Rachel Dratch, best known for her Debbie Downer character on Saturday Night Live, recently volunteered her comedic talents for a televised public-service announcement. In it, she shows up in a woman's house to chastise her for running her dishwasher before it's full. "By 2013, it's estimated that 36 states will face water shortages," she says. But instead of the familiar trombone-and-frown sign-off, she smiles, and viewers get directed to savewatertoday.org. Dratch, 45, took time out of her busy new-mother schedule to answer a few questions.
Q: How did you come up with Debbie Downer?
A: I was in a conversation, and someone said some really downer thing that just screeched the whole group vibe to a halt, and I thought that would make a good character. When I started doing the character, I'd insert environmental issues because I'd think of things that bum me out. In the very first sketch, we were at Disney World, and I was like, "With that costume on, Pluto's probably in the early stages of heatstroke. Speaking of heat, if this greenhouse effect keeps up, we'll all be living underwater."
Q: What's the trick to bringing out the humor in a depressing situation?
A: I don't know — I hate trying to analyze comedy in some deep way. If it gets laughs, it's funny. But people do want some sort of release about depressing topics.
Q: Can environmentalists become Debbie Downers?
A: Probably. Personally, I don't even read bummer news stories about the environment because it makes me feel helpless to fix anything and reminds me that the general population doesn't treat these issues as an important part of our political life.