just can’t do that anyplace else. Why would you walk in that way? There’s just no point, you know? In New York, everyone is walking. I remember when we first moved from L.A., we lived on the Upper West Side, and my wife and I walked down Riverside, and it had just got done raining. It was in the fall, and it just looked gorgeous, just seeing some old battlement thing, you know what I mean? Just the history of the place, coming up on some building and the plaque, reading “Henry James wrote whatever,” and you’re like, “Wow.” I still feel like a tourist here. I get so freaked out and really enjoy those moments. I just like going on a walk. It’s romantic. As long as you’re not walking through the meatpacking district or something where it’s really loud and crazy.
Techno music leaking out from bars.
Techno music playing. Guys get in a fight in front of Pop Burger or something. We just tend to avoid that.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 17, 2012