The Documentary 'Love, Gilda' Shows How The Iconic Comedian Inspired Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph & More
Gilda Radnor was a comedy legend who has influenced countless comedic actors, male and female alike. Yet as the first person cast for Saturday Night Live in 1975, she effortlessly solidified a place for women in comedy for decades to come. She tragically passed away in 1989 from ovarian cancer at just 42, but her legacy lives on through SNL, the organization Gilda's Club, and in Love, Gilda, a new documentary from director Lisa D'Apolito. Now playing, the doc revisits Radner's career and relationships using recently revealed personal notes, journals, and audio tapes made by Radner herself. But Love, Gilda isn't just a touching love letter to the legendary comedian — it also highlights just how much SNL's female cast members are still inspired by her to this very day.
"Yeah I basically stole all of my characters from Gilda," Amy Poehler says in the film. She recalls how she and SNL writer Emily Spivey would sit in an office to watch videos of Radner's old sketches and make what they called subpar 2.0 versions of the icon's characters. Elsewhere in the doc, Poehler and fellow SNL alum Maya Rudolph, current cast member Cecily Strong, and frequent host Melissa McCarthy dive into Radner's personal diary entries and notes. As they read entries about making successful comedy and being a woman in the male-dominated industry, you can see the looks of amazement and awe on the ladies' faces, as if they're holding the Holy Grail of their medium. "It's like we're detectives," Rudolph says with excitement.
"Sometimes I wonder if [she's] why I'm so physical," McCarthy says in the doc, "because I grew up watching her so intensely." But it isn't just the female cast members of SNL who feel indebted to Radner. Bill Hader also emits a reverence for her that goes beyond words. "This is a real honor," he says when cautiously opening Radner's journals. "No really, this is huge." Rudolph, meanwhile, chokes up when reading Radner's entry on being in the public eye. "I can't even imagine how I got famous," Rudolph reads with a seeming nod of understanding. "It seemed like I just took the next job and millions of people were watching me do it."
In addition to chronicling her SNL career, Love, Gilda also takes a look at Radner's pre-comedy life. The comedian's battle with eating disorders began when she was just 10 years old, when her mother, apparently bothered by young Gilda's weight, put her on diet pills. Radner learned quickly just how much a woman's looks had to do with her success in Hollywood. "Because I'm not a perfect example of my gender, I decided to be funny about what I didn't have," Radner says in one of the audio tapes, detailing how a family member inspired her to turn insults people would hurl at her into jokes. "Comedy is hitting on the joke before the other guy thinks of it."
But Radner's tapes and her drive on SNL also reveal an intensely feminist woman (though she'd likely have been hesitant to call herself that) who believed in her equality to her male counterparts. "My main priority is to be a girl," Poehler reads. "I like boys, but I never wanted to be one." When she won an Emmy in 1978, Radner thanked her female co-stars, saying, "Like my dressing room at NBC, I share this with Laraine Newman and Jane Curtin" Unlike her earlier career, where she was often the only woman in the gang, SNL made her career no longer about, "Who's going to be the girl on the show?", a fact of which Radner seemed grateful.
Even when she wasn't the only woman on SNL, Radner still stood out, thanks in part to the creation of her most famous character: Roseanne Roseannadanna. Radner found the signature poofy, triangular wig in the costume shop and created the big-haired, loud-mouthed "Weekend Update" consultant, but she still had to fight to get her on the air. "Why not have a woman who is gross?" Radner says in the documentary, predicting the eventual emergence of female buddy comedies like Bridesmaids, Sisters, and Girls Trip.
Watching Love, Gilda, it's obvious that, if Radner hadn't passed away so young, she'd have achieved the level of success and fame that many of today's SNL alumni have reached. If you're at all a fan of Saturday Night Live or have an affinity for today's sharpest female comedians — or even if all you remember about Radner is Baba Wawa — you'll find Love, Gilda to be a hilarious and touching story of one of comedy's very best.