• When you’ve appeared as a cast member on “Saturday Night Live” for seven seasons, people develop certain expectations about your performance.

    They know what to expect, in other words. Aidy Bryant, who grew up in Phoenix, is funny. Really funny.

    That much we know.

    She’s an Emmy-nominated “SNL” performer who, along with Kate McKinnon, is a dependable bright spot in the notoriously uneven late-night show. She plans to come back next season, but there’s no question she was ready for more.

    a group of people standing in a room? Provided by Gannett Co., Inc.

    'Shrill' premieres March 15

    Now she’s got her own series, “Shrill,” which is available on Hulu on March 15. And it is no exaggeration to say that you have never, ever seen Bryant like this.

    Everyone says that when an actor stretches. But this time it’s really true. Bryant is funny in “Shrill,” yes, but she is also so emotionally vulnerable throughout the six episodes provided to critics that her performance is nothing short of stunning (to say nothing of at times uncomfortable).

    RELATED: Aidy Bryant gets her first acting Emmy nod

    The series is based on Lindy West’smemoir “Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman.” Bryant, who’s also a writer and producer on the show, plays Annie, the calendar clerk for an online publication who dreams of writing longer pieces. The series involves sex, weight issues, abortion, commitment (and lack thereof) and more — and that’s in the first episode.

    “This is definitely tonally and performance-wise really different from anything I’ve really done before, and certainly I was going to some places, even like crying or sex scenes or just, you know, being in a swimsuit on TV, things like that were like, ‘Whoa!’ I didn’t see that in the cards when I first started at ‘SNL,’” Bryant says.

    Aidy Bryant gets vulnerable

    Annie says she is fat. Not heavy. Not big. Not plus-sized. Fat. She says so?often?and eventually takes control of the word and the description. But that journey, along with her observations about herself and others’ observations of her, is painful, and painfully honest. That can be hard to watch — as can other scenes in which Annie is so raw, so amazingly open. It truly is a funny show, but there are some real minefields.

    “Certainly there were scenes where I was like, ‘Whoo, this is hard and exhausting,’” Bryant says. “To do multiple takes of some of those scenes is really difficult. But anytime I felt kind of nervous about it or whatever, I just really felt like it was worth it to get the story done. And maybe because I was a producer and I wrote on it and all these things, that it allowed me to be like, ‘This is my job, to get this done for what we wanted to make.’

    “Of course, watching myself on-screen be very vulnerable is not comfortable,” she says— while laughing. “I don’t watch the show on repeat or anything like that. But in editing and in working on those kinds of elements of the show, it was kind of easy to let it be about making the show as a whole and not be about myself, if that makes sense. I could kind of separate that part of it.”

    Annie lives in a house in Portland, Oregon, with Fran (Lolly Adefope), a hairdresser who has a tendency to cheat on her girlfriends. Annie has an on-again, off-again relationship with Ryan (Luka Jones), an emotionally stunted sort, the type who forgets about an important date because he is busy with … a pencil-fighting tournament.

    Annie works at a weekly publication edited by the ridiculously dismissive Gabe, played by the brilliant John Cameron Mitchell; eventually he just has to show up to make you cringe and laugh. You know how Jason Robards as Ben Bradlee in “All the President’s Men” is the greatest movie boss of all time? Picture the opposite and you’ll have some?idea of what Gabe is like.

    The beauty in the story is Annie trying to navigate all these obstacles in her life and figure it all out — and the honesty in what that struggle is like. Of course, that struggle has to lead to something. That’s what Bryant was after.

    “I was like, ‘OK, I think this is how we have to tell this story to let this character really have some dignity, and to fill out her world in a way that I don’t think fat characters get to have,’” Bryant says. “It was important to me to show her sexual life, and to show how she felt about her body in the first episode vs. the last episode. That was part of it. Telling the story was being really open.”

    What’s more, while there are a couple of see-the-light moments, most of Annie’s evolution takes place more subtly, which was also by design.

    “No person can flip a switch switch a flip and suddenly be like, ‘I’m confident and I have self-worth,’” Bryant says. “That’s just not how it works. I think even the most-confident person has days where it just doesn’t work, and I think that’s part of what we’re trying to show. It’s a slow, slow build, and it’s two steps forward and 10 steps back. As much as you can smile and grin and bear it, you just don’t always feel that good.”

    Growing up in Phoenix

    Bryant, who was born and raised in Phoenix and graduated from Xavier College Preparatory, said that helped shape her comedy — and by extension, some of her work in the show.

    “Growing up in Phoenix, it’s like year-round swimming,” she says. “And there’s sometimes a Scottsdale aesthetic to women, occasionally. I’d say for me, I sort of felt like a little bit of an outsider. I think you can see that in “Shrill,” and in some of my work in ‘SNL.’ I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I loved growing up in Phoenix, and I had such formative experiences there, and I still love going back. But I do think it totally informed my comedy, as far as how I felt as an adolescent coming up and figuring out who I was.”

    That’s what Annie’s up to in “Shrill,” after all, figuring out who she is, and where she fits in — if she fits in.

    “Ultimately what I hope this show does is it creates a sense of empathy for someone like her,” Bryant says. “It’s easy to be dismissive of fat people as lazy and not trying and giving up and all these things. I think if you watch the show and you have those perceptions, you might come to understand it from a different side of the coin.”

    Reach Goodykoontz at [email protected]. Facebook: facebook.com/GoodyOnFilm. Twitter: @goodyk.

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    This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: How growing up in Phoenix shaped Aidy Bryant's work in 'Shrill'

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