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The Dansville Online
  • 23 Times Women Made History On 'Saturday Night Live'

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    gilda radner lorne michaels snlThis Saturday, the world will tune in to "Saturday Night Live" for an extra special reason.
    Her name is Sasheer Zamata.
    Following a public scandal surrounding the show's lack of diversity, Zamata is the show's first black female hire since 2007.
    She falls into a long line of venerable comediennes who have graced the stage of Studio 8H over the show's 39-year history.
    From trailblazers Gilda Radner and Jane Curtin, who paved the way for female comics in Season 1, to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who anchored the "Weekend Update" desk with confidence and flair — here are the 23 ground-breaking moments of women on "SNL."1. When Lorne Michaels began putting the show together in 1975, he made Gilda Radner his first hire.
    The year before, the pint-sized, squawky-voiced Radner came to New York to do "The National Lampoon Radio Hour" and "The National Lampoon Show."
    Michaels had seen some of her work with Toronto's "Second City" comedy troupe, and was hooked. "I felt there was a remarkable quality to her," Michaels said, "a goodness which came through whatever she was doing."
    2. Radner's quirky characterizations brought her an Emmy for outstanding performance as an actress in a variety series in 1978.
    She created such characters as Roseanne Roseannadanna, the frizzy-haired, lisping broadcaster; Lisa Loopner, a nerdy teenager with "mosquito-size" breasts; and "Baba Wawa," a parody of Barbara Walters which made Radner the first person to lampoon a news anchor on TV.
    3. Jane Curtin was the first female co-anchor on "Weekend Update."
    Page 2 of 7 - Curtin's deadpan delivery made her the perfect foil for three different male co-anchors during her time at the desk.
    Cerebral and restrained, she never backed down from a debate with conservative-playing Dan Aykroyd during their "Point/Counter-Point" segments. He regularly chastised her, "Jane, you ignorant slut!
    4. Years later, Curtin called out male cast members for being sexist.
    During an "SNL" cast reunion on "O, The Oprah Winfrey Show," Curtin opened up about how Studio 8H was sometimes a hostile environment for comediennes.
    She specifically called out John Belushi for undermining the show's female writers:

    "They were working against John, who said women are just fundamentally not funny. You'd go to a table read and if a woman writer had written a piece for John, he would not read it in his full voice. He would whisper it. He felt as though it was his duty to sabotage pieces that were written by women."

    5. Candice Bergen was the first woman to host "SNL." They asked her back four episodes later.
    At age 27, the modelesque Bergen had no comedic experience listed on her résumé, and no idea why Lorne Michaels asked her to host the fourth episode. But it was the first episode that TV critics say "felt like 'SNL.'" After much trial and error, the writers and cast came to understand the show and how to integrate the host into their zany world.
    It was also the first time the cast gathered around the host as she said goodnight to the audience — an intimate wrap to their week rehearsing together.
    6. Laraine Newman was a founding member of The Groundlings, an influential comedy troupe in LA that led to many "SNL" hires.
    Newman — a crackerjack supporting player remembered for her sexy, hippie mystique and girlish charm — helped launch The Groundlings in 1974.
    The theater company funneled major talent onto the "SNL" stage, including funny ladies Cheri Oteri, Ana Gasteyer, Maya Rudolph, and Kristen Wiig.
    Page 3 of 7 - 7. Julia Louis-Dreyfus became its youngest-ever female cast member at the age of 21.
    Louis-Dreyfus landed the gig of a lifetime while she was still a theater student at Northwestern.
    Although she struggled with the competitive, dog-eat-dog nature of the show in her three seasons at Studio 8H, she made a friend in the writing room: future "Seinfeld" co-creator, Larry David.
    8. Louis-Dreyfus refused to tame her curly hair when a producer told her it would look sexier that way.
    Early in her "SNL" career, she appeared in a sketch playing John DeLorean's wife, and straightened her hair for the role. The next day, a producer called her into his office and said a bunch of NBC executives were turned on by the look.
    "This was apparently his way of trying to entice me into straightening my hair for the rest of season," Louis-Dreyfus told Adam Baer for Rolling Stone. "I was so shocked that anyone would say anything like that, I just burst out laughing in a hysterical way."
    The incident inspired Louis-Dreyfus to make her "Seinfeld" character's hair "crazy curly."
    9. Julia Sweeney brought her most famous recurring character, Pat, to the silver screen.
    Sweeney created a '90s cultural phenomenon through Pat, the cringey nerd who befuddled celebrity hosts and audiences alike with his/her nondescript gender. 
    The guessing game of whether Pat was a man or woman became so popular that Sweeney made "It's Pat" the movie. It tanked at the box office, but TV critics still applaud Sweeney for cementing the role of the recurring character into the show's identity.
    10. Ellen Cleghorne lasted four seasons on the show — longer than any black female cast member before her.
    Page 4 of 7 - A single mother from the housing projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn, Cleghorne was discovered during a stint on "In Living Color" in 1991. 
    Although she stayed on "SNL" longer than her black female predecessors, Yvonne Hudson and Danitra Vance, she was not exempt from the angry, ghetto tropes that followed black comediennes in every role at the time. Her two recurring characters were Queen Shenequa, a loud, gossipy music critic who dressed in African garb, and Zoraida, a pushy NBC page.
    11. Sarah Silverman used her failure on "SNL" as a launch pad for her career.
    At age 22, the New York University drop-out had one of the least successful "SNL" careers in history. Not a single one of the sketches she wrote made it to air, and she was fired from her writing and featured player post after one season.
    Liberated from the limitations of cable TV, Silverman flew to L.A. and picked up primetime gigs on HBO's "Mr. Show" and "The Larry Sanders Show," in which she played a female staff writer whose male boss wouldn't air her jokes.
    12. Janeane Garofalo left mid-season because she was pigeonholed into secondary, girlfriend and wife roles.
    The incredibly talented comic Garofalo joined "SNL" in 1994 during the boys' club reign of Chris Farley and Adam Sandler.
    Her expectations were shattered when — according to an interview Garofalo gave to New York Magazine while she was still a cast member — she was relegated to playing generic, sexist charactersShe fled the coop just five months after being hired.
    13. Molly Shannon starred in the movie "Superstar," featuring her character Mary Katherine Gallagher.
    Page 5 of 7 - During a season when male cast members outnumbered women 3-to-1, Shannon emerged as the show's first female breakout star.
    Her Yorkshire-Terrier-supply of energy combined with a ready-for-anything attitude led to memorable characters such as proud 50-year-old Sally O’Malley and Mary Katherine Gallagher, an extremely moody, hyper-active Catholic schoolgirl who dreams of fame.
     
    14. By Maya Rudolph's seventh season on "SNL," she had performed as 14 different characters and impersonated 47 different celebrities.
    The product of an LA showbiz family, Rudolph realized her childhood dream in 2000 when she joined "SNL."
    One of the most versatile players in the show's history, her impersonation Rolodex includes Oprah Winfrey, Paris Hilton, Whitney Houston, Donatella Versace, Beyoncé, and Michelle Obama.
    15. Amy Poehler was promoted from featured player to cast member in the middle of her first season. Eddie Murphy is the only other cast member to achieve that.
    The eight-season "SNL" veteran made her debut on the first episode that aired after September 11, 2001, and quickly made repertory player status. Poehler was a masterful impressionist — skewering Kelly Ripa, Dakota Fanning, and Hillary Clinton — while also creating goofy original characters like Kaitlin, the sugar-fueled preteen who clamored for her brother Rick's attention.
    16. Tina Fey became the first woman named head writer.
    The Second City alum was hired as a writer in 1997, and drafted to the stage a few years later. Lorne Michaels heralded Fey as a "hero of the 17th floor," where the writers' room was. Hsaid of her writing in 2001"There's something for you to enjoy after you've finished laughing." 
    Page 6 of 7 - 17. Fey's iconic portrayal of Sarah Palin may have affected the outcome of the 2008 election.
    Political scientists dubbed it "the Tina Fey effect." In 2007, she returned to "SNL" to parody vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. The sketch went viral.
    A study out of East Carolina University later showed that watching Fey's spot-on mimicry of Palin was associated with young Republicans and Independents becoming less likely to support the 2008 Republican ticket.
    18. These two-time Golden Globes hosts became the first all-female team to host "Weekend Update."
    Poehler joined Fey, whom she had met in improv class one year prior, at the "Weekend Update" desk in 1994.
    They went together like chocolate and peanut butter.
    19. During the 2008-2009 season of SNL, Kristen Wiig appeared in more sketches than any other member of the cast.
    From Dooneese, the tiny-handed, unbearably creepy sister of a Finger Lakes-based singing group, to Gilly, the mischievous schoolgirl whose pranks became increasingly dangerous — Wiig built a legacy on her oddity. The three-time Emmy award nominee transformed herself into the most horrible, contorted characters with such conviction, that they too became household names.
    20. The ladies of SNL came together for a "Women of SNL" TV special in 2010, and opened the show with this "Real Housewives" reunion-style sketch.
    21. Kenan Thompson* refused to dress in drag until "SNL" hired a black female cast member.
    Because there were no African American women on the show, Thompson has played everyone from Maya Angelou to Oprah. Last fall, the 10-year "SNL" player announced in an interview with TV Guide that he would no longer cross-dress and enable the show's lack of diversity.
    Page 7 of 7 - *Not a woman, obviously.
    22. Sasheer Zamata will join the cast as a featured player this Saturday.
    The public outcry following Thompson's remarks prompted Lorne Michaels to launch a nationwide talent search. After secret auditions were held in New York and Los Angeles, Zamata earned a spot on the roster.
    Zamata has floated the New York comedy scene since 2009, and is perhaps best known for impersonating Beyonce in a hilarious YouTube series. Good news for Thompson: She also does Michelle Obama.
    23. "SNL" is expanding its ethnic diversity off-screen as well, adding two black female writers.
    LaKendra Tookes and Leslie Jones were both among the exclusive group of black comediennes at the secret auditions held in in December. 
    Want more "SNL" fun facts?
    13 Actors You Probably Didn't Know Were Once 'SNL' Cast Members »
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