SNL Vet Molly Shannon Reveals How She Convinced Whitney Houston To Appear On The Show

Molly Shannon and Whitney Houston
(Image credit: NBC/Warner Bros.)

Saturday Night Live has welcomed a number of iconic celebrities over the years, some of which have even left the show's cast starstruck. Series alum Molly Shannon spoke about some them in her memoir, Hello, Molly!, and revealed her favorite guests during her stint as a cast member in the '90s. Shannon's list includes names like Jim Carrey, Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Aniston, and Gwyneth Paltrow. But one of the most notable is late Grammy Award-winner Whitney Houston, who displayed her acting and singing chops during one particular episode. Shannon is now revealing how she convinced Houston to appear on the show.

In 1996, Whitney Houston was already an accomplished actress, having co-led The Preacher’s Wife with Denzel Washington that same year and starred in The Bodyguard years earlier. And on top of her big roles, she also had her singing career. So you'd have to wonder when and how she would have the time to make an appearance on SNL. Well, Molly Shannon shared on The Howard Stern Show that she appealed to the celebrated Cinderella star by giving her flexibility:

They're like, ‘She's not going to be in the sketch. She's not going to do it.’ I was like, 'She'll do it. Let me go talk to her.' Sometimes I would see where they would approach the musical guest and they would have too many lines or it's too confusing. And I thought, ‘They don't want to have all of this pressure memorizing these lines.’ So I just told Whitney, 'Look, I'm going to play the Catholic school girl. You're going to be like a snotty girl. All you have to do is, just do whatever you want. You just have to be snotty, push in front me, out-sing me. You can say whatever you want.’ She was like, ‘Perfect, I’ll do it.’

The sketch saw Rosie O’Donnell (the episode’s host) and Penny Marshall portray nuns trying to prepare their students for a choir competition. Whitney Houston played “the perfect Jennifer,” who gracefully sang Christmas songs like “Little Drummer Boy” and “Sleigh Ride” only for Molly Shannon’s Mary Katherine Gallagher to out-sing her. The White Lotus star went on to recall how things got somewhat stressful ahead of showtime:

Then the night that the sketch was on, she was not there yet. And I was like, 'Oh no.' So they had Ana Gasteyer dress in the Catholic school outfit, so she was ready to go onstage. It was like, honestly, like five seconds, they're counting down, [Gasteyer]'s about to go on. And then they're like, 'Whitney's here, Whitney's here!' They usher her on and she was fantastic. She showed up.

That actually wasn’t the first time that the SNL alum had to be persuasive while on the show. She tried to make a hard sell to get her character, Jeannie Darcy, on the hit comedy series. The actress' perseverance is commendable, and we should all be grateful since it resulted in that character and the sweet Whitney Houston sketch.

It's great that Molly Shannon, who has a few upcoming films in the can, has taken some time to like back on some of her favorite SNL guest stars. Hearing her reflect on such stories is refreshing and, in this case, it's a nice way to pay tribute to the late, great Whitney Houston. You can check out the pair's classic holiday sketch by streaming that Saturday Night Live episode with a Peacock Premium subscription.

Carly Levy
Entertainment Writer

Just your average South Floridian cinephile who believes the pen is mightier than the sword.