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Tuesday, April 17th, 2012
SNL

Saturday Night's Children: Nancy Walls (1995-1996)

Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 36 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member each week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.

For a witty brunette-turned-blonde who could play utility mother/reporter types and stretch them into outbursts of suburban insanity (if given the screen time), it's surprising that Nancy Walls never found a lasting place during her single-season run on SNL. She's known now more for her famous husband Steve Carell, but we shouldn't forget that her comic voice is large and deserved better than it got. The problem with SNL as an institution is, of course, that even if you have talent and some drive, you still have to claw and compete to get your stuff on the air — Walls probably could have thrived if she didn't join the show alongside so many heavy hitters, and her style wasn't showy and abrasive enough, perhaps, to be heard above the din.

Walls grew up in Cohasset, Massachusetts and attended Boston College, where she was a member of the collegiate improv troupe My Mother's Fleabag (Amy Poehler was also a member a few years later). After graduation in 1988, Walls studied improv at Second City in Chicago, where one of her teachers happened to be her future husband Steve Carell.

In a cast overhaul following the departure of Myers, Farley, Sandler, and nine others, Lorne Michaels hired a slew of new performers and added Walls as a featured player in 1995. While she did have a few recurring characters, they were mostly in supportive roles, like country club wife Susan Taylor in the "Get Off the Shed" sketches with Ferrell and Koechner, church event devotee Gail Lafferty, and Cindy the TimeLife hotline operator. She also impersonated Diane Sawyer, Martha Stewart, Cokie Roberts, Kathy Ireland, Sharon Stone, and CNN anchor Bobbie Battista.

At the end of the season, Michaels fired Walls and Koechner after neither managed to break out of the background, and they were replaced with Ana Gasteyer and Tracy Morgan the following year. While Koecher continued appearing in plenty of popular films and shows, Walls began a regular correspondent gig on The Daily Show in 1999, where she often delivered reports alongside husband Carell like "Dollars and Cents" or "We Love Showbiz." She held the gig alongside fellow correspondents like Stephen Colbert and Mo Rocca until 2002.

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Walls has since appeared in a handful of films and shows, both with her husband — like as her stint as Michael Scott's once-girlfriend/real estate agent Carol Stills on The Office or her smaller role in The 40 Year Old Virgin — and without him, like in Stella's Random Play, Koechner's The Naked Trucker and T-Bones Show, Anger Management, Bridesmaids, and Mike Judge's ABC animated series The Goode Family, which was the first time she was credited as Nancy Carell. She may not be on the A-list level of her TV-turned-movie super comedy star husband, but having served terms on SNL, The Daily Show, and The Office, Walls is a great example of how comedic talent doesn't have to claw and scrape to the top — you can do your thing and then not do it, raise a family, take a few gigs, and still be remembered and appreciated with fondness, not just for being Mrs. Steve Carell, but for being Ms. Nancy Walls.

Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.

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  • grovberg

    Wake Up and Smile might be my favorite SNL sketch of that era.