Kate McKinnon established a reputation as one of the greatest SNL players of all time during her 10-season run on the show. She took her final bow on the Saturday Night Live stage during the Season 47 finale, along with other longtime players Aidy Bryant, Pete Davidson, and Kyle Mooney.
From impressions of Justin Bieber and Jodie Foster to uncanny portrayals of political figures like Hillary Clinton and Dr. Anthony Fauci, McKinnon definitely knows how to embody her characters. In addition to her impressions, she’s also known for a number of original characters and scene-stealing moments.
15. “Teacher Fell Down” (Season 44)
Starting at number 15 on the list, we have Kate McKinnon’s performance as an extremely dramatic driver’s ed teacher who’s fallen on the ground.
This one highlight’s McKinnon’s ability to take control of sketches. Cast members Pete Davidson and Aidy Byrant, and host Jonah Hill, can barely hold back laughter watching McKinnon’s horizontal performance.
14. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg On Not Retiring” (Season 42)
Though McKinnon portrayed the late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg several times on Saturday Night Live, my favorite instance is RBG’s appearance on Weekend Update to discuss why she WON’T be retiring.
RBG chugs Emergen-C powder, eats an apple a day, and hides Horcruxes around DC in an effort to hang on to her seat on the Supreme Court. McKinnon embodied RBG’s determination, so this sketch ranks as one of her best.
13. “Elizabeth Warren Town Hall Cold Open” (Season 45)
SNL fans who watched during the 2020 election cycle are probably familiar with McKinnon’s ongoing impression of Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren.
Aside from the uncanny impression in this cold open from Season 45, McKinnon gives a tongue-in-cheek performance that lays out the ways Warren is superior to her fellow candidates.
Senator Warren even came on SNL to spend some time with McKinnon-Warren.
12. “Jurassic Park Auditions” (Season 43)
There are many incredible performances in this sketch about the many actors and celebrities who may have auditioned for Jurassic Park in the '90s.
11. “NATO Cafeteria Cold Open” (Season 45)
Another of Kate McKinnon’s most famous impressions is of former German Chancellor Angela Merkel. McKinnon plays up the quirks of this political figure, focusing on her love for Obama and her desire to be included with the “cool kids.”
In this cold open, Merkel is invited to sit with other world leaders in the NATO cafeteria in order to prevent Trump from joining them at their table. Kate’s performance turns the politician into a lovable character, which works perfectly in this sketch.
10. “Whiskers R We”
This sketch stars McKinnon and fellow SNL legend Kristin Wiig as Barbara DeDrew and Furonica, two “gal pals” who work at a rescue cat shelter.
The women introduce the cats to the audience in an attempt to get the kitties adopted, but some of the cats come with a few red flags — Carl the cat clawed at Furonica’s sofa and then voted for Jill Stein, and Butternut is a master of psychological manipulation who specializes in gaslighting.
McKinnon and Wiig play perfectly off each other in this goofy sketch, which is why it lands at number 10 on our list.
9. Ellen (Season 39)
Undeniably, McKinnon’s portrayal of Ellen Degeneres is one of her most famous. She’s played the comedian/talk show host several times (like in the “Jurassic Park” sketch), but my personal favorite is McKinnon’s first appearance as Ellen back in Season 39.
McKinnon has Ellen’s mannerisms down, from her voice to her unconventional sitting poses and dance moves. This impression is definitely one of her best, so the sketch earns a spot on our list.
8. Kellywise (Season 43)
Kate McKinnon pulled two of her finest impressions out for this Pennywise-themed sketch where Kellyanne Conway tries to convince Anderson Cooper to join her down in the sewer.
Kellyanne ultimately transforms into Hillary Clinton to trick Anderson Cooper, and ends up biting his arm clear off. Fans of IT and fans of McKinnon alike will enjoy her performance in this creepy sketch.
7. “Themyscira” (Season 43)
Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant star in this sketch about lesbians who travel to the fictional island of Themyscira (the nation of the Amazons in the Wonder Woman franchise).
The comedy duo teamed up with host and Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot to investigate the lesbian vibes they get from the all-female colony on Themyscira. None of the women on the island are gay, but Kate and Aidy’s characters aren’t too convinced there isn’t a little something going on. The pair have great chemistry in this sketch, but the real reason this one makes the cut is McKinnon and Gadot’s kiss.
6. “Study Buddy” (Season 46)
In another classic example of a Kate McKinnon/Aidy Bryant sketch, McKinnon stars as a young boy who needs a little help from his buddy to get through his first romantic encounter.
McKinnon’s character is coached through the interaction over the phone and successfully earns his first kiss. Bryant and McKinnon have many sketches together where they work as a comedic duo, but “Study Buddy” is probably the one that best exemplifies their partnership.
5. “Rudy Giuliani On Trump's Election Lawsuits” (Season 46)
No feelings are spared when McKinnon does her impression of the former Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani.
Her impression cut especially deep during the lawsuits after the 2020 election, when McKinnon came on Weekend Update as Guiliani and listed the reasons for the lawsuits in different states, like “take-backsies” and “opposite day.”
Her spot-on impression and commentary on the absurdity of the election lawsuits make this Weekend Update appearance one of McKinnon’s finest moments on SNL.
4. “Cinema Classics: The Birds” (Season 46)
Donning a transatlantic accent, Kate McKinnon appeared in this sketch about Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 movie, The Birds, as Tippi Hedren.
The birds take it a step further in this “deleted scene,” using turtles as battering rams and even birding a man to death.
John Mulaney co-stars in this classic sketch. These birds weren’t raised right!
3. “Long Island Medium” (Season 38)
Here comes Kate McKinnon’s best impression of all time: The Long Island Medium, Theresa Caputo.
McKinnon’s performance is spot on both in appearance and mannerisms, and supporting performances by the Long Island residents make this one an all-time great. Caputo’s long acrylic nails are the cherry on top of this classic sketch.
2. “Dr. Wenowdis On Trump’s Televised Health Exam” (Season 46)
In a shocking moment, Kate McKinnon broke character and got real about her own mental health during this Weekend Update segment featuring Dr. Wenowdis.
The doctor explains things “wenow” and things we don’t, until Update anchor Colin Jost asks, “Kate, are you okay?” to which she responds, “I’m obviously not.”
Jost and McKinnon do eventually pull it together to bring the segment to a meaningful conclusion, but not before squeezing in a few more “wenowdis” jokes. It’s Kate’s most genuine moment on SNL, and therefore comes in at Number 2 on our list.
1. “Close Encounter” (Season 41)
No surprise here: Kate McKinnon’s best sketch of all time is “Close Encounter,” a recurring sketch that makes almost all of the celebrity hosts break character.
McKinnon steals the show as Colleen Rafferty, one of three humans to be abducted by aliens. While her fellow abductees come back with celestial stories about glowing lights and blankets of love, Miss Rafferty’s experience was a little different.
While the sketch has been reworked for multiple episodes, the original is by far the funniest thanks to host Ryan Gosling’s inability to keep a straight face.
Though her time at Saturday Night Live has come to an end, Kate McKinnon has created a legacy of sketches and characters that made us (and her fellow SNL costars) laugh. She certainly leaves big shoes to fill.
Episodes of Saturday Night Live starring Kate McKinnon are available to stream on Hulu and are included with Peacock subscriptions.
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She/her. Lover of female-led comedies, Saturday Night Live, and THAT scene in Fleabag. Will probably get up halfway through the movie to add more butter to the popcorn.