November 22, 2012
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McKinnon the new Kristen Wiig?
By JIM SLOTEK, QMI Agency





Last week, Saturday Night Live's Kate McKinnon received a comic impressionist's ultimate compliment -- thumbs-up from a celebrity spoof-target.

The sketch saw "Ellen" welcome guest "Katie Holmes" (Anne Hathaway doing a spookily accurate impression). McKinnon's Ellen is all flapping arms, goofy dancing and "Please like me!" written over every movement.

Ellen DeGeneres not only tweeted her appreciation, but devoted a chunk of her actual show to it.

"It's weird to be impersonated," DeGeneres said. "You look at it going, 'Really, do I sound like that?' If you've listened to a recording of your voice, you think, 'That doesn't sound like me. It sounds like a cartoon character.' And I thought that same thing watching Finding Nemo. Bad example. You get the point."

Ellen added that she wanted to "bring her (McKinnon) to L.A. because I want her to attend Thanksgiving for me."

The validation came at an odd time, being as how the female talent on Saturday Night Live is like the pitching staff of the Miami Marlins. The best are gone, and relatively untested rookies will soon be touted as saviours. Still only a "feature player," McKinnon is "the new Kristen Wiig," which is one part a tremendous vote of confidence, and one part, perhaps, wishful thinking.

How bad is it? Actual cast members Nasim Pedrad and Vanessa Bayer are seldom seen. When Weekend Update did a mock video "dramatization" of David Petraeus's OTHER other woman, Lebanese-born socialite Jill Kelley, they passed over Pedrad in favour of another featured player, Cecily Strong (Pedrad is Iranian-born).

It's been a weird opportunity arc for women on the show in the past decade. SNL has been accused of sexism by its cast since the days of Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman. And the likes of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Janeane Garofalo and Sarah Silverman have all failed to crack SNL's "boy's club." Garofalo claimed to have basically been run off by Adam Sandler, Chris Farley and David Spade.

That clearly changed when Tina Fey was made both head writer and Weekend Update anchor. When I interviewed her at Montreal's Just For Laughs festival in 2003, she admitted to what the show had been ("I don't disagree with what Janeane said"), but added that the talent she'd hired was "evolved and very intelligent."

The proof would come with the ascendancy of the show's "Three Amigas" -- Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph. Wiig would follow, and finally leave this season (along with Abby Elliott, whose "Quirky Girl with Zooey Deschanel" sketch was a bit that kept me watching).

As for the future, it has to start in the writing room. As funny as the ex-Upright Citizens Brigade player McKinnon is, she lost a signature character, Ann Romney, on Nov. 6. And a week after her head-turning Ellen, she found herself playing Black Widow in a lame Avengers sketch with stiff host Jeremy Renner (the premise: Hawkeye runs out of arrows).

Not the best of times, creatively. Still, SNL has more lives than a herd of cats. It was 1985 when I first heard Lorne Michaels plead, "Could I get you all to stop writing the headline, 'Saturday Night Dead?' "

 




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