How Kate McKinnon Has Become An Essential ‘SNL’ Cast Member

Today’s is Kate McKinnon’s 31st birthday, and in her three seasons on Saturday Night Live  in the wake of Kristen Wiig, Andy Samberg, and Bill Hader’s departures — she has become one of the show’s most important cast members.

McKinnon is the first openly lesbian cast member in the show’s history, and she’s managed to avoid being labeled The Gay Cast Member, while also not shying away from the distinction. She’s done impressions of Jane Lynch and Ellen DeGeneres on the show, but the only time she directly referenced her sexuality was in a sketch called “Dyke Fats,” in which McKinnon and Aidy Bryant played two detectives in a 70s style cop show.

The sketch’s punchline came from when host Louis CK addressed the pair as “Dyke And Fats,” and was quickly scolded. The pair can call themselves that, but he cannot. It was a funny sketch that found a clever way to address McKinnon’s sexuality as well as Bryant’s weight. Plus, the spoofing of old-school cop shows was spot-on.

Really, though, McKinnon has shined in countless capacities since joining the cast. Her funniest recurring role is arguably Olya Povlatsky, a Russian women whose life is perpetually miserable. The character became one of the show’s more reliable Update correspondents once they could no longer rely on Stefon and Aunt Linda.

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But Olga isn’t McKinnon’s only hilarious spot at the Update desk. In October 2013, we learned that the NSA had tapped Angela Merkel’s phone, and SNL mined the story for huge laughs, with McKinnon in the role of the German chancellor. We find out that Merkel is a sad lonely woman, and her text messages are more embarrassing than incriminating. In lesser hands, presenting a world leader as something of a crazy cat lady might seem a bit sexist, but McKinnon made the entire thing hilarious, as we can’t help but feel a bit sorry for her. The bit was so funny that Merkel became a recurring character on Update, generating big laughs every time. In November, she appeared to tell us that attending the G20 summit isn’t as fun as it sounds.

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As we can tell from Olga and Angela, McKinnon has a really knack for accents, playing people from all around the world. She’s also done impressions of Penelope Cruz, Tilda Swinton, Keith Urban, and Lorde, and it seems like there’s no dialect she can’t handle with ease.

The last few seasons have been a transitional period for SNL. The cast members who carried the show for nearly a decade all left in rather quick succession (well, except for Kenan). This has left the show scrambling to find reliable cast members and characters. At times, it’s been evident in the quality, with some episodes lacking the memorability of previous seasons. Still, the presence of Kate McKinnon has reduced that problem significantly. She’s quite possibly the most versatile member of the cast. As SNL moves forward, it will continue looking for a new identity. One thing is for sure, however — McKinnon figures to be an essential part of the show for years to come.