Maya Rudolph Talks Growing Up Biracial: 'It Was Like Part of a Secret Society'


Everyone has a favorite, or should have a favorite, Maya Rudolph moment. Is it her pooping on the street in Bridesmaids? Her Donatella Versace impression? Her recent, insanely funny appearance as a philosophical burrito-eating Judge on The Good Place?

In a new profile of Maya Rudolph for The New York Times Magazine, writer Caity Weaver unpacks Rudolph’s universally celebrated comedy and unmatched talent for impressions. But while Rudolph might seem like comedy royalty now, she talks seriously about growing up as an outsider because of her race. “Meeting other mixed kids has always affected me,” she says. “It was like part of a secret society.”

She talks at length about losing her mother, the singer Minnie Riperton, just two weeks before her seventh birthday. And losing her black mom left Rudolph largely alone in navigating that side of her identity, specifically what to do with her hair:

Hold your heart carefully before you read this next sentence: Rudolph’s father — in her words, a “pretty adorable Jew” — did not know how to do his daughter’s hair after his wife’s death. “So much of my childhood was dealing with my hair and being super embarrassed by it, mainly because I grew up being the only mixed kid,” she said
Riperton’s sisters would perform labor-intensive black-hair maintenance on their niece during their California sojourns. “My neighbors used to say, ‘We could hear you screaming across the street.’ My aunties would come to town from Chicago and get the marcel iron out,” she said.

When asked if there were any biracial comedians like herself she felt she could look up to growing up, Rudolph replies honestly that there weren’t any. But did she feel a kinship to Lisa Bonet:

She embraced the closest analogue she could find on television: Lisa Bonet, an actress just a couple of years older, who played the daughter of two black parents, despite having a white mother in real life. “I was obsessed with ‘The Cosby Show,’ but mainly because of Lisa Bonet,” Rudolph said. “There is no prettier creature in the universe.” Their shared racial background afforded Rudolph an opportunity to brag. “I’d be like, ‘I’m mixed, too!’ ” She rolled her eyes at the implied physical comparison. “ ‘Just like Lisa Bonet!’ ”

And even when she got to S.N.L., the show that would make her a star, Rudolph still struggled attaining the same privileges her white colleagues received, whether it was hairdressers who knew what to do with her hair or nabbing coveted roles. “There were times I was frustrated, like, ‘Why can’t I [expletive] just play that role?’” she says. “But obviously the person next to me that’s white is going to play that white character.” The overtime lifestyle of S.N.L. also eventually became harder for her to deal with once she had kids:

“It was too hard,” she said. “And nobody else understands or cares, when they don’t have kids. They’re like: ‘Oh, that’s cool!’ ” she said, turning away with a distracted nod. “ ‘What are you guys doing tonight?’ They’re like, ‘We’re going to see Justin Timberlake because Andy’s doing “Dick in a Box” with him! What are you doing?’ And I was like” — Rudolph affected the faraway stare of a revenant — “ ‘My daughter’s sick. I’m going home.’ ”

You can read the full profile here.

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