After eight long, laugh-free years, MADtv returns to television on Tuesday (The CW, 9/8c), and while the world might have changed since then, the irreverent sketch comedy series’ fundamental mission remains steadfast.
“The thing MADtv had that SNL never had was that we didn’t care who you were,” original cast member Nicole Sullivan tells TVLine. “If we thought you were dumb, we’d make fun of you.”
Below, Sullivan — who appears in Tuesday’s premiere alongside former co-star Will Sasso — talks about returning to the new series, slipping back into the role of Hillary Clinton (an impression she calls “mediocre at best”) and reveals the one sketch from yesteryear that still makes her cringe.
TVLINE | How did you approach playing Hillary now vs. then?
Well, now vs. then, I still don’t know how to do her. At least I’m closer to her age now. I had a few more things to latch onto, but mostly just the wrinkles. She’s really, really hard to do. She’s so measured in her speech. She doesn’t add a bunch of stuff, so you can’t latch onto like, “Oh, she always does this one thing.” She doesn’t do anything. She’s been in the public forum for so many years that she just talks.
TVLINE | I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed we’re not seeing you as the Vancome Lady.
[Laughs] Here’s the thing with Vancome… Everything’s so mean nowadays, like, where does she go? What can she say? She was always so much worse than everyone else, but now everybody’s so mean, so she’s just run of the mill.
TVLINE | It’s funny you say that, because I still think she was meaner than most things today.
Well, I don’t know if you saw it, but an old Darlene McBride sketch we did went viral recently. … In my six years of doing MADtv, only once did the in-studio audience turn on us. I remember exactly where I was standing, and exactly what happened. We were doing that Darlene McBride sketch, and it was so offensive that the audience started booing. I had to hide behind a monitor. And that’s the clip that’s gone viral, because it’s exactly Donald Trump’s platform. That’s what’s so f–ing crazy. It was the one sketch where the audience was like, “That’s too much. No one would ever say that stuff,” and yet…
TVLINE | That’s frightening.
It really, really is.
TVLINE | Was there anything you ever thought was going too far?
I can say the one thing I stood up for was that I wouldn’t be in a sketch where we were making fun of Chelsea Clinton back in the day. That part still stands, the MADtv that says, “We’re not going to pick on the little people.”
TVLINE | Of course, only the big people.
Well, there are a couple of things I’ve done in my MADtv career that I shudder to think back on. … Oh my God, we did a Caroline in the City parody, and I did Lea Thompson, and what we did to her was so inhumane. We raked her across the coals. It was cruel and unusual punishment. But she’s also a grown-up, so she could handle it. I have to say, I think it was the meanest thing I ever did on the show. I made her look so stupid.
TVLINE | MADtv never even attempted to be politically correct. Do you think the show, as it was then, could make it today? I feel like you guys used the word “retarded” in every other sketch.
Oh, we did all the time. And you’re right, we’ve learned there are certain words that hurt too many people’s feelings. But I think MADtv is still, like, “If we think you’re stupid, we’ll make fun of you.” … This new cast is great, and I was only with them for half a week, but that same thought process is there.
TVLINE | I mentioned the Vancome Lady earlier, but are there any characters you’re dying to do again?
I would love to do Lida and Melina. I miss those two so much, I’do it in a heartbeat. I call Debra Wilson “Money,” because she’s the most scatterbrained human being when you’re rehearsing, but when she performs, there’s no one you’d rather stand next to.
TVLINE | Though I did enjoy watching you with Will Sasso in this first episode.
Will and I have a shorthand that’s very unique. We’ve worked together a bunch, and I could not love him or appreciate him as an actor more. We say so few words to each other — “Yep,” “No,” Mmm-hmm,” “Sure” — and then we do it. He’s the best.
Once you’ve worked your way through the clips above — as well as the inevitable YouTube clip hole you’re going to fall into — drop a comment with your thoughts on the new MADtv below. Will you be tuning in?