Saturday Night’s Children: Chris Kattan (1996-2003)

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Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 35 years. In our new column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member each week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.

Whether showering guests in barrages of chewed-up apple pieces as the dry-humping man-monkey Mr. Peepers, auditioning for pop star dance crews as Kyle Demarco, or spurning the gay advances of many celebrities and admirers as the divine showgirl Mango, Chris Kattan was one of the most comedically brave and generous SNL cast members during his run from 1996-2003, always unafraid to take on the most absurd and often least dignified characters and turn them into mandatory stops for the biggest celebrity hosts. His uninhibited energy and ability to bounce off others on both a physical and verbal level made him also one of the best team players on the cast, and together with cast mates like Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri, Molly Shannon, and Chris Parnell, Kattan helped create some of the most memorable SNL duos of his era.

Kattan followed in the footsteps of his father Kip King, a founding member of The Groundlings, and joined the Los Angeles comedy troupe during his college years. Several months after his SNL audition alongside Ferrell, Shannon, and others, Kattan became a featured player in March 1996 and was promoted to full cast member status in September of the same year. When he wasn’t stealing the spotlight with Mr. Peepers, Kattan was a great team player in many sketches, whether with Will Ferrell for the Butabi Brothers, Cheri Oteri for the Zimmermans, or Molly Shannon for Goth Talk. He also played Steve Irwin, Antonio Banderas (on the How Do You Say? Ah Yes, Show with Antonio Banderas — my personal favorite Kattan sketch), and of course the beautiful, the sexy, the irresistible Mango, who ties with Mr. Peepers as Kattan’s most popular character.

While Kattan sometimes leaned toward physical comedy (Mr. Peepers) and sometimes leaned more toward vocal comedy (Suel Forrester), his strength lies in a rigorously energetic combination of both approaches. Sketches featuring The Zimmermans, the uncontrollably turned-on couple played by Kattan and Cheri Oteri, best depict Kattan’s ability to bring his skills together in a new way versus just showcasing a wacky character. It’s the same in the Demarco Brothers sketches with Chris Parnell, where the two play effeminate fanboy brothers who go on dance crew auditions for pop stars like Bon Jovi and Britney Spears, spending more time on their handmade costumes and personal self-esteem boosting than trying to impress the musicians with their dance skills.

During his time on SNL, Kattan also appeared in several films including Monkeybone, House on Haunted Hill, Undercover Brother, Corky Romano, and of course A Night at the Roxbury, which was also spoofed in a Super Bowl XLII commercial in which he made a cameo. Post-SNL he had a streak of bad luck — he was replaced in the Broadway production The Frogs, his scene in Superbad was cut, and his credits include appearances on reality shows Inked and Sunset Tan — but between his Funny Or Die videos, his appearances on How I Met Your Mother and The Middle, and his lead role in the 2009 IFC miniseries Bollywood Hero, Kattan’s future in comedy can rely on the unending supply of energy and persistence he gave SNL week after week.

Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.