"SNL" Needs to Take Kate McKinnon Off the Bench

Only on Saturday Night Live would it be beside the point that Kate McKinnon is the show’s first openly gay woman. Since her debut just over a year ago, she has single-handedly revived the perennial show’s long lineage of searing, spot-on impersonations that rival those of Darryl Hammond, Gilda Radner and Martin Short. Her versions of Shakira, Penelope Cruz, Jodie Foster and Edie Falco don’t just come close; like any good caricature, they actually redefine the way you see the original person.

And yet, McKinnon is used so sparingly it begs putting the question to Lorne Michaels: What the hell are you waiting for? Her talent is bigger and brighter than some of your full-time cast members. She's your ticket out of the malaise that has beset Season No. 38.

McKinnon’s “I’m Ellen” take on Ellen DeGeneres has earned not only kudos – Vulture called it “amazing” and Jezebel said it was a “match made in doppelganger heaven” – but it also earned her a visit to the eponymous gab-fest that featured the actor and host in identical clothes dancing to Justin Timberlake. Could it get any better?

Kate struck me the first time when, seemingly out of nowhere, she nailed Tabitha Coffey in a sketch spoofing “Tabitha Takes Over” on Bravo. I’ve only seen this Tabitha person peripherally, but it was so good that I was instantly hooked. Comparisons to Kristin Wiig are apt here, for one because Wiig launched herself on the SNL stage doing an eerily exact version of Karen Walker from Will & Grace, and went on to do many more.

When news of the Spanish fresco Jesus "restoration" hit - in keeping with how SNL can spin cultural controversies into comedy gold - McKinnon visited "Weekend Update" as elderly painter Cecilia Gimenez, who said she already had the go-ahead from above. "Why everybody so mad at me? I have permission from Jesus. It's more accurate now. He came to me in a dream, and he look at me with his enormous, round monkey face, and Jesus had broken his arm, so I wrap up in a little jelly-roll scroll."

The 29-year old comedienne shows another type of range with her version of “Long Island Medium” Theresa Caputo, where she walks up to people in supermarkets and gets right to the point, with mile-long press-on nails and helmet hair.

The real Caputo tweeted her approval just after the show aired. I haven’t seen the actual show, but McKinnon sounds eerily reminiscent of another of my favorite sketches, “Bronx Beat” with Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph. I mean, c'mon: Where else would you see underarm hairspray?

More recently McKinnon played a very randy Martha Stewart, who had just joined (yes, that actually happened). “I want a successful man for intercourse,” McKinnon's fictitious, pining Stewart said in her manly deadpan. “Of course, the simple elegance of a good bang. Someone with calloused hands and no debt.”

To the extent Ann Romney is lampoon-able, McKinnon played her straight during the heat of the 2012 presidential campaign with this delicious zinger: “If you think I’m unrelatable, check out Callista Gingrich. She looks like a character from Mars Attacks.”

For a player on SNL for only a short year, notices of her talent and funniness abound. So, to the Saturday Night Live producers: get off your asses and make McKinnon a full-time player. You’d launch the show out of the doldrums and put a spring in your step for the 2013-2014 season. She’s got a Kristin Wiig-type legacy waiting to be written, and by elevating her you’ll do yourselves a huge favor. And us as well.

Will Pollock is an Atlanta-based freelance culture and entertainment writer. He writes about politics, pop-culture and other nonsense on his blog, and you can follow him on Twitter.

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