Kristen Wiig Bids Farewell to ‘SNL’
Just about the only time you’ll ever see an SNL player suppressing emotion onscreen is when she’s trying to fight back the laughter that comes at the telling of her own or somebody else’s lines. This kind of lapse is so common, it even has its owns shorthand trade-name now–they call it breaking on camera–but Kristen Wiig did a whole different kind of breaking last night when she bid farewell, and it wasn’t anywhere near as contrived or maudlin or self-absorbed as you may have expected. You found yourself being moved in spite of yourself.
They did it with the right light touch of humor and class. The very last sketch of the show—notoriously known as the five-to-1 slot, where the least-promising sketch of the week typically gets dumped—they quietly chose to make this the venue for acknowledging Wiig’s remarkable seven-year run. I can’t think of another time in all 36 of the show’s other season-finales when something similar has occurred.
The whole conceit was a high-school graduating class, with host Mick Jagger acting in the role of headmaster. He wants to give special acknowledgment to “one particular student who is leaving this summer to become a nun: Kristen.” That’s when Bobby Moynihan pops up, but Jagger says, “No, sorry. The other Kristen,” and when Wiig gets up, we know we’ve got one foot inside the world of the sketch, and the other inside the real world of the show itself. The feeling is vertiginous and slightly disorienting.
“You’ve meant quite a lot to us over these past seven years,” Jagger says, stage-whispering parenthetically, “She got held back,” Kristen acting embarrassed. He says they’ve ”prepared a song to say goodbye,” the band moving into “She’s a Rainbow” before Wiig can get out of her graduation gown and start dancing with Jagger, slow-twirling into the understated arrangement. Then she dances with everyone, in succession: the newest male cast-members first, then the females as one, before all the other males, also in succession, each one putting something personal and idiosyncratic into it.
Emotional but keeping her composure, by the time Andy Samberg sets her down and Lorne Michaels steps in to take his turn, she’s already wiping away tears. Then the band segues seamlessly into “Ruby Tuesday,” which itself segues into the goodbyes, the song still playing over Jagger as he does the send-off, everybody singing and clapping behind him, even some old cast-members from earlier in Wiig’s run. The refrain “Who could ever hang a name on you, when you change with every new day?” would play as pure schmaltz in almost any other context, but because they’ve consciously chosen here not to give her full name or to officially acknowledge her departure, and because the sheer range of her characters and impressions speaks to a pure unclassifiability, a certain un-nameability, the whole thing plays subtly and ineffably right. Only Phil Hartman, of all the cast-members in the show’s history, has served as both mentor and innovator, eliciting such affection and respect from colleagues. Wiig’s farewell was literal yet oblique, dignified yet silly. And it was perfectly appropriate in that.
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