Saturday Night’s Children: Rachel Dratch (1999-2006)

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Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 35 years. In our 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 drooling as the freakish Siamese twin Qrplt*xk, being wicked awesome as the local Boston party monster Zazu, or bumming out friends and family members as Debbie Downer, Rachel Dratch stands as one of SNL’s more underrated, if not under-rewarded, cast members. Despite her consistent presence on the show and multiple popular recurring characters, Dratch has gained more reputation as a utility player than SNL star, for better or for worse, and her influence on the show during a time dominated by stars like Shannon, Oteri, Rudolph, Poehler, and Fey has been largely underestimated.

After she graduated from Dartmouth in 1988, Dratch moved to Chicago and studied under Del Close at Improv Olympic. She joined Second City and stayed there for four years, appearing in four revues and receiving the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Actress in a Revue. Dratch teamed up with fellow Second City member Tina Fey, and together they co-wrote, produced, and performed their two-woman show “Dratch and Fey,” which ran at both Second City and the UCB Theater in New York from 1999-2000. SNL hired Fey as a writer in 1997 and Dratch as a cast member two years later. One of their “Dratch and Fey” sketches evolved into the Boston Teens sketches on SNL, where Dratch plays Sully’s (Fallon) tomboy girlfriend Denise “Zazu” McDenna. Check out the old-school video below:

In addition to Zazu, Debbie Downer, and Qrplt*xk, Dratch’s most popular characters included Virginia Klarvin of “The Love-ahs” (“Well, at this point during the soak, my love-ah and I usually crave spiced meats.”), Tiara Lee from “Deep House Dish,” and Julie, a woman who talks like an automated voice operator while on dates (“Gary, before we go any further, let me get some information.”) She also impersonated Calista Flockhart, Nicole Richie, Elizabeth Taylor, and Barbara Walters. Her secret weapon, however, lied in her uncanny ability to play funny male characters like few other female SNL players, like her roles as Harry Potter, the elderly Hollywood producer Abe Scheinwald, and high school nerd Sheldon from the “Wake Up, Wakefield” sketches. This versatility carries over to all of Dratch’s performances, whether male, female, or mutant baby.

Dratch left SNL in 2006 and returned in 2010 to appear in both Amy Poehler’s episode as well as Betty White’s Mother’s Day special. She was originally cast as Jenna Maroney in 30 Rock but was demoted after the pilot to smaller roles on the show like Barbara Walters, a cat handler, a blue monster hallucination, and Elizabeth Taylor. Her other film and television credits include The King of Queens, The Hebrew Hammer, Click, My Life In Ruins, Ugly Betty, and voiceover work on Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Assy McGee, and most recently Fish Hooks on the Disney Channel. As of February 2011, Dratch announced she was writing a book about only being offered roles as “obese lesbian secretaries”, so hopefully soon we’ll hear her side of the story, and soon after, hopefully we’ll see her yielding laughs from every drop of screen time long into the future. She’s set to star as a “lovable loser” who quits her day job to pursue acting in the film Odd Brodsky, set to release in 2012, so it looks like she’s already getting started.

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