Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 37 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member every other week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.
Alongside Michaela Watkins, 21-year-old Abby Elliott was hired as a featured player when Amy Poehler went on maternity leave a month into season 34. Elliott’s impersonation skills and beamy delivery proved invaluable during her run, from her election season Rachel Maddow sketches to her cooing sex-kitten take on host Anna Faris. Elliott’s announcement of her SNL departure in August 2012 came as an odd surprise to most fans and we’ll never know what would’ve happened had she stayed a little longer, but for such a consistently underused cast member, Elliott still managed to shine even in the smallest roles she was given.
A comedy career was almost inevitable for Abby; her father Chris Elliott had also been an SNL cast member 13 years prior and her grandfather was Bob of Bob and Ray, a sophisticated radio comedy duo that performed from the 1940s-1980s. After briefly attending Marymount Manhattan College in New York, the Connecticut-raised Elliott dropped out then moved to LA to pursue acting. There she joined The Groundlings and UCB and appeared in two of her dad’s comedy pilots You’ve Reached the Elliotts and Chrissy: Plain & Simple. She also did voices for King of the Hill and Adult Swim’s Minoriteam and made late night appearances on Late Show with David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
Elliott survived several cast shakeups during her SNL stint thanks to her knack for expertly impersonating over 35 celebrities like Rachel Maddow, Brittany Murphy, Joan Cusack, Nancy Grace, Katy Perry, Meryl Streep, and Anne Hathaway. She did a hilarious hippy-dippy ASPCA commercial-style Sarah McLachlan as well as perfect takes on Zooey Deschanel, Khloé Kardashian, Ke$ha, the baby-hungry Angelina Jolie (“I could always use a new baby”), and Chloë Sevigny’s uptight Mormon wife from Big Love.
Despite Elliott’s success as an array of female types and celebrities, it was ultimately SNL’s use of her as a steady utility impersonator that nipped her chance to shine through original characters; instead she was relegated mostly to ensemble parts singing grandly in “The Lawrence Welk Show,” as the snitch in “Gilly,” smoking and dancing in “Les Jeunes de Paris,” and as “Original Kings of Catchphrase Comedy” performer Fur Coat Rhonda.
Elliott had recurring roles on the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon recurring series “Jersey Floor” and “6-Bee” during her SNL run and appeared in films No Strings Attached and High Road in 2011. Since she left SNL in 2012, she’s appeared in the film Fun Size, voiced a character on Comedy Central’s Ugly Americans, and worked on 2 Broke Girls, How I Met Your Mother, Happy Endings, and Inside Amy Schumer. She’s also set to appear in Life Partners and the live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (both set for 2014) and has starred in several web series for CollegeHumor and Above Average. All those accomplishments and she’s still only 26 – even Ray should be proud.