Hillary To Bieber: 11 Reasons Why SNL’s Strongest Cast Member Was Kate McKinnon

Before she was starring alongside Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie (2023), she was giving a memorable decade-long run on NBC’s Saturday Night Live. Aside from her recent portrayal of Weird Barbie, McKinnon has also proven to be one of the funniest female comedians today through her roles in Rough Night (2018), The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018), and Ghostbusters (2016).

Although she ended her time at SNL in 2022, we look back and fondly remember the reasons as to why she solidified herself as one of the greatest to ever grace the show.

1. She Was The Show’s First Openly Gay Female Cast Member

Photo: NBC

Kate McKinnon is the first openly gay woman to star on SNL, and that title has a lot to do with her youth and television. Around the same time she was introduced to SNL at the age of 12, she watched Gillian Anderson on The X-Files, which gave her a “physiological reaction” helping her understand her sexuality. Years later, she would go on to appear alongside Anderson in the film The Spy Who Shagged Me.

McKinnon has never been shy about her sexuality, and was well-known in the LGBTQ+ community long before making her way to SNL. She appeared in 23 episodes of The Big Gay Sketch Show between 2007 and 2010 before achieving her dream and becoming a cast member on SNL. While she is the first openly gay female cast member, she isn’t the first to star on the series. Though they weren’t as open as McKinnon, both Terry Sweeney and Danitra Vance predated McKinnon in that capacity on SNL.

2. She Had Bill Hader Laughing So Hard During Her Audition That He Had To Be Kicked Out

Photo: NBC

Bill Hader has been one of SNL‘s primary players for years, which made him one of the people McKinnon had to impress when she auditioned for the show’s 38th season. Lorne Michaels has a standing rule that nobody is allowed to laugh during a prospective cast member’s audition, but Hader famously broke that rule while McKinnon was performing.

When he was interviewed on The Ellen Show, Hader explained that during McKinnon’s audition, “I started laughing so hard they were like, get the hell out of here!” Hader was kicked out of room, which must have been a good sign for up and coming star McKinnon at the time.

3. She Won Two Emmy’s During Her ‘SNL’ Run

Photo: CBS

Like any talented actor or actress who works hard in the industry, McKinnon has been awarded numerous times for her entertaining portrayals of various people and characters. Throughout her stay on SNL, she has been honored twice with the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. While this is an amazing achievement, it didn’t come without controversy.

When McKinnon was awarded the Emmy in 2017, her acceptance speech was cut off before she could finished. The orchestra kicked in just as she said, “Being part of this season of Saturday Night Live is the most meaningful thing I will ever do. Congratulations to our incredible cast…”

The break came as she was just about to name Hillary Clinton, the woman who inspired her most famous impersonation. Despite this acceptance speech snag, her win was an incredible achievement and her second Emmy two years in a row.

4. She Received A Shout Out From Hillary Clinton In Clinton’s Memoir

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Despite being the front-runner for most of the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump, and a short time after the election ended, Clinton published a book titled, What Happened?Just after the election came to an end, SNL did its thing and McKinnon reprised her role as Clinton once more to sing the song “Hallelujah” during the show’s election week cold open.

Clinton then commented on that performance in her book writing:

On the Saturday after the election, I turned on Saturday Night Live and watched Kate McKinnon open the show with her impression of me one more time. She sat at a grand piano and played ‘Hallelujah,’ the hauntingly beautiful song by Leonard Cohen, who had died days before. As she sang, it seemed like she was fighting back tears. Listening, so was I.

McKinnon told Jimmy Fallon that she was listening to Clinton’s audiobook and freaked out as she heard herself mentioned.

5. She Was Known For How Often She Could Make Her Cast Members “Break” During Tapings

Photo: NBC

On a live show like SNL, there’s a term called “breaking,” which refers to an actor laughing at what’s going on during a scene. Cast members actively work to stay in character, but since the show is a comedy, such a feat is not always possible. Nearly everyone has broken at one time or another, including McKinnon, but more often than not, she is the one causing everyone else to crack at her antics.

Just like Bill Hader during her audition, nearly every person who has sat in on one of her sketches has cracked a smile once or twice. That being said, a particular sketch involving her character, Ms. Rafferty, has led to every single guest host breaking. It happens most often during the “Paranormal Encounter” sketches, and the host isn’t the only one to slip up. Aidy Bryant often loses her composure during these sketches, but it’s easy to see why. McKinnon offers a deadpan, yet hilarious explanation of her often sexual and odd encounters with the paranormal.

6. She Was Debatably One Of The Best Cast Members To Routinely Play Creepy Old Men

Photo: NBC

There aren’t many people who would look at a woman like McKinnon and think she would make for a good and convincing old man. Fortunately, there are a few people working over at SNL who saw beyond the attractive young comedian, and the show became all the better for it. As the antics of the Trump White house continued to become embroiled in legal controversy and speculation of wrongdoing, nearly every week saw McKinnon playing a new central figure, and nearly all of them were older men.

Sure, she played Kellyann Conway, but for every blonde woman she portrayed, there was an old white guy waiting in the shadows. Throughout her time on SNL, McKinnon has portrayed Jeff Sessions, Robert Mueller, Lindsey Graham, and Rudy Guiliani. She plays these men so well odds are she will continue to do so for the next election season.

7. She Is Among One Of The Longest Serving Female Members Of The Cast

Photo: NBC

SNL has had its fair share of talented women in the cast, but Kate McKinnon holds a distinction. After Vanessa Bayer left in 2017, McKinnon became the longest-serving female cast member in the show’s history. She debuted on the series as a featured player in April 2012 and appeared on the show until eventually departing after the show’s 47th season in 2022. She had been on the show for more than ten years, at the time making her SNL‘s longest tenured female cast member, until Cecily Strong passed McKinnon’s record with the December 17, 2022 episode of season 48.

8. She First Became A ‘Saturday Night Live’ Fan When She Was A Twelve-Year-Old

Photo: NBC

For most young Americans growing up, it’s not easy to sneak a viewing of SNL since it doesn’t air until 11:30 pm (EST), long after most kids have gone to bed. For McKinnon, it was actually her father who prompted her to watch the series back in 1996 when she was only 12-years-old.

It was her father’s love for the show that brought it to her attention, and she explained in an interview with Glamour that it is also part of what prompted her to pursue a career as a comedian.

9. She Launched One Of Her Famous Roles For The Show In 2013, Her Hillary Clinton Portrayal

Photo: NBC

Hillary Clinton has been an important figure in politics for decades thanks to her role as First Lady, US Senator, Secretary of State, and two-time Presidential candidate. Like all politicians, this means she was fodder for the writers and comedians of SNL, and over the years, a total of nine women have portrayed her. The likes of Jan Hooks, Janeane Garogffalo, Vanessa Bayer, Ana Gasteyer, Amy Poehler, Drew Barrymore, Rachel Dratch, and even Miley Cyrus have put on a pantsuit and pretended to be Clinton at one time or another, but perhaps the most notable of all performers has been Kate McKinnon.

Not only has she been a hilariously convincing Hillary Clinton since she first began portraying her in 2013, she even had the opportunity to appear alongside her muse in a sketch on the show. During the 2016 Presidential Campaign, Clinton stopped by the set at 30 Rock to appear with McKinnon in character. The politician took a few jabs at herself, and the sketch was well received, but it was perhaps more important to McKinnon than anyone else. In an interview with Rolling Stone, McKinnon described meeting Clinton before the sketch:

Here’s a person who’s effecting change on a worldwide stage, and my job is doing voices. Why are we in the same room? This doesn’t seem right, but there we were. She was just so grand, but also so warm and sincere. And her timing was great.

10. She Would Alter And Adapt Her Hillary Impression In Real-Time As The 2016 Election Went On

Photo: NBC

If there’s one thing the writers over at SNL do well, it’s adapt to the changing minefield of American politics. Whenever something would happen of any significance during the 2016 Presidential Campaign, the show would reflect it with a segment or cold open. McKinnon was particularly brilliant at accommodating these changes in her performance as Clinton, and it was noticeable from one episode to the next.

McKinnon told Vulture that she prepared to play Clinton by noting that she “has a slight Midwestern bent in a few of her words [and] her laugh is very distinctive” but ultimately changed her interpretation of the candidate as the campaign changed.

Just as things heated up on the campaign trail, so too did things get crazy on the set of SNL. It all culminated in McKinnon’s singing “Hallelujah” shortly after election day, but looking back through the years of her portrayals, it’s easy to see how McKinnon altered her performance to mimic that of her muse.

11. She Also Did An Unforgettable Justin Bieber Impression

Photo: NBC

While McKinnon is certainly well known for her portrayal of Hillary Clinton, that is hardly the only person the comedian has impersonated on the show. One of her most famous characters she’s put together has been Justin Bieber, whom she mocked in a spoof Calvin Klein ad in 2015. Not only was the sketch hilarious and well-received, it garnered a response from the subject himself, who commented that McKinnon’s performance was “well played.”

McKinnon’s Bieber is a pretty good approximation of a guy who is constantly on the move, ready to take a selfie at a moment’s notice, and also a bit young for his career. Bieber is one of her most popular characters outside her impression of Clinton.