If there is one Saturday Night Live cast that is one of the most versatile it is Kate McKinnon. Since accession SNL in 2012, McKinnon has continued to impress with its comic chops in both original characters and celebrity impressions. Whether it’s nicely bizarre characters like the older Old Hollywood actress Debette Goldry and the volunteer Barbara DeDrew in the cat home, or spot-on impressions like e.g. Hillary Clinton and Ellen DeGeneres, McKinnon’s dedicated performance and sharpened sense of comic timing have led to her reputation as a reliable performer. Not to mention that she has achieved nine Emmy nominations (and two wins in 2016 and 2017) during her 10 years on the show, which made her SNL‘s longest permanent female cast.
Creating and designing an original character that brings consistent laughter with it can be difficult enough, but successfully imitating a real person has its own challenges. After all, if the impression does not land, the sketch risks becoming a flop. Fortunately, KcKinnon’s impressions are typically precise and packed with humor that elevates the sketch they appear in. Despite roles in films such as Bomb, Office Christmas party, and Ghostbusters (2016), is her celebrity impression work where she really shines. From political figures, to pop stars, to talk show hosts, here are her eleven best from her decade SNL.
McKinnon’s impression of the political consultant is as funny as it is wise. KcKinnon nails Conway’s voice, cadence and distant gaze, and the result is frighteningly accurate. But the best comes when McKinnon digs deep and falsifies Kellyanne’s lack of political knowledge as well as her desperation to be on TV. Whether in political cold opens or more monstrous sketches like Where in the world is Kellyanne Conway? and Kellywise (parodies Pennywise from Stephen King‘s That), McKinnon is completely dedicated to the role. The parody is smart, and the laughs are deserved.
Despite the fact that Cecilia Gimenez is not a celebrity or political figure, KcKinnon shows a funny portrayal of the 81-year-old Spanish woman who was notorious for “restoring” Elías García Martínez’s See the man fresco in 2012. McKinnon plays Gimenez with an exaggerated Italian accent and wide, expressive eyes, characteristics that are particularly humorous when KcKinnon-as-Gimenez insists there is nothing wrong with the now messy painting. “I’m no ruin,” she says, “I’m fixing it!” And who gave her permission to fix it? Well, none worse than Jesus himself. As Gimenez remembers the outrageous story that explains her attempts to recover, McKinnon’s commitment to the character and material brings it to a fun life.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Another McKinnon gem is the former Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She plays the eight-year-old Ginsburg as bubbly, witty and decidedly PG-13 for fun results. “I’m like a strange mole,” she says. “I’m small, but I can be dangerous.” Instead of matching Ginsburg’s physical characteristics, she instead copies her tone of voice, making her delivery of lines like: “The Grim Reaper came to me once, but I knocked his light out” even more amusing. Her lively attitude and penchant for spontaneous dance strengthens her as yet another character who earns her humor on clever writing and McKinnon’s commitment to the role. “You just got Ginsburned!”
4. Anthony Fauci
McKinnon’s impression of NIAID Director Anthony Fauci largely confirms that she can play anyone. She humorously plays the 81-year-old New York accent and exaggerates his uncertainty about the duration (and ending) of the pandemic. McKinnon often permeates the character with clever details that reflect what the audience might be thinking, especially in the face of confusion over the CDC’s ever-changing pandemic guidelines and Fauci’s time in the spotlight. “I want to go back to an anonymous hunk!” KcKinnon’s Fauci admits. Like Fauci, McKinnon goes on to show that she is ready for anything, making the impression a winner.
McKinnon’s Shakira appeared only in 3 sketches, but the impression is memorable. With his mimicry of Shakira’s distinctive voice and thick Colombian accent, McKinnon brings cheerfulness to his parody of the pop singer. Her Shakira is one with humorously fast, hard to understand speech, and the sheer exaggeration of it (especially Shakira’s thumb-dancing and manners) is what gives it its laugh and charm. From a Celebrity family feud sketch for one Now that’s what I call Christmas! parody, her Shakira is at once ridiculous, funny and strangely accurate.
As Germany’s former chancellor, McKinnon takes his performance from just an impression to an almost original character. Her Merkel is both nervous and doing poorly based on the results of the 2016 presidential election and manages to cope every day with her “German attempt[s] by sarcasm “and outspoken screams. It’s funny material and McKinnon sells it completely. Whether she describes her admiration for Barack Obama or her life in Germany, McKinnon’s Merkel impression is one of her most ridiculously funny.
With wonderfully exaggerated manners and facial expressions, McKinnon portrays Giuliani as a terrible (and funny) liar. Her Giuliani remains confident of fraud in the 2020 presidential election and promises to rectify it with strategies such as invoking “Opposite Day” and “suing all states.” The jokes are as outrageous as they are funny, and solidify Giuliani as a nutty caricature that McKinnon completely sells with his fierce commitment to authorship and character.
McKinnon’s parody of Ellen is one that is clearly performed with respect and admiration because it is spot-on. McKinnon manages in a fun way to capture the subtle parts of Ellen’s accent, statements and speech patterns that make the impression both familiar and humorously exaggerated. Her constant statement about “I am Ellen” is a particularly funny detail because it is a slogan that the real Ellen never says. Combined with McKinnon, who lovingly imitates Ellen’s sun-drenched personality, tumble in the chair and constant dancing, Ellen remains one of the most accurate – and outrageously funny – impressions in her repertoire.
Perhaps one of McKinnon’s best impressions, if not that best, is her Hillary Clinton. From appearances in political debates, Actually love parodies or bar sketches with the real Hillary Clinton, McKinnon’s portrayal of the former Secretary of State and presidential candidate are pure genius. With his big eyes, stiff laughter and inability to relax, KcKinnon’s Clinton has just enough of the real Clinton’s characteristics to land the humor of exaggeration. It’s also a particularly smart (and funny) character choice that McKinnon plays her as being completely obsessed with politics. Her consistent statement that “I have wanted to be president since before I was born” is a race across her many appearances, as it refers to herself in the third person giving the character and impression an extra layer of humor and ridiculousness.
McKinnon’s transformation into Warren is eerie. Her appearance, combined with her pitch-perfect voice impressions, makes the character a total success. She funny plays the enthusiastic yet whispering Warren, especially when McKinnon-as-Warren is asked to extrapolate the details of her Medicare plan. “When the numbers are so big, they just pretend,” she says. Focusing on your financial uncertainty gives the impression legs – and laughs. “Money does not exist.”
Wearing a bald cap and large prosthetic ears, McKinnon’s impression of the former US Attorney is completely ridiculous. Her sessions are like an innocent child, complete with memory problems and “playful death” when he does not want to answer potentially stressful questions. From appearances on Weekend Update to parodies of Elf on the Shelf and Forrest Gump, McKinnon as the “sneaky little liar” is a forgery that is as outrageous as it is funny.
“Look at your hand. Do you still have a ticket that says you’ve recently been to see Spider-Man? If so, then you have Covid.”
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