As one of the funniest women in comedy, Maya Rudolph can make you laugh in many different ways. The comedian’s big break into the spotlight was as a featured cast member on Saturday Night Live in 2000. She stayed on the sketch comedy series for seven years, "playing everyone from Oprah Winfrey and Paris Hilton to Liza Minnelli and Tyra Banks," NPR recapped.
Rudolph continued killing it on the small screen with her outstanding recurring role on The Good Place. She played "The Judge" — an homage to the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She also hit a home run at the movies with the 2011 mega-hit Bridesmaids, and showcased her voice work talent as Connie the hormone monster from the Netflix series Big Mouth.
In her personal life, Rudolph has never been a stranger to fame. She was born into a family of performers, but even with parents in the industry, like most celebs, Rudolph started out small until becoming one of the best at her craft. Let’s take a look at the truth behind the talent as we uncover what you need to know about Maya Rudolph.
An unusual childhood for Maya Rudolph
Though her career later took her coast-to-coast in the U.S., Maya Rudolph grew up in a small town down south. The actor is from Gainesville, Fla. in the northern part of the state. Both of her parents were involved with music throughout her childhood. Rudolph’s mom was Minnie Riperton, the "soul soprano" singer from Chicago and her father, Richard Rudolph, a "songwriter and producer," The New York Times reported. Maya described her parents were "hippies," which feels dead-on accurate given the couple met when her mom’s "psychedelic band" played at the club her father managed. According to Maya, life with these two "hippies" meant a childhood without the typical treats for kids. For example, she remembered eating "puffed rice" instead of Froot Loops and "carob" in place of chocolate. And despite both her parents coming from religious families, Maya explained that her upbringing was without religion. "I remember my mom not even saying ‘God bless you,’" but rather, "’Guh bless you,’ because she didn’t want us to say ‘God.’"
One of Maya’s "earliest memories" is "watching her mother perform onstage," per Vulture. The actor described her mom from these days as "Gorgeous, self-confident, one-of-a-kind." And Maya was linked with another famous musician. According to CNN, Maya’s godmother was R&B singer Teena Marie. Maya’s dad Richard even helped produce one of Marie’s albums.
Maya Rudolph and her famous bestie go a long way back
As a young girl, Maya Rudolph met a lifelong friend: Gwyneth Paltrow. But neither could have imagined the influence and fame that both would later achieve. Bruce Paltrow, Gwyneth’s dad, and Richard Rudolph, Maya’s dad, "became best friends as students at Tulane University; after graduation, they both moved to L.A., where they began successful careers in Hollywood and started families," People reported. In California, both men sent their daughters to the same school, "St. Augustine by the Sea," in Santa Monica. Maya and Gwyneth met when the two were just seven years old.
Many years later, Gwyneth hosted Saturday Night Live. And during her opening monologue, she brought out a familiar face on stage. "This week has been real extra-special to me because one of my best friends is on the show now, and I’m so proud of her," Gwyneth said, per SNL Transcripts. "She’s super-funny and talented, and I’m so glad she’s in the cast," the host said about Maya. The two showed their fifth grade class photo together and talked about their theatrical performance during that same school year. The young girls were part of a class production of The Nightingale. As Maya explained, Gwyneth "played the beautiful nightingale, and I played the maid. That was fun!"
SNL was a dream come true for Maya Rudolph
Though she grew up around the music industry, Maya Rudolph had her sights set on a different kind of entertainment. "I always had Saturday Night Live on the brain," she told Vulture. After graduating college at UC Santa Cruz, Rudolph gave improv comedy a try, joining the famous LA group, The Groundlings. And after a few years, Rudolph got noticed by SNL producer Steve Higgins, which led to an audition for SNL creator Lorne Michaels. But as Rudolph remembered, things didn’t go so well. "I ended up, after that, thinking, I’ll never work there. That was the worst interview I’ve ever had," she admitted. What went wrong? When Michaels asked her "why [she] thought [she] should be on the show," she said, "’Because I like to wear wigs.’" Yikes.
Admittedly, Rudolph had some help in the form of Tina Fey, who, at the time, was a writer on SNL. According to The New York Times, Fey stopped by to check out a performance by the improv group and scout for talent. "Impressed with the way Rudolph handled herself in a scene with an uncooperative improv partner," Fey pushed for Rudolph to be hired, explaining of her fellow comedian, "She could read the phone book and it’d be funny!"
Rudolph told the same outlet that landing SNL "was literally [her] everything." She also revealed to NPR, "It was my childhood dream," and recalled that her time on set was full of "beauty, love, and pain."
Maya Rudolph’s roles you may have missed
Most people only know Maya Rudolph for her comedy career. But her start in show business couldn’t be further from that discipline. Rudolph’s first roles included a lot of small roles as a nurse. Later, as she became more famous, Rudolph tried to reunite with a castmate she remembered working with. One year at the Oscars, she approached George Clooney to talk about their common past. "As I was walking over to him, I thought, ‘I know this guy. We’ve worked together,’" Rudolph explained to The Guardian. The two hugged, despite Clooney’s apparent confusion. Except Rudolph explained that was the exact moment she realized her huge mistake. "I had a part on Chicago Hope, not ER. Different hospital show. I don’t know this person at all," she revealed. When she was "in her 20s," one of Rudolph’s first acting jobs was "a bit-part nurse" in the medical series. According to Celebrity Net Worth, she played "Nurse Leah Martine in five episodes." And a few years later, her onscreen medical expertise continued. Rudolph appeared in 15 episodes of City of Angels as Nurse Grace Patterson.
On the big screen, Rudolph one again found herself in familiar scrubs. In the 1997 sci-fi film Gattaca, the actor briefly appears. In a childbirth scene, she plays a nurse who delivers one line asking for a baby name. It’s difficult to clearly see her face but you can spot her distinct voice.
Maya Rudolph rocks in more ways than one
In Maya Rudolph’s younger days, she stayed busy with more than just acting. Given her parent’s history in the music industry, it’s not surprising that Rudolph became involved with music too. She was a part of a band called the Rentals. And the songs weren’t comedic like those of Weird Al Yankovic. The Rentals were "a new-wave band with an ever-evolving lineup," according to The New York Times.
In addition to the Rentals, Rudolph also was a member of "a Prince cover band called Princess." And amazingly, she later met her band’s inspiration on a plane. While on maternity leave, Rudolph discovered that Prince was scheduled to be the musical guest on an episode of Saturday Night Live. So, Rudolph ended her maternity leave early to film her first show back. The next day, when flying back to Los Angeles, Rudolph learned about a special guest on the flight. After generously being "bumped" up to first class, Rudolph recalled, "we were all sitting there, and I started noticing that everybody from Prince’s band was boarding the plane," she told Interview. Then her dreams came true when the singer boarded and later approached her. Rudolph explained that Prince reportedly said, "The first time I saw your mom on The Mike Douglas Show, I shed a tear," referencing Minnie Riperton. Then, she said Prince "took his index finger and made the motion of a tear falling from his eye down his cheek."
The fabulous talent of Maya Rudolph’s mom
Maya Rudolph’s mom, Minnie Riperton (above), was known for her incredible vocal range. Her most famous song, "Lovin’ You," gave the artist room to show off her vocal talents. The song, "showcased Riperton’s mastery of the so-called whistle register — precariously high notes at the upper, upper reaches of what can be produced in the human vocal tract," The New York Times described. And at the end of the song, Riperton sings her daughter’s name "Maya" over and over. The single was off of her album "Perfect Angel," which came out just two years after Rudolph’s birth. Not only did her father help produce the album but he did so along with legendary singer Stevie Wonder. The album and song were a success, but sadly, Ripperton died four years after her biggest hit, when Rudolph was a just young girl.
Though Rudolph’s time with her mom was limited, she proudly talks about her mom’s legacy. "I feel like my mom was part of a generation of people who [had] incredible gifts. There was no sweetening of vocals. There was no Pro Tools then," she told NPR. According to Rudolph, her mom became famous because she was "just so incredibly gifted and one of a kind." Rudolph recapped that her "mom was a special, cool lady."
Maya Rudolph’s high school crush
When Maya Rudolph attended high school, she would unknowingly meet a future celebrity. He also happened to be popular at the time among his fellow students. She revealed that Jack Black "was like the theater god at my school. He was Pippin when we did Pippin," Rudolph told Vulture, admitting that her participation in the production was limited to "just one of the chorus in a unitard." She also confessed, "I always had a crush on" Black in those days. And the admiration wasn’t only one sided.
Black also enjoyed spending time with Rudolph in high school. He even taught her a few skills outside of the theater. Rudolph recalled that Black let her ride in "his VW Bug." And he also taught the young woman "how to drive stick." And she insists this isn’t a euphemism for something not family-friendly. "I know that sounds awful. It wasn’t meant to," she joked.
Many years later, the two reunited. Rudolph and Black both appeared in That Dog.’s music video for the song "Just The Way." The two play a husband and wife on a fictional sitcom throughout the video.
Behind the creation of Bridesmaids
Though it was released in 2011, Bridesmaids continues to delight fans. It’s the perfect movie to watch over and over, thanks to the brilliant female cast. Before the movie was a reality, it started as an idea with Judd Apatow. The writer, director, and producer specifically chose Maya Rudolph and her real-life friend, Kristen Wiig, to co-star. Apatow told The New York Times this deep relationship was critical for the film’s success "because it’s so improvisational, and we’re trying to capture something that happens in the moment." He said after watching the film, fans "believe their friendship, and you believe how they express themselves when they’re angry and happy and crazy." With Rudolph as the bride-to-be and Wiig as her best friend, it’s a special blend of humor and bestie love. "And that’s something that Kristen and Maya really pulled off," Apatow added about the two women.
From the actor’s perspective, Wiig explained to the same outlet what makes Rudolph so talented. "She’s very feminine, she’s very girly, and yet there’s no sense of vanity," Wiig said of her friend. And according to the comedian, sometimes the best thing was to just let Rudolph shine. This meant simply giving her friend "a moment to do what they need to do."
Maya Rudolph’s big family
Maya Rudolph is busy enough with all her acting gigs. Movies, TV, and numerous other roles make it seem like she can do it all. But even better, this superwoman is also a super mom. Rudolph has four children and she loves to talk about it. "I’m guilty of digressing to baby stuff," she told Vulture in an interview. And she admitted that’s part of the reason she decided to have multiple children. "I’m guilty of that thing where you have the baby and you’re like, ‘I don’t think I could ever do that again,’ and then one day you’re looking at your baby and go, ‘I miss having a tiny baby,’" Rudolph confessed. According to the actor, she has no plans to go any higher than four kids.
Rudolph’s husband, Paul Thomas Anderson, is a well-respected director in Hollywood. Some of his biggest films are There Will Be Blood and Boogie Nights. He and Rudolph met while she was on Saturday Night Live and have been together ever since. She’s also appeared in some of his films, including Inherent Vice. Rudolph recalled she filmed a scene in the movie only "four days after giving birth" to her fourth child. Rudolph lamented of the scene, "When I see my face … all I can see is the water weight."
Maya Rudolph explains her racial heritage
Maya Rudolph’s father was white and her mother Black. She remembers first asking her father what that meant in terms of race. And her dad responded, "Beautiful and unique," she told The Guardian. Or as Rudolph explained to most people growing up, she considered herself "mixed." The actor remembered growing up and watching The Cosby Show, in part because of Lisa Bonet. "There is no prettier creature in the universe," Rudolph said of Bonet to The New York Times. And because of what The Times described as "their shared racial background," Rudolph explained, "I’d be like, ‘I’m mixed, too!’"
When she joined the cast of Saturday Night Live, her family history came into play for her roles. Rudolph recalled to The Guardian, "People gave me Black characters to play. And they gave me white characters, too." For example, she has impersonated Donatella Versace, an Italian, Condoleezza Rice, a Black politician, and Paris Hilton, a white woman. "Because I never thought about myself one way or another, I think it helped my performances," Rudolph explained. According to the comedian, "I never think of the characters I play based on race. Ever. It doesn’t come into my head." And she’s not afraid to try impersonating men, too. Prior to her outstanding role as Vice President Kamala Harris, Rudolph impersonated the first Black president. "You know, I did Obama once when he was running and never made it to air, and I think that’s a good thing," she confessed to IndieWire.
How much is Maya Rudolph worth?
For her many performances, Maya Rudolph has become a regular at the Emmy Awards. She’s received nominations for her voice work on The Good Place, Big Mouth, and Saturday Night Live. For the latter two, she even took home the prizes for Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance and Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series in the same year. For all her work in movies and TV, Rudolph has amassed an impressive bank account. According to Celebrity Net Worth, Rudolph was reportedly worth $20 million in 2021.
With this money, Rudolph chose to spend part of it on comfortable living arrangements, namely the Tarzana, Calif. home she shared with husband Paul Thomas Anderson and their four children. That home "was acquired way back in 2000 for $2.3 million," via Dirt. Then, in 2021, Rudolph and Anderson relocated to Sherman Oaks, Calif. The two reportedly paid $2.6 million for the "walled and hedged mini-estate." With over 2800 square feet, the lush property is described as "park-like." This includes "a vine-encrusted pergola, grassy lawns, meandering pathways, fruit trees, and a majestic ancient oak."