USA TODAY Entertainer of the year: Kate McKinnon
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At the start of 2016, we didn’t know how much we’d need Kate McKinnon.
This summer, as the “Ghostbusters” reboot became the latest big-budget female-led comedy to be sucked into a misogynistic Twitter vortex, it was McKinnon’s comic stylings that answered our call. What the movie lacked in critical love was made up for in her memorable take on Holtzmann, a profoundly and charmingly weird engineering whiz (whose science vibes gave zero cares about that nearby hottie Chris Hemsworth).
Her film career has since taken off. Just in time for the holidays, she’s in theaters stealing scenes in the ensemble comedy “Office Christmas Party,” playing it straight as the company’s uniquely helpful HR director. And it was just announced McKinnon is set to star in her own film as a scarily magical school cafeteria worker in “The Lunch Witch.”
But it was this fall on “Saturday Night Live” that the comedian truly harnessed her talents before an anxiety-ridden nation. The “SNL” staple had long played Hillary Clinton on the show, but as Election Day came into focus, McKinnon translated the Democratic candidate with new fervor, surpassing Amy Poehler’s impersonation and earning the icon status last awarded to Tina Fey playing Sarah Palin in 2008.
Week after week, dressed in a multitude of pantsuits, McKinnon satirized the election’s political jousting, often saying what the real Clinton couldn’t.
“I’m better than ever, let’s do this,” she said in the season opener, ducking and rolling before taking a fighter’s stance. The sketch was a play on Clinton’s bout of pneumonia, though could just as easily have applied to McKinnon’s hand in returning the show to must-watch status.
After the second debate, she mocked Trump’s attempts to divert attention by giving front-row seats to Bill Clinton accusers.
“Wait, I’m sorry who’s here? Mistresses? Bill, how could you? How could I go on with the debate? Oh no, I’ll never be able to remember facts and figures now. Oh, Donald, no!” she said sarcastically. “Get real, I’m made of steel, this is nothing. Hi girls!”
Alec Baldwin, like the politician he played, may have dominated headlines, but McKinnon’s delivery and range of characters have anchored the new wave of “SNL.” In the waning days of the election cycle, McKinnon bounced seamlessly from the role of Clinton to Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager and frequent surrogate on news talk shows.
After winning an Emmy in September, McKinnon delivered one of the best sketches of the year, bringing an exhausted Conway to life, imagining the spokeswoman’s hard-won day off, Ferris Bueller-style, repeatedly cut short by calls to appear on CNN to explain Trump’s never-ending controversial tweets.
And McKinnon’s still at it, this past weekend morphing from Conway in the cold open prepping Trump for office to Clinton, in a pointed “Love Actually”-themed sketch making her last-gasp case on a voting member of the Electoral College’s doorstep.
Yet no appearance was more effective than
on Nov. 12, when McKinnon delivered one heck of an electoral finale.
Sitting at a piano in a white pantsuit, the glassy-eyed comedian sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in “SNL’s” cold open, a moving tribute to those who had hoped for a first female president, and to Cohen, who had died just days before.
No jokes. No cue cards. Just one woman, offering catharsis to a divided nation.
This year, we tip our hat to Kate McKinnon.
Andrea Mandell and Cara Kelly, USA TODAY