According to critics, Kate McKinnon is the breakout star of Ghostbusters. But that’s not news to anyone who’s seen an episode of Saturday Night Live over the past four years (or any of McKinnon’s earlier work on the web series Vag Magazine or Logo’s Big Gay Sketch Show). McKinnon consistently acts circles around her costars, with energy, goofiness, charisma, and dimples that make her eminently crushable, at least according to most people who work at Slate. (The people who vote on Emmy nominations think she’s pretty great, too.)
When was the precise moment at which McKinnon stole your heart? Everyone’s answer is different, because McKinnon contains multitudes, and all of those multitudes are lovable. Here are a few of our memories of falling for McKinnon.
June Thomas: I first discovered Kate McKinnon in December 2013, when she channeled Billie Jean King in a Saturday Night Live “Weekend Update” segment pegged to the Sochi Olympics. President Obama had just named the openly lesbian tennis great to the official U.S. delegation to Sochi, which many people interpreted as a subtextual middle finger to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was pushing an anti-gay “homosexual propaganda” law at the time. McKinnon blasted the subtext to lesbian heaven, presenting King as a rough, tough Amazon who was all set to “drive my Subaru Outback into Red Square, doing doughnuts and blasting Melissa Etheridge.” McKinnon’s “BJK” claimed, “There is no demographic in this world that gives less of a flip than 70-year-old lesbians.” No doubt, but it’s also true that few demographics more frequently find themselves the butts of unimaginative misogynist/ageist “humor.” McKinnon could’ve gotten laughs from the SNL audience by poking fun at uncool old dykes, but she didn’t take that easy route. Instead, she communicated King’s crazy, infectious enthusiasm; she revealed an awareness of the specific brand of braggadocio that jocks are prone to, and she pointed out an underappreciated fact: King does deserve extra credit for winning 12 grand slams while wearing glasses. She even made the look that every white lesbian I knew sported circa 1982 look supercool. Now that’s an achievement.
Aisha Harris: I think the first time I really took notice of Kate McKinnon was probably “Dyke & Fats”—so many perfectly calibrated facial expressions fly by in a sharp, truly subversive SNL sketch. But when I really fell unabashedly, crazily, I want-to-be-your-best-friend in love with her was after the ridiculous parody of Justin Bieber’s Calvin Klein ads. Here, her wide, demonstrative eyes are given a workout, as she squints them smolderingly in the most obnoxious way possible, tossing her head with the put-upon air of a young kid playing dress up in their parent’s clothes. What she’s doing is no easy task: She’s convincingly inhabiting the mindset of a young, un-self-aware heartthrob who himself is giving a performance—that of brash masculinity and sexiness—while coming across as unwittingly awkward doing so. Not unlike Dave Chappelle, she provides the greatest comedic take on a generation’s biggest pop star.
Rebecca Onion: Our girl’s November 2013 “Weekend Update” appearance as German chancellor Angela Merkel, commenting on the NSA’s surveillance of her cell phone, kick-started my infatuation. The contrast between Merkel’s efficient public persona and McKinnon’s innate wildness is perfectly played. Kate gives Angela the soul of a self-aware, desperate lonelyheart, dotting the impression with absurdist jokes at Germany’s expense. Speculating about whether Obama has personally read her electronic communications, McKinnon’s Merkel careens into a confessional mode, telling Update host Cecily Strong that her search history includes “Angela Merkel boxy” and “Is toe hair normal?” “I bet President Obama has the coolest search history,” she mourns. “Probably something like ‘What is the healthiest vegetable?’ and ‘Can your marriage be too happy?’ ” I still sometimes call texts “tiny oomails.”
L.V. Anderson: There are lots of A+ performances in SNL’s 2013 music video “(Do It on My) Twin Bed”—a spirited female tribute having sex with your boo when you’re visiting your parents for the holidays—but none captured my heart like Kate McKinnon’s. Her eyes caked in smoky makeup, McKinnon shows here how to take the art of seduction very, very seriously. The urgency with which she switches from casual-small-talk mode into sexytime mode as she sings “Say what’s up to my cousins, say what’s up to my neighbors, then take my man to my childhood bedroom” is as alarming as it is intriguing. Never once cracking a smile or letting her determination waver, McKinnon carefully undulates her body and purposefully demonstrates all the positions you can take when you’re “get[ting] wild in a bed for a child” in a way that is both hilarious and rooted in genuine eroticism. I’d let McKinnon take me to her childhood bedroom any time.
Christina Cauterucci: What is there to say about Kate McKinnon, besides the fact that she is my own personal lover? I first came under the spell of her devastating dimples when I saw her in comedian Julie Goldman’s glorious satire of the language around gay unions, “Commitment Ceremony.” It was 2008, and McKinnon played the subject of Goldman’s stilted vows (“No one has cared for me/ The way you have in my life/ I want to say to the world/ That you’re my very special significant really good friend”) with more restraint than she brings to her SNL schtick. But her lovable, wacko comedic style comes out midway through the video as she plays an air-drumkit, mugs as a fan blows her hair around, and makes like a follower of an anti-gay televangelist. She has no lines in the video, and she doesn’t need any.
When SNL announced that McKinnon would come aboard as a cast member in 2012, I was ecstatic and weirdly proud. When she brought a radical queer reading of Justin Bieber to the show, as my pal Shauna Miller has written, I detected a stirring in my—uh, soul. As McKinnon has gained much-deserved acclaim and fame for her portrayals of Billie Jean King, Hillary Clinton, and a lady who suffered unspeakable violation during an alien abduction, I’ve gobbled up every clip and outtake. I’ve also felt a strange sense of ownership rising within me. Ownership might be a creepy and potentially misogynist word to use here, but when there are so few out-and-about queers in mainstream comedy and film, we’ve got to hold close the ones we’ve got. Of course, the ones we’ve got are rarely as gifted and adorable as McKinnon. When straight people claim our idols and crushes as their own, queers are forced to accept that we aren’t the only ones who swoon over famous gays.
That’s what I keep telling myself, but I can’t seem to quash that protective impulse that flares up when a band I loved when it was still playing house shows ends up on my super-basic friend’s Spotify Discover playlist. In fact, I’m feeling the slightest twinges of jealousy just knowing that all my co-workers are currently writing their own paeans to my gal at this very moment. Back off, y’all. McKinnon might be your “girl crush” or comedy star of the year, but McKinnon-as-Bieber belongs to me.
Previously in Slate:
When Did You First Fall in Love With Oscar Isaac?