Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 36 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.
There wasn’t much room for a small-town Southern gal with a penchant for exaggerated valley girlisms on early 1990s SNL, an inarguably male-dominated era for both the established players and young newcomers. Like Siobhan Fallon, Beth Cahill, and Ellen Cleghorne, 23-year-old Melanie Hutsell couldn’t manage to break through the competition, and her preference for exploring the depths of feminine abrasiveness rather than building a more versatile range has mostly wiped her memory clean of 90s best-of collections. But she did have one thing none of her fellow female cast mates had — a completely unbridled, unabashed, and explosively sarcastic delivery that gave all of her performances a trademark energy.
In 1989, Hutsell left her hometown of Maryville, Tennessee and moved to Chicago where she studied improv at Second City. Together with some of her fellow Second City performers and teacher Mick Napier, Hutsell helped found The Annoyance Theater, where she performed in several shows and musical parodies, the most popular of which were The Miss Vagina Pageant and The Real Life Brady Bunch, where she debuted her uncanny “Marsha Marsha Marsha!” Jan Brady impression. It earned her a SNL audition, and she was hired as a featured player in November 1991 and promoted to repertory status for her third and final year.
Hutsell appeared as Jan Brady several times on SNL, including three appearances on Weekend Update. Taking a cue from the success of the girl-nerd caricature, Hutsell found her niche lampooning valley girls and other ditzy types, bringing an overly-excited delivery to celebrities like Tonya Harding, Ricki Lake, Blossom, and Tori Spelling. Hutsell’s only original recurring character was Di the sorority girl from the “Delta Delta Delta” sketches with Beth Cahill and Siobhan Fallon. Together in the sorority sketches, the otherwise overlooked trio found a corner of SNL to call their own on a playing field dominated by juggernauts like Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, and Chris Farley. On the subject of SNL competition, Hutsell told Vulture last year:
The older group there were done with the show and ready to move on, like Kevin Nealon, Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman. By nature of where they were in their lives, they were sweet and kind and generous. Then there was the other group, Adam Sandler, David Spade, Chris Rock, Chris Farley. Those guys were fighting to get their work onto the show and were really looking to the future and wanting to lay out their plan. That frame of mind is competitive. [And] then there were the girls! Where do we fall into this picture with these two groups of guys? I loved those guys and knew they loved me, but at times I felt like I was the little sister they didn’t want around. And there was no way for me to know the powerhouses I was sitting with. No one knew what the future held and that Adam Sandler would make movies continually. I was 23 and just happy to be there.
After leaving SNL in 1994, Hutsell appeared on Brotherly Love and the film Can’t Stop Dancing in 1999, then moved to Los Angeles and retired from performing to raise her daughter, Carly. Now that her daughter’s old enough to be appearing in sketches with her, she’s gotten back in the game on her own terms, appearing in In the Motherhood, United States of Tara, Funny Or Die, and most recently Bridesmaids, where she has a small scene as Kristen Wiig’s tennis partner Carol. She’s currently working on a pilot with Wendi McLendon-Covey and Mo Collins called Waffle Hut, and she’s also got a killer Paula Deen impression.
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.