Julia Sweeney, who is probably best known for playing the androgynous Pat from Saturday Night Live, sat down for the Marc Maron’s WTF podcast this week. It turned into a far more fascinating interview than I might expect from someone we haven’t heard that much from in two decades. I found out, for instance, that she used to be married to Stephen Hibbert, best known for playing the Gimp in Pulp Fiction.
She’s a fascinating woman who had a string of bad luck in 1994 with the huge bomb, It’s Pat, getting diagnosed cancer, and having a brother also diagnosed (he would later succumb to the cancer). She also quit Saturday Night Live that year, although by that point, no one fought particularly hard to keep her around.
As she tells it, she beat out her Groundlings friends/colleagues, Lisa Kudrow and Kathy Griffin, to land a role on Saturday Night Live and was wildly successful for about a year.
Unfortunately, after that, the woman responsible for writing many of her sketches (Christine Zander) left SNL, leaving Sweeney without a huge advocate in the writers’ room. This, of course, was back when SNL was still considered a boys club, and while Sweeney got along very well with the cast, the predominantly young, male writers didn’t really know what to do with her, which quickly led to reduced screentime, a lot of insecurity, and a lot of sadness.
In fact, there was one exchange with Adam Sandler that was devastating for Sweeney. She was about five years older than much of the cast, but because she also wasn’t “their idea of hot,” it felt like she was “30 years older,” so she couldn’t get cast in the sketches Sandler and Co. were writing.
“Even though I like Adam Sandler,” she said, “I remember moments where they go, ‘Well, all I can think how to use you is as the example of the unattractive choice.”
“Oof,” Maron said. “That was said out loud?”
“Yeah,” Sweeney responded. “You know, hard. Really tough. When I look back on it, I think it was more than I could [handle]. I wish I had been tougher. I wish I’d been like ‘F*ck you,’ and written my own stuff. But instead, I was like, ‘I have to go lick my wounds for five hours now.'”
Sweeney didn’t love the “sophomoric humor” that dominated during the Spade/Farley/Sandler era on SNL, either. “My humor doesn’t come out of that, and I don’t know how to mesh with it. I actually don’t even like it,” she said. “So, it was so wrong for me.”
Sweeney left the show soon thereafter. Lorne Michaels didn’t try to intervene because, as Sweeney says, he saw her as a “flower that had bloomed but now was no longer blooming.” She holds no ill will, however. “Who’s to say that’s not the right way to be to survive for that kind of show. Maybe I had stopped blooming,” she continued.
All in all, it’s a fantastic episode. Sweeney talks about Phil Hartman being her mentor at the Groundlings, her battle with cancer, and how she met her husband, which is literally one of the sweetest stories I’ve ever heard.