Nepo Baby of the Week: Leave Maya Rudolph Alone


Maya Rudolph didn’t mean to make waves this week when she sat down with Dax Shepard for an episode of Armchair Expert, but alas, sometimes you don’t choose The Discourse™. Sometimes it chooses you.

It all started almost an hour into the episode, when Rudolph and Shepard were talking about their families, the biz, and their respective approaches to their careers. It was then that Rudolph’s famous family came up. Her mother was venerated soul singer Minnie Riperton, and her father is music producer Richard Rudolph. Riperton died in 1979 at the age of 31, when Maya was only 7 years old.

When Shepard noted that Rudolph seems to have a pretty healthy relationship with her career, she attributed part of that to how her parents raised her. In doing so, she accidentally ignited a nepo discourse that, frankly, seems pretty unfair.

After observing that her musical parents and their peers seemed “relaxed” about their careers, Rudolph pivoted to another subject. (Or, maybe she didn’t right away; you can tell from the audio that this podcast episode, like most, has been edited for time and clarity—so it’s worth noting that it’s hard to tell which comments are continuous and which have been spliced together.)

“My trajectory was I wanted to go to New York, and I wanted to be on Saturday Night Live,” Rudolph said. “I understand that drive to be somewhere else, forage in a new city and create my own path. But that’s a huge undertaking,” she continued. “I wasn’t like, ‘Oh, my dad writes songs, that’s gonna make me a comedian.’ There was no direct line. I knew I had to get there myself.”

I’m sure you’ll be shocked—just shocked—to learn that the Reddit commentariat has been less than generous about these remarks.

Redditors have pointed out that simply by growing up in the entertainment industry with famous parents, Rudolph has an advantage. They’ve called out that she graduated from the Santa Monica high school Crossroads, where she befriended Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow. And they’ve wondered why, oh why, famous people have so much trouble acknowledging their privilege.

Here’s the thing, though: This isn’t a case of some celebrity with A-list parents dodging a direct question about being a nepo baby. No one had even asked her about that. This is a casual conversation between friends, in which Rudolph shares her observations about growing up around folks who worked in one corner of the industry and then making a move to another.

If asked directly how she feels about the “nepo baby” label or how her upbringing might have privileged her, Rudolph may offer a different, more considered response. Or she wouldn’t! But the point is that for right now, we don’t actually know what Rudolph thinks about how her parents’ status affected her marketability because that’s not what this discussion was about.

As Rudolph observed, the music industry has changed since her mother’s day. Riperton released her top single “Lovin’ You” in 1974, two years after she gave birth to Rudolph. Its melody came from a lullaby that Riperton had sung to her young daughter, and although the radio version ends the song early, you can faintly hear Riperton singing “Maya, Maya, Maya” as her voice fades out.

Back during her parents’ time in the spotlight, Rudolph noted, there was no MTV. “It’s interesting, because my mom was a singer that not all my friends were that aware of at the time,” she told Shepard. When she started on SNL, it was the same deal, especially because she and her mother don’t share a last name. “People didn’t really know she was my mom, and they figured it out later,” Rudolph said. “So, look, when you’re a kid and your mom dies, you don’t want people to know that.”

Clearly, Rudolph doesn’t believe she got to where she is solely because of her parents’ fame, and even the most frustrated commenters on Reddit seem to agree with that. At the same time, if folks want to engage with the relative advantages of growing up with a beloved singer as a mother, they might also do well to consider the devastation of losing one’s mother at age seven, and the pain of having said mother brought up again and again by fans, industry colleagues, and random strangers on the internet.

In other words, can we all just take step back and chill out?

Check out our past Nepo Babies of the Week.

This post was originally published on Daily Beast

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