All The Kate McKinnon Alien Abduction SNL Sketches And Some Funny Backstory Behind The Character

Kate McKinnon departing SNL
(Image credit: NBC/Broadway Video)

During her 10-season tenure on Saturday Night Live, Kate McKinnon was responsible for some of the show’s best moments with impersonations of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Hillary Clinton, as well as characters like Olya Povlatsky and Sheila Sovage, but few, if any compare to Colleen Rafferty. Starting with the “Close Encounter” skit on a December 2015 episode of SNL, the hilariously unfortunate character made seven appearances, with incidents ranging from alien abductions to near-death experiences and so much in between.

And although the SNL fans said goodbye to McKinnon and Ms. Rafferty during the cold open of the Season 47 finale, we still have plenty of memories to look back on and laugh, even if that poor 27-year-old woman went to hell and back for laughs. 

Close Encounter - December 5, 2015

The first “Close Encounter” sketch had a simple premise where three friends — two played Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong, the other played by that week’s host (Ryan Gosling in this case) — are interviewed by two NSA Agents (Aidy Bryant and Bobby Moynihan) and are asked to describe being abducted by aliens. And while Strong and Gosling’s characters had beautiful and transcendent experiences, that was far from the case for McKinnon’s Colleen Rafferty, who was chain-smoking and fidgeting in her chair following the abduction.

Throughout the skit, McKinnon had this brilliant tone and comedic timing that she used to pick at each of her co-stars before making them crack and break character. It was this nuance Streeter Seidell and Mikey Day, the skit’s writers, brought up when Vulture asked the duo about why the skit made everyone crack up:

Simple: Aliens gently batting around knockers is a GUARANTEED WIN. But truthfully, it was Kate’s fantastic performance that broke the cast. We really liked what we wrote, but her character, delivery, and Kate magic made it something special.

The two writers also pointed out in the profile that McKinnon was like an assassin during the sketch, trying to break each person one by one.

Near-Death Experience - May 7, 2016

Colleen Rafferty would make her second appearance in the May 7, 2016 skit “Near-Death Experience,” which had the same basic premise of the alien abduction sketch, but this time it was three friends talking about their unique perspectives of a car wreck. Like last time, Cecily Strong's character and the episode's host (Brie Larson instead of Ryan Gosling) both describe these beautiful moments that changed their lives for the better. But that was far from the case for Ms. Rafferty, who was taken through one hellacious tunnel to the afterlife by an angel named Keith.

Christmas Miracle - December 17, 2016

On the December 17, 2016 episode of Saturday Night Live, Colleen Rafferty and Sharon were back to tell another “Close Encounter” story, this time joined by Doug (Casey Affleck) as they talked about running into the real Santa Claus. And while her two friends had a “Christmas Miracle” to remember and went to the North Pole, Ms. Rafferty, who was sleeping in their spare room, was met by a nine-foot-tall goat man named “Krinklemouse.” But instead of having a fun adventure with elves and toys, she was forced to run with the creature’s team of dogs. And it only gets crazier from there…

Another Close Encounter - October 1, 2017

In October 2017, Colleen Rafferty and her two friends from the original “Close Encounter” skit returned for “Another Close Encounter” after all three became the first group of people at the center of two alien abductions. Once again, Cecily Strong and Ryan Gosling’s characters were treated well by the aliens, but Ms. Rafferty described hers as “shoppers swarming Walmart on Black Friday.” And not to be outdone by their first experience together, McKinnon swoops in like an assassin to make Gosling break character, causing the whole thing to go off the rails.

Paranormal Occurrence - November 10, 2018

The “Close Encounter” series shifted over to the otherworldly on a November 2018 episode of Saturday Night Live when Liev Schreiber (in his SNL debut) joined Cecily Strong and Kate McKinnon’s characters to talk about a “Paranormal Occurrence.” And although her friends were greeted by two friendly spirits named Arthur and Abigail, respectively, Ms. Rafferty was met by Tobey, which she described as looking like something straight out of The Ring that crawled out of her TV and whisked her away to take care of some "unfinished business." But one of the biggest shockers from Colleen’s story was the revelation that she was only 27 years old…

A Journey Through Time - May 18, 2019

During the May 18, 2019 episode of Saturday Night Live, host Paul Rudd (before he was part of the five-timers club) joined Cecily Strong and Kate McKinnon for another “Close Encounter,” but instead of alien abductions, “A Journey Through Time” dealt with time travel. Similar to before, Rudd and Strong’s characters went on an incredible journey to a city made of crystal where all the races of the world lived in harmony, but that wouldn’t be case for Colleen Rafferty. Instead of the the future with its serenity, Ms. Rafferty was thrown a million years into the past where she was greeted by a people who were about halfway through the evolutionary chart.

Final Encounter - May 21, 2022

The seventh and final “Close Encounter” took place on the May 21, 2022 episode of Saturday Night Live where host Natasha Lyonne joined Cecily Strong and Kate McKinnon in what has to be the most absurd entry in the saga. Unlike the rest of the segments, “Final Counter” served as the Season 47 cold open, and started the episode off in grand style. The skit had the same timing as previous installments, but did end in a more spectacular fashion: Ms. Rafferty agreeing to join the aliens on their spacecraft, this time for good.

The day after the episode aired, Streeter Seidell took to Twitter with a touching tribute to Kate McKinnon, Colleen Rafferty, and everything the skit had done for him over the years, saying he was pretty sure “it’s the reason” he still works there.

Who knows if we’ll ever see Colleen Rafferty return from the heavens for another entry in the “Close Encounter” saga (hopefully not as a movie), but never say never. And while we wait for what’s next for the hilarious actress and comedian, there are plenty of great Kate McKinnon movies worth checking out.

Philip Sledge
Content Writer

Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop barking at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.