Ghostbusters is finally upon us, and early reports say that Kate McKinnon is a breakout star of the film. For those of us who have long loved McKinnon’s run on Saturday Night Live this comes as no real surprise. So cuddle up with your Jillian Holtzmann Pop figure and join us as we look at some of McKinnon’s best sketches from the late night behemoth.
Angela Merkel Responds to NSA Wiretapping
McKinnon’s performance as German Chancellor Angela Merkel dealing with the fallout of the NSA wiretapping scandal is just brilliant. Presenting a character teetering on the edge of a personal breakdown is a tightrope walk of its own. Too far in one direction and it feels overdone, too far the other way and the stakes aren’t high enough. She manages to take her Merkel as far as she needs to in order to get the laugh, and pull her back just in time for that laugh to actually last.
In general, I don’t care for most mockeries of Justin Bieber. It’s not that I have a particular fondness for him, but more that I feel like I do such a good job of avoiding his presence in my life that the only time he finds his way in is through memes or Facebook posts from angry middle-aged white guys who can’t stand that something isn’t for them. Yet, I adore McKinnon’s impression of him. Of all of her characters, it is perhaps the one she plays the most straight, just doing a dead-on sincere recreation of him, which allows the absurdity of the writing to shine.
“What You Want To Say”
Featuring the song “Brave” by Sara Bareilles, this musical sketch starred McKinnon along with Ghostbusters castmates Leslie Jones and Cecily Strong and host Dakota Johnson proudly declaring a new anthem for the modern woman. There are very few bits of actual girlpower in the song, but quite a bit of delightful ludicrous dancing.
Speaking of delightful dancing, a move that SNL rarely attempts is a sketch that relies largely on long stretches of pure physical comedy that is light on the dialogue. It’s a risky move, considering how precious airtime is on the show, so when it happens it has to land hard. There was seemingly no fear in that with this sketch, where McKinnon literally goes toe to toe with a legend of physical comedy, Jim Carrey, that even made Sia herself “squeeeee.”
When it comes to SNL political impressions, there are two major approaches, some who go more for accuracy and some who simply look a lot like them and have fun with it. McKinnon definitely falls into the latter category, which is fine. Hillary has been parodied by pretty much every blonde woman who has even served time on the show since Jan Hooks in the early 90s, and most recently by Amy Poehler during the 2008 election, the impression that most modern SNL fans still think of. McKinnon has managed to make the character of Hillary her own, with a solid layer of desperation that grew through the embattled primary against Bernie Sanders. As is a rite of passage for any celebrity impersonation on the show these days, McKinnon eventually got to do hers in a scene with the actual Secretary Clinton in the most recent series’ premiere.
In one of her earliest breakout sketches, McKinnon appeared on Weekend Update as Russian character Olya Povlatsky to discuss the recent meteor shower with then Update host Seth Myers. The character, who has returned several times, is a popular one for McKinnon, establishing her as master when it comes to the comedic marriage of dark humor with a silly execution.
A sure sign of when a sketch is truly something special is when the cast is unable keep their faces straight during the performance. Considering how many times these get rehearsed and how much time is spent in the production of comedy, for a performance to get through all that and require the actors to have to work around their breaks means there’s a real magic to it.