One of Saturday Night Live’s most unsung heroes is back on NBC as Ana Gasteyer heads up the cast of American Auto, playing the newly-installed CEO of a failing Detroit automaker who’s sent in to help turn things around, despite not actually knowing anything about cars. The new workplace comedy from Superstore creator Justin Spitzer has earned Gasteyer rave reviews and got us remembering some of our favorite sketches from her stellar run as a cast member on SNL from 1996 to 2002.
Overlapping with the likes of Will Ferrell, Darrell Hammond, Norm Macdonald, Molly Shannon, Tina Fey, Jimmy Fallon, and David Spade, Gasteyer created a long list of memorable characters that includes high school music teacher Bobbie Mohan-Culp, feminist comic Cinder Calhoun, and, of course, Margaret Jo McCullen, the host of fictional National Public Radio show Delicious Dish. She was also known for her fabulous spot-on impressions of everyone from Martha Stewart to Celine Dion.
But that’s just scraping the surface of what Gasteyer brought to the long-running sketch series. Here are our picks for Ana Gasteyer’s ten most iconic Saturday Night Live characters:
21 appearances, 1996-2015
Saturday Night Live has a long tradition of clueless musical duos, and somewhere between Nora Dunn and Jan Hooks as The Sweeney Sisters and Fred Armisen and Kristen Wiig as Garth and Kat, we got Ana Gasteyer and Will Ferrell as high school music teachers Marty and Bobbi Culp. Appearing on the show a whooping 21 times, the husband-and-wife duo’s signature musical medleys were always delivered with hopeful optimism, and — judging from their on-stage banter — usually received with outward hostility by their (unseen) audiences.
4 appearances, 1996-1997
Though she's currently a political commentator and host on the Fox Business Network, Lisa Kennedy Montgomery — who goes by the mononymous name "Kennedy" — first rose to prominence in the nineties as an early MTV VJ. Inspired by Kennedy, Ana Gasteyer's Kincaid delivered quirky pop culture non sequiturs while breaking down weighty topics for the MTV generation and clashing with just about everyone else.
6 appearances, 1996-1998
Lilith Fair was all the rage when Gasteyer made her first appearance as comedian-turned-folk singer Cinder Calhoun in 1996. Socially conscious and entirely self-important, Gasteyer’s activist Calhoun became a frequent guest on Weekend Update, where she once memorably sang her vegetarian Thanksgiving anthem “Basted in Blood” with none other than Lilith founder Sarah McLachlan.
Margaret Jo McCullin
15 appearances, 1996-2010
In what may be her most fondly remembered role, Gasteyer played Margaret Jo McCullin, co-host (with Molly Shannon's Terry Rialto and Rachel Dratch’s Lynn Vashad) of the NPR food show The Delicious Dish. Gasteyer's mimicry of the lifeless energy and obliviousness of such shows is spot-on, never more so than when she interviewed baker Pete Schweddy (Alec Baldwin) about his famous holiday dessert: Schweddy Balls.
Cast members on Saturday Night Live routinely spend their first year or two trying to find their place on the show and hoping to have their contracts renewed at the end of the season. Ana Gasteyer was no exception, but she credits her December 1996 appearance as a topless Martha Stewart with giving her the confidence that she belonged. Gasteyer’s Stewart went on to make over a dozen appearances on the show, and memorably appeared on the real Martha Stewart’s 2000 holiday special.
16 appearances, 1997-2002
Talk about job security. In 1997, Gasteyer was tapped to play Hillary Cinton, and she continued to play the then-First Lady through President Clinton's impeachment scandal and Hillary Clinton's successful 2000 senatorial campaign. Undermined by her husband at every turn, Gasteyer's Clinton (much like her real-life counterpart) was undeterred, and helped to redefine perceptions of Mrs Clinton as a serious politician.
4 appearances, 1997-2001
Gasteyer owned this recurring series of sketches in which she played wealthy drunken WASP Ginger Attebury, whose relationship with her husband Leslie (first played by Mark Mckinney, and then Will Ferrell) was downright toxic.
7 appearances, 1998-2002
Gasteyer's impression of the mega singer, complete with exaggerated French-Canadian accent, was totally over-the-top, painting her as an over-excited, super-nice woman with an inflated ego. In her signature sketch, The Celine Dion Show, Gasteyer as Dion would interview other musical artists, urging them to sing, only to immediately hog the spotlight and belt out the tune herself. The real Celine Dion was such a good sport about Gasteyer’s impression that she once invited her on stage at a tour stop in New York to perform an in-character duet.
Jonette (of Gemini’s Twin)
6 appearances, 2000-2002
Gasteyer paired with Maya Rudolph to form the parody girl group Gemini’s Twin in this series of sketches. As the clueless Jonette and Britanica, Gasteyer and Rudolph were prone to use hip-hop slang incorrectly when they weren’t making up inane words or phrases of their own. In a recurring gag that poked fun at Destiny’s Child, the duo were often joined by a new third member (played by celebrity guests that included Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow), only for them to be kicked out by the group’s next appearance on the show. Ultimately the real Destiny’s Child played three former Gemini’s Twin band members who had since gone on to form their own girl group, titled “Serendipity’s Coincidence.”
1 appearance, 2002
By February 2002, both Gasteyer and her frequent collaborator Will Ferrell were within months of their final episode as cast members on Saturday Night Live, which may explain why their characters in this classic sketch about a morning news show gone wrong never recurred. It's clear the broadcast isn't going to go well right from the show’s start, as Gasteyer and co-anchor, played by Will Ferrell, are on their knees because someone stole their chairs. Technical difficulties mar the rest of the broadcast, leaving the two either embarrassed or blissfully unaware that what they're doing is being caught on camera. Gasteyer is pitch-perfect as the flustered anchor, and paired with future Anchorman star Ferrell, the two make this five-minute sketch one worth watching again and again.
Gasteyer’s American Auto airs on NBC Tuesdays at 8:00 PM ET and is available for streaming alongside her classic SNL episodes on Peacock.
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Christine Persaud has been writing for close to two decades and freelancing for the last eight, with her entertainment work featured in Digital Trends, Screen Rant, Reviewed Canada, and others. Follow her on Twitter @christineTechCA.
TOPICS: Ana Gasteyer, NBC, American Auto, Saturday Night Live, Celine Dion, Hillary Clinton, Martha Stewart, Maya Rudolph, Molly Shannon, Will Ferrell