I definitely wanted to be on SNL. My friend Susanna and I would copy all of the sketches, and we were basically, like, the Super Fans," says Cecily Strong, and every other comedian I've ever met.
I wanted to be on Double Dare.
I'm not trying to pretend I was too good for such dreams. I wasn't unaware of the SNL zeitgeist. I could quote Adam Sandler with the worst of them in high school, and I thought that was "being funny." It wasn't until 2003 when Mike Polk showed me Mr. Show and The Ben Stiller Show that I turned a smarter comedy corner and headed to Chicago/Second City where people created their own funnies instead of just saying, "Stop looking at me, swan!" at parties. In 2012 I got the opportunity to audition for Saturday Night Live and — spoiler alert — after not getting the job, a kind of unintended Bucket List was made. "Being on SNL" was added, then immediately crossed off.
But let's get to the good stuff and forget about my boring emotional journey. You want to know how and what happened on that SNL stage, because you join me in disbelief that a normal old Olmsted Falls-ian who went to Bowling Green and worked at the Chuck E. Cheese at Great Northern actually screen tested for Saturday Night Live. I know; I'm still shocked. I was dying to sneak pictures that day to have some record, or maybe steal a pen or something, but I was scared of being uncool. Hey, whatever, I never dreamed of being on SNL anyway — OH MY GOD BILL HADER JUST POPPED IN MY DRESSING ROOM TO SAY HI AND GOOD LUCK — but, whatever. Not my dream.
Before I get to that fateful day, let me rush through how I specifically got there, because that's what you really want to know. I was a resident performer at Second City in Chicago, and every year or so SNL producers would sweep in to catch an act or two and then disappear, leaving all of us to nervously look around at each other and try to guess if anyone would get the call. Kristen Wiig and Abby Elliott were leaving that year and so the comedy world was abuzz, and all women were on edge. I mean, not me, not my dream. I got the call, but like, whatever.
I was given one week to assemble a five-minute audition of three characters and three impressions. And here's where not ever dreaming of being on SNL really works against you in an SNL audition: I didn't have any characters or impressions. I'd always fancied myself just an actress who's kind of funny, and though I respect and am jealous of the Amy Sedarises of the world, I never thought I could pull off that kind of genius, disappear-into-characters stuff. But when SNL calls you and asks for five minutes, you find five minutes, am I right? But like, whatever, not my thing.
I had to go first that day. Which is fine, let's get this over with. I was there casually, just kind of excited for the experience but knowing that I 100 percent was not going to get this job. That doesn't mean I didn't try; I was just being realistic. How was I possibly going to compete with people who had prepared their whole lives for this, not just prepared their whole last week? I'm ushered down the hall and into the studio and up on to the stage, like, the stage and it's all scuffed and worn and legendary but also buffed and clean and kind of new and the lights are blinding and there are a ton of people sitting there and I'm pumped and ready to go and they tell me there are technical difficulties with the camera and I have to wait a second. I stand there, giddily smiling out into the dark audience. After a moment of silent standing, Lorne Michaels says to me, "Don't be nervous." I say, "Yeah, okay," and everyone laughs and HOLY SHIT I'M AT SNL AND I WANT THIS SO BAD I'VE WANTED THIS MY WHOLE LIFE FORGET EVERYTHING I'VE SAID!!!!
Five minutes feels like zero minutes when you're doing something fun and exciting. My impressions were Fiona Apple, January Jones and Sofia Vergara, and my characters were a racist ventriloquist whose dummy grows increasingly uncomfortable having to deliver the politically incorrect punchlines, the Shining Twins, and then an original burlesque and rap song about how my sung innuendos don't mean I'm actually going to sleep with you. And then it was over! They laughed like normal people do, not like the weird rumor that they're all purposefully not laughing to throw you off. And I said thank you and went back to my dressing room and texted everyone who knew I was there to tell them it was over and I did it and oh yeah, I wanted to be on SNL now. And ... I felt good about my performance!
A cast member I knew came into my room and turned on my monitor so I could watch the other girls' auditions. And after two or three went up, I started to get a little cocky. Wait a second, I might actually stand a chance here! Everyone was good, but I felt like I was just a little bit more ... Oh crap, who's this girl going last? Goddamn Kate McKinnon. Good lord, she's good. Like, good in a way I can't even comprehend. They're laughing so hard. I'M laughing so hard. I literally say out loud to no one, "Oh, that's how you do it."
And that's the story of how Kate McKinnon got on SNL!
After that day, she was asked to stay for the weekend to hang with the cast and have the infamous meeting with Lorne Michaels where he doesn't really tell you if you got it or not but you know you got it. Or so I've heard. My journey ended after that audition, but the aftermath haunts me still. I swear to you, I never dreamed of being on SNL. But after I didn't get the job, I was as sad as if I had wanted it my whole life. How unfair is that? Why'd you do that to me, SNL?
It's fine. I'm fine. It's a real #whitepersonproblem to say, "Yeah, I didn't get on SNL," and I don't expect anyone to feel bad for me. I'm back at my job as an actress who's kind of funny and I've had GREAT success since then. I've been on NBC's Bad Judge (now canceled), NBC's The Playboy Club (now canceled), MTV's Underemployed (now canceled) and OWN's My Life is a Joke (now canceled)! So I guess we know who got the last laugh, right Lorne Michaels? LOL! I wouldn't take a job on SNL if you begged me. I DON'T MEAN THAT CALL ME I'VE WANTED TO BE ON SNL MY WHOLE LIFE SINCE 2012!!
Jessica Joy once dated Mike Polk. Now she doesn't.