If Kristen Wiig, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have carved out serious mainstream space for the modern female comic, then Kate McKinnon is making the most of that relatively-new arena. Her hilarious Saturday Night Live pastiche on Justin Bieber in his Calvins comes second only to a pitch-perfect turn as Hillary Clinton–the latter so loved that Clinton should thank McKinnon for bolstering her campaign. Add to that a long list of laugh-out-loud characters like Ellen Degeneres, Jane Lynch and a dance-happy Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and McKinnon is surely The Next Big Comedy Thing.
It’s been a fast ride. Just four years ago, she was working on Logo’s The Big Gay Sketch Show and in the trenches of the UCB Theater. But this year she snagged her fourth Emmy nom for SNL, co-hosted the Spirit Awards with Kumail Nanjiani and starred in the all-female Ghostbusters reboot alongside Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig–a move that set her household-name status in stone.
“I don’t really know what to make of it,” McKinnon says of her suddenly-grown starpower. “It’s very strange.” She pauses. “It’s been a wonderful summer,” she says quietly, as though shocked herself.
Growing up in small-town upstate New York, McKinnon and her sister Emily Lynne–now a stand-up comic–made many video sketches for their family and friends, inventing elaborate characters in a foreshadowing of what was to come for them both. “I had a number of dreams,” McKinnon says of that time. “It always seemed so out of reach that I didn’t really dare dream it, but I did love doing wacky characters and I did think that was my best skill. I thought if I could find a way to do this and make any money then that would be ideal.”
McKinnon and Lynne’s co-working scenario later extended to the web series Notary Publix in 2015. The sisters’ comedy career choices are less surprising when McKinnon explains, “There was just a lot of comedy on the TV in the house, and my parents are both very funny. I was just never discouraged from doing something wacky like trying to be a comedian.” Of her fallback dream as a child, McKinnon says, seriously, “I was going to be a still-life oil painter and probably will return to that when they won’t have me anymore.”
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