Kate McKinnon has moved to the top of the heap among “Saturday Night Live” players and her ascension has been helped a great deal by her unique impression of Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. With all things Hillary, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump being at the forefront of headlines it will be interesting to see if McKinnon can carry that public interest to her first win at the Emmy Awards after losing Comedy Supporting Actress twice in a row to Allison Janney (“Mom”).
While “SNL” hosts have dominated the Guest Actor/Actress categories at recent ceremonies, the regular cast has been surprisingly unrewarded throughout the show’s 40-year history. Only original cast members Chevy Chase (for Season 1) and Gilda Radner (Season 3) and 1990s regular Dana Carvey won Emmys while appearing in the show’s ensemble. Interestingly, both Chase and Carvey counted presidential impressions among their most popular characters. Chase’s clumsy pratfall-prone President Gerald Ford and Carvey’s “no new taxes” promising George H.W. Bush were audience favorites. Perhaps the impressions even figured into their election defeats. One-time cast member Tina Fey returned to “SNL” to play Sarah Palin in 2008 and again the sketch show played a large part in shaping the candidate’s image.
While few of the regular cast have won, looking back over the history of Emmy nominations does provide an interesting overview of who was considered the show’s MVP. In the early years when variety shows were a common type of show on TV, the academy had acting in variety show categories for both lead and supporting players. Quite a few of the original cast members (Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, as well as winners Chase and Radner) were nominated here and they usually competed against performers from “The Carol Burnett Show” and guest stars from other variety favorites of the time like “The Muppets” and “Cher.”
As variety shows dwindled in the 80s the academy eliminated the variety acting categories and created the Individual Performance in a Variety Series or Special category. “SNL” people competed against talk show hosts like Jay Leno and David Letterman, award show hosts like Billy Crystal for the Oscars, comedians for their stand-up specials and singers doing concerts. Though no one except Carvey ever managed to pull off a win, “SNL” managed to secure a slot in the competitive category for their most popular cast members of the time (Jon Lovitz, Mike Meyers, Phil Hartman, Molly Shannon, Will Ferrell).
In 2008 “SNL” and other sketch show casts began to compete in the regular comedy series categories (cast members in the supporting races and hosts in the guest races). Following the old pattern, most years since have seen one “SNL” performer competing in the supporting races. Amy Poehler was the first to be nominated followed by Kristin Wiig for four years running, Bill Hader for two and now McKinnon. None of these performers have managed to win an award despite the fact that “SNL” hosts Fey, Betty White, Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake have all won Emmys for their guest hosting chores (Fallon and Tiimberlake have each won twice).
Strangely Fey and Fallon only were able to win once they had given up their jobs as regular cast members. That brings us to the question of whether McKinnon can beak the losing trend this season. McKinnon has brought loads of popular characters to “SNL” including her Justin Bieber impression, but none have hit quite as big as her outright goofy take on Hillary Clinton. Clinton is not new to being satirized on “SNL” and eight other actresses have portrayed her during her many years in the public eye. Prior to McKinnon the most popular impersonator was Poehler who created a Clinton that was a serious hard-working politician constantly thwarted by her younger, cuter Republican rival Palin or a tightly-wound policy wonk who was desperately trying to loosen up and laugh to appear more likable.
McKinnon has assumed the character in her own unique way and made her a power hungry, dreamy, cigar-chomping eccentric who loves every second of her campaign. Earlier this season she even broke out in song with the real Clinton playing an understanding bartender. McKinnon just beams with joy through the role and clearly is relishing the opportunity she’s been given to take her superior comedic acting skills and use them at this pivotal moment in history. It remains to be seen whether this will be Clinton’s year but it is clear that McKinnon is performing at the top of her field and her moment has come.
Also in McKinnon’s favor is the new “Ghostbusters” remake where she stars front and center with Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Melissa McCarthy. If the film is a hit, that could help her Emmy chances as it did for McCarthy in 2011 with “Bridesmaids.” Emmy voters should take note.
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