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Ego Nwodim Explains How SNL's "Strong and Wrong" Lisa from Temecula Was Born

"I love playing characters who are strong and wrong, who are disruptive and indignant about it. Lisa was a perfect dream for me," Nwodim shared in a new interview.

By Christopher Rudolph

Grab your steak knife and get ready to dig into some Saturday Night Live lore.

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In a new interview for Vulture's Good One podcast, Season 49 cast member Ego Nwodim, who joined the show in 2018, explains the genesis of some of her most memorable — and absurd — characters. Those include Veronda the "rich auntie with no kids," Charlotte the stingray, Father Lawrence, and of course, Lisa from Temecula.

Originally introduced in Season 48 during Pedro Pascal's episode, Nwodim’s straight-talking, tough-steak-loving Lisa was an instant hit — in part thanks to Pascal and Bowen Yang breaking character, turning the sketch into this generation's "Debbie Downer." 

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Nwodim's Lisa appeared once more during Season 48, and returned in Season 49 during Josh Brolin’s March 9 episode. Like Pascal before him, Brolin wasn’t immune to Lisa's ridiculous table shaking as he tried his hardest to keep a straight face.

Bowen Yang Kenan Thompson Josh Brolin and Ego Nwodim during a sketch on Saturday Night Live Episode 1858

"Lisa from Temecula" was co-written by Gary Richardson and Alex English

"I just remember [SNL writers] Gary Richardson and Alex English saying she’s an auntie. I have played all kinds of aunties, and Lisa is her own version of an auntie," Nwodim told Good One Host Jesse David Fox. "I love playing characters who are strong and wrong, who are disruptive and indignant about it. Lisa was a perfect dream for me."

"The thing is Lisa thinks that steak is amazing, and she’s so oblivious to any alternative options. All she’s concerned about is what she likes," Nwodim continued. "She’s not concerned about what anyone thinks of it. And to Lisa, she couldn’t possibly care about shaking the table. She sees no problem with enjoying her meal."

Lisa from Temecula

The Season 49 cast member also revealed that the steak was an integral part of selling the sketch, with a piece of meat actually being delivered to her during the table read so she could saw into it.

Ego Nwodim at an SNL dinner party in front of a green background

Why Lisa from Temecula wears that pink sweater

The audience was introduced to Lisa From Temecula in her bright pink sweater, and Nwodim credited SNL's "remarkable" costume designer, Tom Broecker, with finding Lisa's now iconic outfit.

"He presented me with a few options, and I saw that sweater Lisa wears," she told Fox. "That is an ugly sweater, but it’s the sweater of a woman who really thinks she’s f-----g doing it. I was like, 'That is the sweater hands down. It’s loud. It’s got a point of view. And I bet you the woman who wears that thinks she’s f-----g killing it.'"

Lisa from Temecula: Wedding

In between the table read and dress rehearsal there were some changes to the sketch: It was originally called "Birthday Dinner," and Lisa wasn't "from Temecula" yet. It was SNL creator Lorne Michaels who said the character should have a more memorable name.

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"Friday evening, Lorne calls us into his office. I was like, he’s going to just say, 'Hey, guys. Lovely idea, but it’s not going to work,'" Nwodim recalled. "Every step of the way, I just thought, It’s too silly. I’m having so much fun doing it. No way does it go."

"But he called us in to tell us to give the character a name. It was [originally] just 'My baby sister Lisa is joining us.' And Lorne said to try to give her a more memorable name so people can cling to that. We came up with a bunch of names mashed together," she continued.

"It was brilliant on his part... it all just, in such a kismet way, came together," she added. "It was pure play. It was so playful."