The women of SNL I grew up with

The people who made me the person I am today

Photo+Courtesy+of+the+SNL+official+Facebook+page.+

Photo Courtesy of the SNL official Facebook page.

By Asha Baron, Assistant Op/Ed Editor

To say my senior year of high school was difficult is an understatement. It was in the height of the global pandemic and I was completely isolated from my friends. I hit my lowest points during that year. But no matter how anxious or hopeless I felt, I always looked forward to Saturday. Every Saturday night, I sat in front of my TV waiting for 11:29 p.m., the time when I could drown out the world for an hour and a half and just focus on the TV. Whether it was a rerun or a new episode, I could always count on seven words to cheer me up: “Live From New York, It’s Saturday Night!”

My first vivid memory of Saturday Night Live is my mom showing me the sketch “Back Home Ballers” when I was in ninth grade. It became an instant classic in our house. She loved the accuracy of the lyrics, but I loved something else: seeing people create comedy. On top of that, the sketch featured the women of SNL, and though I didn’t know when I first watched it, those women would become my inspiration.

I grew up watching SNL sketches on YouTube through my late middle school and high school years. Though the show had an extremely talented cast, I was always drawn to the strong women who led the show. Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong and Aidy Bryant were at the forefront of the show during my high school years.

McKinnon, Strong and Bryant all joined SNL in 2012. McKinnon joined in April during the show’s 37th season and Strong and Bryant joined in September at the beginning of its 38th season. Though I was too young to watch the show live for most of their tenures, I always looked forward to seeing the three of them in the sketches I watched on YouTube.

From the first time I saw an SNL sketch, I was immediately enamored with Kate McKinnon. Anybody who knows me knows I am a little obsessed with her. Her chameleon-like ability to transform into any politician has always amazed me, and her original characters such as Colleen Rafferty (a woman who has been abducted by aliens), Shud the Mermaid and Debette Goldrey, whose time as an actress in Hollywood is vastly different than the modern woman, never fail to make me laugh. She remains my favorite cast member of all time and will always be who I look to for a good laugh.

Cecily Strong immediately captivated me. Her original characters such as The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation with at a Party and Cathy Anne, Michael Che’s neighbor, always made me crack a smile. She completely embodies every character she plays and rarely breaks character. She also has an incredible ability to discuss emotional political topics through comedy with characters like Goober the Clown and Tammy the Trucker. Whether she’s playing an over-the-top politician or a self-loathing woman, her acting abilities and comedic timing make her one of the SNL greats. Her departure mid-season, though not surprising, was an extremely emotional one and marked the end of the era of cast members I was raised with.

Aidy Bryant sells every role she plays. She captures the intricacies of characters ranging from young, awkward girls to middle-aged housewives. I was immediately drawn to her original characters like Melanie, a girl who hits on her friend’s father, and Li’l Baby Aidy, a version of herself she plays in several musical sketches. Whoever Bryant plays, it’s easy to believe she  lived their life for years.

When Bryant and McKinnon joined forces on a sketch, they were unstoppable. They were behind the iconic songs “Back Home Ballers” and “(Do It On My) Twin Bed.” The hardest I’ve laughed watching SNL was watching them play Henriette and Nan, two elderly women who struggle to understand how technology works.

Though these three women will always hold a special place in my heart, they aren’t the only women I grew up with. Vanessa Bayer and Leslie Jones were two more prominent women in the cast I also watched growing up.

Bayer’s contagious smile and Jones’ straightforward characters always elicit a laugh. One of my favorite Weekend Update characters is Bayer’s Dawn Lazurus, a weather woman who struggles to report the forecast. I always enjoy watching Jones perform her original material on Weekend Update or break character during a sketch. Though not as much a part of my childhood, Bayer and Jones had a lasting impact on me and they are still some of my favorite women on the show.

Though none of the women I grew up watching are still on SNL, I have a new female cast of featured and main players to look up to. Heidi Gardner, Ego Nwodim, Chloe Fineman, Punkie Johnson and Sarah Sherman continue to be an integral part of the SNL cast, and I am sure they will have the same effect on young girls that watching people like Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant, Leslie Jones and Vanessa Bayer had on me.

McKinnon, Strong and Bryant got me through some of the hardest times of my life. During my senior year of high school, my mental health started to slip in quarantine. But I always had those three women to look forward to each week. It was during this time that I started watching the show live, and I always had a smile on my face when I saw their names in the opening credits.

The impact these women had on me is immeasurable. As I write this, I am sitting next to my stuffed animal named Kate McKitten underneath my poster featuring SNL’s most famous quote, “Live From New York It’s Saturday Night.” They continue to remain my inspiration in life and are the reason I am pursuing a career in comedy. I am forever grateful to have strong, funny women like them to look up to, and can only hope I have half as much talent them.

Asha Baron can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @ashajbaron.