Former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Julia Sweeney is among the comedians slated to be on hand Saturday evening at Second City as Jason Sudeikis plays roastmaster for an evening of fun celebrating his uncle, George Wendt. The event — a fundraiser for Gilda’s Club’s support services for cancer patients and their families — will also feature appearances by Keegan-Michael Key, Bob Odenkirk, David Koechner, Betty Thomas and Jeff Tweedy.
As for Sweeney, the actress and comedian whose “It’s Pat” sketches were a “Saturday Night Live” mainstay in the early ’90s, the prospect of roasting Wendt daunting — to say the least.
“Ribbing someone — roasting someone — is SO outside my comedic wheelhouse, it’s not even funny,” said Sweeney, calling from L.A., where she was on a college tour with her daughter. The entertainer said that the sketch she did with Wendt in 1991 — where he plays a barber vainly attempting to determine whether the sexually indeterminate Pat is a man or a woman — “is probably my favorite of the 12 Pat sketches we did on ‘SNL.’ ”
However, Sweeney was at a loss when asked how she would zing Wendt this Saturday.
“I’m the worst kind of person for a roast. I don’t like to insult people. Everything in me is so opposite of what’s needed in those situations. I always want to say things like, ‘He’s the nicest guy! Here’s an example of what a nice guy George is …’
“That is NOT what they want, and I know that. I’m going to have to get some help from someone at Second City before [Saturday night], so I don’t embarrass myself up there … ,” Sweeney said with a big laugh. “I have no idea what’s going to come out of my mouth, but hopefully it will be a lot funnier than I am right now!”
One thing Sweeney is excited about is seeing fellow roaster Odenkirk, the Emmy-nominated “Better Call Saul” star. “Bob wrote for [‘SNL’] when I was there and then, after we were both were back in L.A., we lived in the same apartment building for a while.
“Then, I moved to Chicago and dropped out of show business for some time, but Bob did the exact opposite. He made the opposite choice of becoming wildly successful!”
These days, Sweeney— who lives full-time in Wilmette with her daughter — spends a lot of time at Second City — “on the average one or two times a week.” She has become deeply involved in the improv mecca’s Harold Ramis Film School and said a one-woman show may be staged at Second City early next year, “if things end up working out.”
Sweeney was surprised to learn of “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway’s recent negative comments at the Television Critics Association meetings in Los Angeles. Soloway called the “It’s Pat” sketches” a “hateful, hateful, awful thing to do to non-binary people — to create this character that the whole world laughed at openly.”
“I probably don’t disagree with [Soloway] actually,” said Sweeney, noting few people were aware of transgender issues when the sketches began in 1991. Having recently gone back and watched all of the Pat sketches, the comedian said, “All the jokes were about people’s reaction to someone they didn’t know was a man or a woman. That’s what was funny. Pat didn’t feel strange or weird or wrong — and frankly I never have thought of Pat as being transgender. That character is simply a gender we have yet to figure out!
“None of the jokes were made at Pat’s expense, but I can see how today that what we did is so next-door to laughing AT the person for not having clear gender characteristics. So, I can see how it might seem like you’re laughing at the person.”
Sweeney also shared how last year she was asked to go on the “Today” show for Halloween — as Pat.
“My first instinct was, ‘Can we even do Pat anymore? It seems so completely inappropriate at this point in time.’ It seems so dated now. … However, being asked to do that made me think a lot about the character and realize the time for Pat is past.”