Saturday Night’s Children: Michaela Watkins (2008-2009)

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.

In the fall of 2008, Saturday Night Live was completely wrapped up in presidential election campaign satire. Present and former cast members were brought in to play political candidates and figures like Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton, Maya Rudolph as Michelle Obama, and Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, and real candidates Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Mike Huckabee, and Sarah Palin appeared for cameos. For newcomer Michaela Watkins, the opportunity to prove herself as a featured player couldn’t have come at a busier and more buzzworthy time at SNL, but even her pitch-perfect Barbara Walters impression wouldn’t keep her in the spotlight long enough to stay on for season 35.

Watkins studied acting at Boston University then moved to Portland, where she performed in regional theater as well as with improv group Toad City Productions. In 2000 she moved to Los Angeles and performed with Circle X Theatre and 2100 Square Feet. Before landing a spot on SNL, Watkins played small roles on shows like Charmed, Without a Trace, Medium, Grey’s Anatomy, Malcolm in the Middle, and Californication, and she also had a recurring role on The New Adventures of Old Christine from 2008-2009. She was hired alongside Abby Elliot in 2008 and made her first appearance on Weekend Update as Arianna Huffington, an impersonation she used in her audition.

Watkins also impersonated Ann Coulter, Barbara Walters, Hoda Kotb from The Today Show (alongside Kristen Wiig as the ever-drunk bully Kathie Lee Gifford), Joan Rivers, and Janice from The Muppets. Weekend Update was also home to her most memorable character Angie Tempura, a snarky blogger who rags on celebrities with the breathy catchphrase “Bitch pleeze!” while sucking on iced coffees, only to admit later she doesn’t watch half the movies she scathes.

Watkins was fired at the end of the season by Lorne Michaels alongside Casey Wilson and told Entertainment Weekly:

“I honestly don’t know. What he said is he’s trying to get what’s best for him and best for me. He said it had nothing to do with talent. And I’m just going to go on that. That was his only explanation. He’s looking at the whole mix of the show and maybe he feels that what I bring would be better served on a sitcom. They hired two new gals [Jenny Slate and Nasim Pedrad] that I think are going to be exquisite.”

That’s a gracious response from Watkins, but after she disappeared, SNL no longer had the perfect female middle ground between young newcomers like Slate, Pedrad, and Elliot and the established popularity of Kristen Wiig. Michaels might have been right in saying Watkins could do more elsewhere, but the remaining women shared similar energy while Watkins could pull off young, old, and straight characters with a subtle ease that made her both a great star and supporter.

Since leaving SNL, Watkins has appeared in The Back-up Plan, Parenthood, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, as well as in videos for Funny Or Die and improv performances both at The Groundlings and the Upright Citizens Brigade. She also has a part in Wanderlust, set to release in 2011.

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

Saturday Night’s Children: Michaela Watkins (2008-2009)