Ana Gasteyer on Oct. 2, 2014 in New York City.
Mark Sagliocco—Getty Images
January 11, 2015 2:02 PM EST

It’s been 12 years since Ana Gasteyer left Saturday Night Live, where she earned a name for herself via memorable sketches that ranged from celebrity impressions (such as Martha Stewart) to distinctive original characters, like an operatically trained high school music teacher (alongside Will Ferrell).

Since then, the 47-year-old actress and singer has made appearances everywhere from Broadway to Mean Girls. She’s even hit the recording studio, recently releasing an album of old-school jazz tracks, called I’m Hip.

Gasteyer has continued to make regular appearances on television, including spots on Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Good Wife and a regular spot on Suburgatory. The comedian continued that career track Sunday, when she appeared on the season four premiere of Girls, playing Shoshanna Shapiro’s mother. Before the premiere, Gasteyer spoke to TIME about the show, what it’s like working with Lena Dunham, her love of musicals and why the world needs a “hip” variety show.

TIME: You’re playing Shoshanna’s mom on this season of Girls.

Ana Gasteyer: I am!

How did that come about? Are you a fan of the show?

Oh, I think [Lena] is amazing. I think she’s a phenom. I mean that’s well documented, but I found her to an amazingly generous director, an amazingly kind director on set. I also just think she’s just a really wise woman. I think she writes beautifully for other people. I don’t think the show is at all fluffy or any millenial B.S. I think she’s an old soul.

So it was a good experience?

It was incredibly fun. I played a mom on Suburgatory — obviously I’m in the full-fledged mom stage of my career — and I feel like people often write mothers and daughters so similar. Like they’re little awkward mirrors of one another. But the truth is they are distorted mirrors of one another. The shadow parts of ourselves come out in our daughters [in a way] that we don’t intend. I feel like Lena wrote that incredibly well.

I mean Shoshanna is such a high-maintenance and intense character, and she has a lot of sadness to her. It was interesting to see the way that Lena addressed that, which was not to make this [character] a horrendous and controlling, perfectly put together mom, but to have her be incredibly smart and intense and little bit floppy.

I was super excited to be part of the fabric there.

Speaking of the show, I saw that you live-tweeted Allison Williams’ star turn in Peter Pan Live! back in December. You’re a veteran of both live television and theater — how do you think it went?

I have to say I thought it was great. I really did. Especially from the standpoint of the amount of choreography they pulled off in a live setting. I was very impressed frankly.

Even the community of comedians on Twitter — note that every one of us was watching Peter Pan Live! and super excited to do it together. There’s this crazy social media confluence where you find your people who are interested in cynicism, hilarity and have an appreciation for a great musical all at the same time.

And I love that they’re bringing back the musical.

You recently released a jazz album, I’m Hip. What prompted you to branch out into music?

I actually started as a singer. I went to Northwestern University as a music major and I was going to be a serious vocalist when I grew up — my mom wanted me to be an opera singer. So that was in Chicago, which you know is like the birthplace of improvisation and I [ended up] transferring out of the school of music and into the school of speech and theater.

I did my Broadway debut when I was still on SNL; I did The Rocky Horror Show. And I kept on doing theater.

Those novelty songs and those old-fashioned, good-time gal [songs] are a very natural fit for me both vocally and personally. I can be funny and wear a party dress, and it’s not confusing for anybody. It lives right between comedy and music.

Well, there’s also been a lot of talk recently about reviving variety shows that mix music and comedy. Maya Rudolph and Neil Patrick Harris have both signed on to do them in the last year. Would you ever be interested in doing something like that?

I would love to do variety show. But I think someone has to reinvent the [format].

What was so great about ‘70s variety shows was that they were really naive. And dumb. But if you actually go back and view that now, it’s not very interesting now to the savvy viewer. And people don’t want to see a parody of it. And modern versions — I mean, let’s face it: So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Got Talent are variety shows. And they are very popular. So finding kind of the hip version of that is the thing.

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