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Ana Gasteyer stars in new sitcom 'American Auto'

DON GONYEA, HOST:

As the new CEO of the fictional Payne Motors, Ana Gasteyer has been taking names.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN AUTO")

ANA GASTEYER: (As Katherine Hastings) If you're not gung-ho about working here, hey, I will find someone else who is. Hassan Parr (ph), Claire Hartley (ph), Rob Berg (ph), Jin Tao-Kang - please pack your things and go.

GONYEA: Ouch - and that was at a morale-boosting event in an episode of the new NBC sitcom "American Auto." Now, you might recall one of Ana Gasteyer's other very memorable roles as a public radio host alongside Molly Shannon.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

MOLLY SHANNON: (As Teri Rialto) I don't know if you know this, but there are a lot of different kinds of ice.

GASTEYER: (As Margaret Jo McCollen) You're absolutely right. There's cubed ice.

SHANNON: (As Teri Rialto) Crushed ice.

GASTEYER: (As Margaret Jo McCollen) Cracked ice.

SHANNON: (As Teri Rialto) Shaved ice.

GASTEYER: (As Margaret Jo McCollen) Shaved ice? I didn't know ice could grow a beard.

GONYEA: That, of course, is one of the "Delicious Dish" skits from "Saturday Night Live," where she performed for six years. She has since appeared with her former "SNL" cast mates in the sitcom "Great News" and the movie "Wine Country," and she's had a Christmas album. That's just a sampling of her resume.

Ana Gasteyer, you have been busy. Allow me to welcome you to the real NPR, and I say that trying to be not too self-conscious here.

GASTEYER: Thank you. I'm always very self-conscious when I dial in because I'm like, I love you. I subscribe, I swear.

GONYEA: (Laughter) OK, so let's talk about your new series, "American Auto." You play Katherine Hastings, the CEO of Payne Motors. And she's a former pharmaceuticals exec who has zero experience in the auto industry - none. None at all. In fact, zero experience means she doesn't even drive a car. So describe your character for us.

GASTEYER: Well, you just - you gave a great description, frankly. I mean, I think she comes from Big Pharma. She's an experienced CEO. She's got leadership and management experience. She's just one of those leaders that doesn't particularly think you need to know your product to sell it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN AUTO")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Katherine, you're the CEO of a car company. Can you name a single thing that you love about cars?

GASTEYER: (As Katherine Hastings) They're cars, you know? So they're just cars, right? And they - they're amazing, you know, how they just - they go, you know - they go when they, you know, just (imitating car engine).

When you're living in a workplace comedy world, it helps to have her not know anything, even from an expository standpoint. But also it means she can't fire anybody because (laughter) she really needs the information they have at their disposal.

GONYEA: We can run down the list of workplace comedies. Some big hits in here - "The Office," "Parks And Rec," "Veep" - a political workplace there - "Superstore," now "American Auto," which I think sets itself apart by the fact that it takes this up to the highest levels of a Fortune 500 company. But what do you think it is that draws audiences to workplace comedies and your workplace comedy, in particular?

GASTEYER: Well, I think workplaces organically are places where you automatically have a ton of different points of view. They're, by nature, hierarchical, which is also a great place for people to squirm and control (laughter) also, which are funny elements hopefully. You spend more time at the office than you do at home. So it's really about having to coexist with people who you may not be related to (laughter) or have chosen to. So I think that's part of it. The corporate part is - I just think we're uniquely, right now, in a place in our culture where corporate greed, decision-making, power, control are more transparent than ever. We're able to see it more and roll our eyes at it and be appreciative of it and find it to be something to hold accountable.

GONYEA: The corporate shadow over our lives is just - it's always there.

GASTEYER: There you go. Yeah. And I think, you know, look, we've had "Succession," which is about family greed and corporate greed, of course, and sort of the flashy parts of it and the dramatic parts of it. But, you know, I think a story about the people at the top making these huge decisions who are fairly oblivious about how they're impacting the people who are going to be using their product is pretty new.

GONYEA: It's serious stuff, but funny is OK. In fact, funny is needed.

GASTEYER: Oh, it's so needed. It's so needed. It's been a very serious couple of years (laughter).

GONYEA: So I started off ticking off some of the items on your resume. There is an opportunity out there. I'm not at liberty to really talk a lot about it, but, you know, we're looking for a new host for WEEKEND EDITION.

GASTEYER: Wow.

GONYEA: (Laughter) So given your - you know, your improv background and, really, your experience hosting that great show, "Delicious Dish"...

GASTEYER: There you go.

GONYEA: ...I'm wondering if you'd like to try out. What might WEEKEND EDITION with Ana Gasteyer sound like?

GASTEYER: Well, let me just say that the Puzzle section would get longer because I really do enjoy that, and there would be some recipes. We would have to do some more recipes. And as a longtime NPR listener, I probably would dial back a long segment about, like, microbrewed (ph) mead.

GONYEA: (Laughter) OK.

GASTEYER: You know, we can touch on it, but we don't need to stay there for nine minutes, is what I'm trying to say. So that would probably be where I try to leave my impact.

GONYEA: (Laughter) But Will Shortz has got your vote, I think (laughter).

GASTEYER: Will Shortz - in for the win. Yeah, absolutely.

GONYEA: We have been talking to Ana Gasteyer. She stars in the NBC sitcom "American Auto" and who knows what else down the road. Ana, thank you for joining us.

GASTEYER: Thank you so much for having me. This was lovely. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.