Kate McKinnon Debuts as ‘SNL”s Newest Cast Member

SNL debuted a new cast member last night (or “featured player,” if you’re one to bother with that distinction). Kate McKinnon is the first openly gay female cast member in the show’s history (with Danitra Vance being the first female gay cast member, period, as we came to learn after her death). This is 27 years after Terry Sweeney became the first openly gay male cast member in the show’s history. Next thing you’re gonna expect me to believe is that the show actually has a white guy impersonating the first black president, even though there’s a more-than-qualified black guy on the cast who’s proven he can do the same impersonation at least as well (even if this proof has come away from the show’s own stage). For all its progressiveness, things work funny on SNL sometimes.

But maybe real progressiveness is not caring. Maybe real progressiveness is caring about funny to the point where none of the other stuff even matters. Besides, McKinnon doesn’t read as lesbian in any of the stereotypical ways, and in her first night out she played Penelope Cruz, fully accented, as well as somebody named Tabitha Coffey, who (I have it on good authority) is a real person, and a lesbian who also fails to indulge butch stereotypes. None of these characters reads as gay any more than McKinnon herself does. What this means is that SNL didn’t hire her to meet any kind of cultural quota, and that she’ll be able to fill all kinds of female roles.

That’s important, considering all the talent the show might hemorrhage at the end of this year. Most of that talent is male, but some of it is Kristen Wiig. If Jason Sudekis and Andy Samberg leave as well, along with (as has also been rumored) Bill Hader, it will be the biggest single-season loss of talent since 1980. Bigger, actually, because by 1980 Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi had already left the previous year, while Chevy Chase had left three years before them.

She comes to SNL from the Upright Citizens Brigade by way of The Big Gay Sketch Show. And although it’s stupid to make any ambitious pronouncements about a new cast member after only one episode, one thing we’ll say is that she can play a strong variety of roles, if written for properly by herself and others. That’s good, too, because one other thing we can confidently claim is this: She’s certainly going to need to.

Lary Wallace is a contributing editor for The Faster Times. He can be reached at emersonian@ymail.com. ...read more


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