SXSW: Aidy Bryant Reflects on Quitting Twitter, Importance of ‘Shrill’ Character as ‘Hero’

“Saturday Night Live” and “Shrill” star Aidy Bryant knows what it’s like to be in the public eye and “be called a fat, disgusting pig constantly,” she said at SXSW Monday. But that is all the more reason she felt it was important to make her upcoming Hulu comedy series and make “this person the hero of the show.”

“Shrill” is based on Lindy West’s 2016 memoir of the same name and follows Bryant as a fictional version of West, named Annie, as she goes through trials and tribulations with her friends and at work, culminating in the quintessential moment in West’s book when she writes an online article about being fat.

“It wouldn’t be a realistic show about a female journalist if there weren’t people calling her a fat pig and threatening to kill her. It just had to be in there,” said West on the SXSW panel moderated by Variety‘s Jenelle Riley.

In addition to starring in the show, Bryant is also a writer on the project, which allowed her to use her own experiences in adapting West’s story for the small screen.

Bryant has experienced similar online harassment, notably after her portrayal of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on “Saturday Night Live.” Such negativity prompted her to quit Twitter, which she called “a bad space” at the Austin, Texas festival.

“The thing that shocked me [was] every time I played Sarah Huckabee Sanders, I would get a ton a tweets,” said Bryant. “Fifty percent of the people would be conservative people being like, ‘You are a fat, disgusting pig who should not play this strong, independent woman. Then, the other 50% were like, ‘Aidy is too beautiful to play this fat, disgusting liar.’”

It was the two distinct types of harassment that ended up being the breaking point for Bryant. “I think it’s really disgusting to reduce both of us to our looks and both of us to being a pig. Whether what you like what she says or not, we should not be reduced to being called pigs.”

Social media aside, “Shrill” marks the first time Bryant will top-line a project, which was at once both exhilarating and terrifying for the actress.

“My entire career, truly up to this point has been about ensemble,” said Bryant. “When I was at Second City, at “SNL,” I’m part of a troupe. There is, for me, discomfort in being like, ‘OK, I’m the one. I’m up front. I’m the one person on the poster,’ you know? In that part of me, I identify with Annie. But, I’m working toward feeling comfortable.”

What helped her actually feel more comfortable with the additional responsibility and visibility was the collaborative process, particularly among the show’s writers. “What was nice was we were able to find the pieces of the story that felt very universal,” she said of the writers’ room.

While finding those relatable moments was an important part of making “Shrill” a reality, Bryant’s dual roles as star and writer meant the series could stand apart from the book without losing its message of empowerment and body positivity.

“People are not used to fat people doing anything,” Bryant said. “That was just all the more reason I felt totally compelled to make this show.”

“Shrill” launches Mar. 15 on Hulu.

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