Tag Archives: Michaela Watkins

Gratuitious Search Term Bait of the Day: Ladies Night

Over on the wonderful Splitsider it’s “Women in Comedy Week,” so perhaps that’s why today we had the search term “best female cast members in snl history.”  If that’s the case, we welcome those readers.  And if that’s not why you’re here, we’re still thrilled to have you.

What would bring you to this site would most likely be a pair of in-depth SNL posts we’ve presented in previous years.  The first, Lorne Michaels Dismisses Michaela Watkins and Casey Wilson & It Makes Sense: SNL Past, Present and Future, we put together in the fall of 2009 to address concerns of SNL restricting its female constituency.  The second, The Real Women of SNL: They are Fambily; Plus: a Totally Unnecessary Look Back at the History of Female Not Yet Ready for Primetime Players, we posted last November following the SNL compilation special celebrating its female cast members, capitalizing on the momentum begun when Betty White hosted earlier in the year.  We think that both posts are two of our best, most informative pieces, so we’re happy to have the chance to link to them again.  And, for further reading, we recommend The Groundbreaking Women of Sketch Comedy, one of contributions to the aforementioned Women of Comedy Week on Slipsider.

And, of course, we’re going to leave you with an SNL sketch focused on the female contingent.  But instead of looking back on the past greats, let’s look forward to the future of women on SNL:

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Filed under Gratuitous Search Term Bait, Saturday Night Live, Yvonne Hudson

The Real Women of SNL: They are Fambily; Plus: a Totally Unnecesary Look Back at the History of Female Not Yet Ready for Primetime Players

Well, despite our reminder to you last week, we eagerly arrived home on Monday night only to be severely disappointed when we realized that we had neglected to set our DVR to record the Women of SNL special.  We had been looking forward to it ever since Jon Hamm delivered his goodbyes the day before, but the thought never occurred to us that our SNL season pass would not apply to the female-centric primetime special.  OUR BAD.

To add to our dismay, neither NBC.com nor Hulu is hosting the full special.  However, it appears that the only original material included a few one-on-one interviews and this excellent take on the Real Housewives (we’re going to go ahead and say they’re primarily targeting RH of NJ over the other installments, with Amy Poehler, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Laraine Newman channeling the nascent RH of Beverly Hills via satellite).

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Read on: We speculate on what was in the special and then give an SNL history lesson. Get out your notebooks!

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Filed under Analysis, Good Humor, Lists, Saturday Night Live, Yasmine Bleeth, Yvonne Hudson

‘SNL’ Shake-Ups & Sensationalism: Slate & Sudeikis

It’s hard to believe that a year has passed by since we waved goodbye to Michaela Watkins (we hardly knew ye) and Casey Wilson (probably for the best) and welcomed with skeptical arms the rookies Jenny Slate and Nasim Pedrad.  And it’s sad to report that a year later we’re already saying goodbye to the former of that dynamic young duo.  And once again, the changes are sure to raise eyebrows.  However, this time around, we don’t have a good theory as to what precipitated the moves.

With Will Forte’s departure two weeks ago the whispers began to circulate and the dominoes began to fall.  Except, they really didn’t fall so much as erect themselves next to already firmly planted playing pieces, with Taran Killam (best known from Scrubs), Paul Brittain and Vanessa Bayer from the iO Chicago, and Jay Pharoah, a comedian and talented impressionist, joining the cast, while veterans Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis, Kenan Thompson – rumored to possibly be following Forte out the door – remain (as of press time) at their posts.  So it came as a bit of a shock when word got out yesterday that the show had released a cast member, but not one of its established male veterans with s burgeoning film careers (or even Kristen Wiig, who may have already over-stayed her welcome a season or two), but, instead, Slate, who had only put in a season’s worth of work.

Now, if you recall last year’s history lesson on women & SNL, you’ll recall that going into the season with four women (Slate, Pedrad, Wiig & Abby Elliott most recently) was on the high side.  In fact, going a whole season with four veteran female cast members is just about as good as it’s ever been on the show.  So, with the addition of Bayer, it’s not surprising that SNL & head honcho Lorne Michaels decided to cut loose a lady.  It was a numbers game.  That we understand.  But then why add one in the first place?

Read on: The curious case of Jenny Slate. Also, Jason Sudeikis is the new Ben Affleck.

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Filed under Analysis, Flashback!, Saturday Night Live, Yvonne Hudson

Big Week for Yvonne Hudson (And Other Forgotten SNL Cast Members)

Yvonne HudsonIn a feature I’ve been meaning to link to for days, NY Mag’s Vulture blog slideshowed “The Michaela Watkins Club,” a gallery of other not yet ready for prime time players who had blink and you missed it stints on SNL.  When researching for my post analyzing the dismissal of Watkins and Casey Wilson, I noted these brief tenures, and it’s a fun piece.  It’s also interesting (And encouraging.  And simultaneously defeating.) that the roster of comedians who quickly got the hook varies from stars like Ben Stiller, Damon Wayans and Janeane Garafalo to others who faded into obscurity like Patrick Weathers, Dan Vitale and Emily Prager (who never actually appeared in a sketch, so I guess she also started in obscurity).   And I also enjoy that Paul Schaffer moved over from the SNL band and had a brief turn as a featured cast member,

One gripe, however: the inclusion on this list of veteran SNL writers Jim Downey (James to you), Alan Zweibel and Tom Schiller.  Sure, their appearances as cast members might have been relative failures, but between the three of them they amass writing credits for 742 SNL episodes, not including specials.  Citing Downey seems particularly egregious considering that by himself he boasts 488 SNL writing credits (and counting) and is one of if not the main voice for political humor at SNL .  The feature also notes that Downey, “might be best known for penning the majority of Norm MacDonald’s jokes during his controversial reign as anchor of Weekend Update.”  While he did he did receive some attention for this, I would argue that after 22 years of working on the show (with a few gaps in there) he had his most visible and acclaimed run last season, penning the Democratic Presidential Debates sketches that received so much press.  There’s no denying that the show was lauded last season for its election year sketches, and with Downey at the heart of the political commentary it seems silly to include him on a list of all-time SNL casting miscues.  And, at the very least, he might be better known as Andy Samberg’s Dad (and Jonah Hill’s boyfriend).

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Quick Jim Downey trivia:

  1. Appeared in There Will be Blood as the proprietor of a real estate office (with a heck of a beard).
  2. Uncle to Robert Downey, Jr.

And speaking of Paul Schaffer, you got any gum?

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Lorne Michaels Dismisses Michaela Watkins and Casey Wilson & It Makes Sense: SNL Past, Present and Future

Michaela WatkinsThe news broke late on Friday that Michaela Watkins and Casey Wilson were not asked back for Saturday Night Live’s 35th season.  This development came on the heels of the announcement earlier in the week that comediennes Jenny Slate and Nasim Pedrad had been chosen as the newest not yet ready for prime time players.  The addition of these two was to the relief of many who thought that SNL needed a greater female presence, especially to spell Kristen Wiig, whose MVP performance last season has been well documented.  In light of the two new cast members, the news Watkins’ and Wilson’s departures has been met with surprise, but a closer look indicates that the selection of new blood was a portent of things to come.

Full disclosure, I had heard a rumor a couple weeks ago that Wilson would not be back, and since that time I had scoured the web for articles supporting the claim.  When I heard of the selection of Slate and Pedrad I immediately thought it led credence to Wilson’s departure.  Still, there was no news on that, and I was surprised that none of the reports I read introducing the new cast memberCasey Wilsons speculated on what it meant for the future of the current cast.  I last searched for stories relating possible SNL exits late Thursday night, the evening before we learned that Casey Wilson, along with Michaela Watkins, had been let go.  So yes, it seemed like a shock.  But while the timing might have seemed like a blindside, SNL history proves we should have seen this coming.

SNL has always been a boys club, and, despite the Wiigs and Poehlers and Feys, will likely continue to be so.  A look at the math demonstrates it highly unlikely that Lorne Michaels would have started the season with the two female additions without cutting one or two incumbents from the squad.  Slate and Petrad are joining current members Wiig and SNL legacy Abbie Elliott, and had Wilson and Watkins been retained that would have totaled six female cast members to begin season 35.  No SNL season has ever started a season with six females in the cast.  The closest they have come was 1991-1992 season in which Beth Cahill became the sixth female in mid-November (joining Victoria Jackson, Julia Sweeney, Ellen Cleghorne, Siobhan Fallon and Melanie Hutsell).  In addition the the half dozen mark not being reached until mid-season, one must recall that this came during the over-capacity casts of the early 90s when Lorne Michaels was admittedly building a JV team of comics (Farley, Sandler, Spade, etc) to succeed the the old guard (Carvey, Myers, Hartman, etc).  So the high volume of estrogen was more a biproduct of a bulging cast, not a real movement to emphasize the talents of budding comediennes.  This was also the season that employed so many cast members that the opening credits contained two sets of Featured Player introductions, the first being “spontaneous” moments of Beth Cahill - Featured Player BRob Schneider Featured Player A

the cast in various situations (Rob Schneider buying a movie ticket!) and then a second round of featured players shown only through head shots.  Beyond this six female aberration, the show has mostly subsisted with 3 -4 female members.  Indeed the first five seasons brought us only three women, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtain and Lorraine Newman, and from 95-99 we were treated to another funny female threesome (Cheri Oteri, Molly Shannon, and Ana Gasteyer).  Later the number did reach five,  but this included Tina Fey who only appeared on Weekend Update, and seasons when several of the women missed significant time on maternity leave (including Amy Poehler last season, followed by her exit to star in Parks and Recreation).  So while I in no way intend to imply that it would be wrong to present a cast with six women, the SNL’s past shows that there is no precedent for this.

So six was too many.  However, could they have settled for five?  Most reaction has indicated little surprise that Lorne Michaels waved goodbye to Casey Wilson.  Indeed, in one and a half seasons she had yet to make her mark, and despite earnest efforts it did not seem that she was embraced by the audience in the studio or at home.  To her credit, she did poke fun at her standing with fan in a recent Funny Or Die video, so at least she’s a good sport, and I think this Tango and Cash re-creation she did with Janeanne Garafalo served her better than anything she ever did at SNL.   And you don’t get on SNL by accident, so I have no doubt that she’s talented; however the annals of SNL  are filled with Yvonne Hudsons and Jeff Richardses and broken dreams, and now she’s another victim (but lest we not forget Wilson’s web video co-star Garafalo once upon a time had a miserable experience on the show and she turned out okay.  Likewise Sarah Silverman).

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But if you understand (or agree with) the firing of Wilson, what of Michaela Watkins?  Couldn’t they have kept her on.  There seems to be some moderate outrage at her dismissal, much being made of the in-roads Watkins had already established in less than a season as a featured player.  Indeed, EW’s Michael Ausiello writes,

“Watkins gave birth to a slew of memorable characters and impersonations, most notably bitchpleeze.com blogger Angie Tempura and Today’s Hoda Kotb.”

However, while those two specific personas did gain some traction, I don’t think she birthed a “slew” of memorable characters and impersonations.  Beyond bitchpleeze and Hoda, I’d be hard pressed to name another memorable performance outside of her well regarded Ariana Huffington impression (which is admittedly excellent, but something she had perfected before joining the cast).  Also, I don’t understand the appeal of the bitchpleeze Weekend Update segments or the perspective of the character, nor why SNL would want to mock much of its fan base (all bloggers are snotty teenagers?).  As for The Today Show sketches, they had some enjoyable moments but never quite felt like they flew as high as they could, and all Watkins could do was react to Wiig’s Kathy Lee Gifford (which is effective, but one-note).

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However, this is not to say that Watkins is not talented, but that the outcry over her dismissal is a bit unfounded.  Moreso, additional analysis argues that it is precicely because of her talent that she was let go.  Before joining the cast, Watkins, a veteran of the Groundlings, most recently supported former SNL player Julia Louis-Dreyfus on The New Adventures of old Christine. So she had taken a step back from prime time to not yet ready for prime time.  But the truth is she is polished and ready to make that leap into a sitcom, and Lorne Michaels told her that much (via Watkins interview with Ausiello):

“The only explanation I got from him — and he’s not known to say things just to make people feel better — was that he felt deep down that I should have my own show. And I agreed.”

Thinking in that context, I think the move makes sense.  Looking back even further, it’s not a stretch to think that Michaels brought her on last season because he needed someone talented, experienced and ready with a arsenal of characters and impressions.  Much was made about the workload heaped on Kristen Wiig, and recognizing this, maybe Lorne brought Watkins in as a ringer of sorts, slightly akin to the 1985-1986 season in which then-producer Dick Ebersole enlisted comic mercenaries Billy Crystal, Martin Short and Harry Shearer.

So perhaps all along Lorne Michaels only thought of Watkins, 37, as a temporary solution.  As for Wiig, with roles in this year’s Adventureland and the just-released Extract, not to mention her previous scene stealing turn in Knocked Up, her film career has already started taking off, so it can’t be long before she moves onto greener pastures.  However, with Jenny Slate, 27, and Nasim Petrad joining the 22 year-old Abby Elliot, the show has now formed a stable of young, smart, female comedians.    So, maybe, in Lorne’s eyes he’s put together a new dream team of funny young ladies, a group that can grow together and entertain us for years to come.


Filed under Analysis, Saturday Night Live