More McKinnon, Please: The Climb Of SNL’s Brightest Star

18 September 2016 - Los Angeles, California - Kate McKinnon. 68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at Microsoft Theater. Photo Credit: AdMedia

One of the drawbacks of not having a Hillary Clinton Presidency—indeed, one of many—is that talented actress, comedienne, impersonator, and improvisational maven Kate McKinnon was robbed of four (to eight) years of portraying our first female commander-in-chief. Admittedly, perhaps the most important thing about an election is perhaps not the effect it has on our favourite entertainers. But still, following the results, a widely-held opinion was that we had been deprived of this singular piece of amusement. (Coincedentally, Darrell Hammond lost his job portraying Donald Trump to Alec Baldwin, and the Washington Post wrote an interesting piece on it).

However, Kate McKinnon is more talented and inventful than many gave her credit for. Since the failed election of Mrs. Clinton, McKinnon has given us some incredibly memorable impersonations of the White House Administration and those who have clashed with it, including Jeff Sessions, Betsy Devos, Angela Merkel, Kellyanne Conway, Mika Brzezinski, Theresa May, Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, and Robert Mueller.

For her work, she’s won a pair of Primetime Emmys along with many other awards, including USA Today’s Entertainer Of The Year — who knew they did more than colourful charts? She is currently still performing as a cast member on SNL, but surely that won’t last long; she is too great a performer to not be free for television, film, and everything in between and beyond.

Here’s more on what she has done and where she could go next.

Subverting Gender Stereotypes

It’s not just that McKinnon has taken to playing men; SNL and other sketch comedy shows have been dabbling in gender-bending for a long time. Rather, there are two noteworthy aspects of McKinnon’s approach. Firstly, she is spot on. Her Sessions isn’t a caricature (in part because he is a caricature himself); she is genuine and staggeringly accurate. This holds true across the impersonation board.

Secondly—and most importantly—she is mocking men who would have a real issue with it, as their stances towards women, free press, and comedy would suggest. These are people who advocate anti-women and anti-feminist policies, and I have to imagine that Sessions in particular really hates being portrayed by a woman.

Still, there is room for improvement. And there is one target worth mocking in particular. Public figures who are too serious, who are too closed off from the world, should be teased. And so Ms. McKinnon, should Beck Bennett ever need a breather, let us all please see you portray the man who calls his wife ‘mother’, that politician who can’t be alone with another woman: Mike Pence. That would really, really eat at the Vice President.

First Openly Gay SNL Cast Member

It’s surely noteworthy—a triumph, in fact—that this has finally happened, though at the same time, it’s unfortunate that the circumstances weren’t right for it to happen sooner. In one memorable sketch starring McKinnon, SNL offered some clever and blunt commentary, both personal and political. Portraying Hillary Clinton, McKinnon sits at a bar and chats with the bartender — who is, in fact, the real Hillary Clinton. McKinnon’s Clinton makes a jab at Clinton’s support of gay rights, which McKinnon’s remarks, “could have been sooner.”

Her sexuality also came to ingratiate itself in the Ghostbusters film of 2016, a movie unfortunately targeted by misogynistic trolls. Questions swirled around whether McKinnon’s character, scientist Dr. Jillian Holtzmann, was gay. She didn’t say, and nor did director Paul Feig. Until he did, sort of, and the studio stopped him, because…well, change is painfully slow.

Social Media

Speaking of trolls, McKinnon proudly and smartly avoids social media. She doesn’t have a Twitter or Instagram account, and yet somehow, miraculously, she gets on in the world! “I found myself never putting anything on it,” she told the New York Times about Facebook. “It just feels unnatural to me to broadcast anything other than the character I’ve created.”

It’s not only a smart and savvy move, as there seems to be little personal benefit from being a public figure and celebrity on the medium, but it’s also, as she implies, instinctual. It’s not a given that every celebrity must be constantly connected, involved, and available to masses of people.

The Future

McKinnon’s trajectory is the hope and ideal of so many comedians, and is one forged time after time by only the funniest of the funny. Sketch shows, stand up, and/or some web comedy (times have changed) can lead to a coveted spot on SNL. Opportunity is seized, talent lauded, skills acquired, and then it’s on to Hollywood.

It will be interesting to see what approach she will take, as it seems she is so versatile and talented that she could potentially do anything. Surely she will have a lead or a co-lead opportunity in time. I suppose Kristen Wiig would be a comparison, for better or worse, as she is the latest ultra-talented female to shine on SNL and transition to film. She has done a slew of movies, both big and small, comedic and dramatic, studio and indie. Amy Poehler and Tina Fey went on to TV as well as film, starring in and writing stories. Then there is Will Ferrell, who has made a ton of films — some great, and some…well, not so much.

McKinnon will feature in a forthcoming Netflix movie, Irreplaceable You, alongside Christopher Walker, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Steve Coogan. This would suggest following in Wiig’s path, as the film is said to be a dark, sweet, and comic drama about a support group for the terminally ill.

I, for one, want to see McKinnon star in films that continue to upset the most absurd and narrow-minded among us. Maybe an all-female remake of The Magnificent 7 or Reservoir Dogs? How about an all-lesbian remake of West Side Story? Also, she definitely needs to be in a new Disney live action film — maybe something eerie and magical like Pinocchio, or fun and lovely like The Little Mermaid.

The conclusion, however you draw it, is: more McKinnon, always.


Anthony Marcusa
Anthony Marcusa is a Toronto-based freelance journalist whose writing dabbles in film, TV, music, sports, and relationships – though not necessarily in that order. He’s simultaneously youthfully idealistic and curmudgeonly cynical. But he’s always curious.