SNL40 aired on Sunday night, and I was personally reminded of why I do what I do. Women have had a tough road in comedy- John Belushi famously sabotaged sketches by female writers, claiming women weren’t funny. Obviously, we are, and I wanted to take this week’s Wednesday column (One-Shot Wednesday will run next week, I swear) to honor six of the women that have blazed the trails for all of us. This is not a comprehensive list of every woman who is SNL legend, but these are six women whose example we all follow or hope to follow as females, comedians/comediennes, and smart girls.
Jane Curtin– “It used to be I was the only pretty blonde reading the fake news- now there’s a whole network of them!” The second anchor ever for Weekend Update and the first woman, Jane’s deadpan delivery and ability to play straight against living cartoon characters Chevy Chase, John Belushi, and Dan Aykroyd made her an invaluable member of the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players. Curtin is still with us, and is sassy to this very day.
Gilda Radner– Where Jane Curtin played straight, Gilda Radner was broad. The first player cast, Radner was honored on SNL40 by Emma Stone’s impression of her Roseanne Rosannadanna character, though I personally favor her as nerdy Lisa Loopner. Like Jane Curtin, Radner abstained from the drugs than ran rampant throughout the original cast. Unfortunately, we lost Radner far too soon to ovarian cancer in 1989. However, as long as Barbara Walters (Baba Wawa) lives, Gilda does, too.
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Simply put, Fey is iconic. She made smart girls cool and mean girls funny. Amy Poehler went on to create one of the warmest, funniest television shows of recent times. Fey was the first woman to be named head writer for SNL, and Poehler is the first woman to be nominated for an Emmy for acting in SNL. Their tenure hosting Weekend Update is widely considered to be among the best runs the segment has ever known. Bitch will always be the new black, and bitches get stuff done. Poehler’s Hillary Clinton and Fey’s Sarah Palin were at odds, incredibly funny, and spot-on. I considered listing them separately, but they belong together. Never before has the power of female friendship been so palpable, honest, and inspiring in comedy, where women tend to be pitted against one another.
Cheri Oteri– What do you call the woman who can hold her own with Will Ferrell on the regular, playing instantly recognizable cheerleaders or idiotic talk-show hosts? Well, you call her Cheri Oteri. She didn’t blaze trails like Curtin, Radner, Fey, or Poehler, but she held her own with the boys, able to be just as funny and cartoonish as Ferrell. Unfortunately, Oteri was not able to feature in SNL40, as she was unable to confirm her attendance until the last minute. There was no time to rehearse for her. We just can’t “simmer down now” when it comes to talking about this madly talented woman.
Maya Rudolph– Kristen Wiig might be more popular, but I had to choose Rudolph for our last spot. Rudolph is a chameleon, imitating countless celebrities during her tenure on the show. Her sleepy, sloshed Donnatella Versace and gutsy, uncanny Beyonce earned her place in our hearts and in the show’s history. Rudolph might not have as many legendary characters, but there was certainly room for the gifted impressionist here.
There are many, many more women in SNL history, and I can’t wait to see what Vanessa Bayer, Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Sasheer Zamata, and Cecily Strong will offer as their legacy- keep being legendary, ladies.