January 6, 1984– Kate McKinnon:
“I always gravitate towards things that are not beautiful, but broken and weird and fascinating.”
I had all but given up on it, after the second year back in 1977 when it stopped being funny, except for that enticing period when 19-year-old Eddie Murphy brought it back to life, so it is nice to have Saturday Night Live back on an up-swing, doing what SNL does best, biting political humor featuring great impressions from the cast of those seeking power. From Dan Aykroyd’s Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama as done by Fred Armisen, Dana Carvey’s George H.W. Bush, Will Ferrell as George W. Bush, the late, great Phil Hartman or Darrell Hammond as Bill Clinton, and most wonderful of all, Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin word-for-word.
Although NBC’s 40 year old sketch show has always been at its best when skewering American politics. Kate McKinnon’s spot-on Hillary Clinton is especially deliciously demented. Those last few months of Mckinnon’s HRC matched by Alec Baldwin as Rapey Von Tinyfingers were too funny and fearless. Those opening moments from the past autumn’s shows got me through the misery. I’ve got to hand it to her, out and proud McKinnon has been killing it on SNL since joining the cast in 2012.
She was born Kate McKinnon Berthold and she grew up on Long Island. McKinnon is a gifted musician and musical mimic. As a kid, she played piano, guitar and cello, plus she performed in school productions. After graduating from high school, McKinnon majored in Theatre at Columbia University.
McKinnon, got her big break in television as part of the ensemble cast of Big Gay Sketch Show on all-gay, all-day The Logo Network. She was cast after a series of grueling auditions for the show’s producer Rosie O’Donnell. One of my favorites of her many memorable characters on that series was Fitzwilliam, the young English boy who wishes to be a girl.
McKinnon joined the cast of Saturday Night Live as a featured player with the departure of Kristen Wiig, who left the show to pursue a career in films. In May 2013, McKinnon played Wiig’s mother when the former cast member guest-starred on an episode of SNL.
McKinnon is one of only a two openly gay Not-Ready-For-Primetime Players in the history SNL history. Gay guy Terry Sweeney was first hired a writer on SNL in 1983 and he became part of the cast in 1985-86 season. But, Sweeney was conspicuously missing from the former cast members at the SNL 40th Reunion Special in 2015, even though his hysterical Nancy Reagan imitation was a highlight of the show during the middle of the Reagan era. He was in good company; besides Sweeney, Robert Downey, Jr., Joan Cusack, and Randy Quaid were also fired from the landmark show at the end of the eleventh season. Lesbian Danitra Vance was also fired from the cast during that year, but she was not out of the closet during her time on the show. Vance was taken by cancer in 1994. Tellingly, she was especially good as Diahann Carroll playing Dominique Deveraux on a Dynasty take-off, featuring Sweeney as Joan Collins.
Paula Pell was the second female head writer on SNL (after Tina Fey) and the first openly LGBTQ head-writer, but this year the show added a new gay writer, Chris Kelly.
McKinnon has been one of the few breakout actors on SNL in this century. She has also worked doing voice-overs, appearing in animated series like Ugly Americans (2014-15). She regularly performs sketch with the NYC edition of Upright Citizens Brigade, and in her one-person shows, including Kate McKinnon On Ice, Disenchanted, and Best Actress.
In 2009, McKinnon received Logo’s NewNowNext Award for Best Rising Star. She has been nominated for three Emmy Awards for Best Supporting Female Actor In A Comedy Series, and another for Outstanding Original Song. She won that Emmy in 2016. McKinnon also won the 2014 American Comedy Award.
I find her to be smart & hilarious, especially with her original characters, but her imitations of famous people are the work of a cracked genius imagination: Ingrid Bergman, Justin Bieber, Susan Boyle, Penélope Cruz, Robert Durst, Edie Falco, Jodie Foster, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Janet Huckabee, Kris Jenner, Billie Jean King, Lorde, Ed Sheeran, Martha Stewart, Tilda Swinton, Keith Urban and former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz; they have all gotten the McKinnon treatment.
I thought it was remarkable to watch her do Ellen DeGeneres for Ellen on her show, and her Justin Bieber is uncanny, but affectionate. She can even imitate Jane Lynch, I mean, who apes Jane Lynch?
Saturday Night Live has been presenting Hillary impressions for 25 years, with versions played by Jan Hooks, Janeane Garofalo, Ana Gasteyer, and deliciously by Amy Poehler. Of HRC, her most famous creation, McKinnon says:
“A good impression is sort of a juxtaposition of disparate elements. For instance, Angela Merkel, to me, is a very emotional German. She may not be in real life, but that’s how the writers and I conceived of the character. With Hillary, it’s that she’s a staunch, passionate lady, and in our culture, unfortunately, there’s something funny about that. What I find so lovable about her is her conviction. And I feel like I have that. I just love how badly she wants to fix stuff. I would like to do that. I’m just not smart enough.”
I have watched bits and pieces of SNL since its debut in 1975 and McKinnon is as strong as any cast member of any season. Like Hartman, she is the glue that holds many of the sketches together. Like the late, great, brilliant Gilda Radner, she can turn mundane material to measured mayhem. Like Eddie Murphy, she brings lunacy and anarchy to a franchise that can use a kick in the pants.
Last summer, McKinnon appeared with Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and Sigourney Weaver in that very unnecessary Ghostbusters reboot.
The opening sketch on Saturday Night Live on November 12th took an unexpected and somber tone when McKinnon portrayed a defeated Hillary Clinton, simply singing Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen:
“I did my best, it wasn’t much, I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch. I told the truth, I didn’t come to fool ya. And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.”
At the end, McKinnon directly addressed the camera, and said:
“I’m not giving up, and neither should you…and live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”