On Saturday Night Live’s Christmas episode, the last of 2022, the show and its fans said goodbye to cast member Cecily Strong. She left as she came in, stealing the show with her fabulous impression of the loud and bizarre Kimberly Giulfoyle, capturing the voice of a Jewish grandmother, and saying see you later to Weekend Update in which the recurring Cathy Anne announced she was going to prison, before her farewell of singing “Blue Christmas” with Austin Butler’s “Casual Elvis.”
The show was Strong’s last, marking the end of a ten-year career on SNL which saw her becoming the longest tenured female cast member in history, just passing the great Kate McKinnon. When Strong debuted in 2012 for Season 38, SNL was in a state of transition. Andy Samberg was gone. Even more of a loss was Kristen Wiig, arguably the best of the cast and perhaps the greatest woman in the show’s history. It was a tremendous void to fill, for Wiig could do it all. Replacing her would not be an easy task.
SNL didn’t skip a beat, however. McKinnon started with the show in January 2012, with Strong soon following that September. It was a saving grace, along with the addition of Aidy Bryant in 2013, for that year saw even more SNL favorites leave in Bill Hader, Jason Sudekis, and Fred Armisen. The women were now tasked with taking charge, and that they did.
Cecily Strong Joins ‘Saturday Night Live’
In Strong’s first episode on September 15, 2012, she was immediately given a chance. While so many featured players (the supporting role cast members who are just starting out) usually find themselves playing smaller characters, backing up the repertory players (the main cast), Strong was let loose. In a Weekend Update bit, she got three minutes almost by herself to just riff as Mimi Morales, a not-so-bright Latina get-out-the-vote volunteer from Florida. She held the crowd in the palm of her hand with lines such as when she’s talking about Chris Christie and says of him to Update host Seth Meyers, “He was like so big, Seth. Did you see him? He was like the end of Ghostbusters.” The line was funny enough, but Strong’s facial expressions, body language, and timing took it over the top.
Strong impressed so much that, come the next year, her first as a repertory player, she was put next to Meyers as co-host of Weekend Update. It was an attempt to try to recapture the magic Meyers once had with his co-host Amy Poehler. It probably shouldn’t have been attempted, for it was a lot to live up to for someone so new, but maybe not so surprisingly, it worked. Strong was a natural. There was no nervousness, no awkwardness, no lack of chemistry, as would be the case for current Weekend Update hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che in the beginning.
She Was Outstanding on Weekend Update
Strong could have spent the next decade doing Weekend Update, but sadly, it only lasted a year, not because she was bad at it, but because her talents were missed in the main sketches. Creating characters is what Strong excelled best at. She would still be a regular on Weekend Update over the years though, where she got to go past the boundaries of telling monologue-like political jokes, and instead giving us characters born in chaos. Cathy Anne was one. The best though was “Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party”. In a long recurring bit, Strong would appear as a very opinionated partygoer who didn’t know what they were talking about. She tries hard to show how much she knows, and is convinced that she does, but it never comes out right. For example, in a 2014 bit with Michael Che, she tells him that she just went to Israel. When Che asks if she’s Jewish, Strong replies, “Wow, the fact that you would even ask me that makes you a spigot.” She then rails about the Ebola outbreak, saying she thinks about it “25/7”, that “it’s an Obamanation”, and “uncomprehandable.”
That outlandishness wasn’t just reserved for made up characters, for Strong may have shined best, especially in the last few years during the Trump era, with her fabulous impressions of real life people, such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, Melania Trump, the already mentioned Kimberly Guilfoyle, and most notably, the super loud Fox News Host, Judge Jeanine Pirro. The last gave Strong not only the chance to do another spot-on impression, but to contort her body and toss herself around, while the drunk character constantly threw her drink all over poor Colin Jost.
Sometimes those characters went beyond mere mockery. In late 2021, she showed up to Weekend Update with a funny, but rather dark character whose uncomfortable nature is revealed in its name: “Goober the Clown Who Had An Abortion When She Was 23”. Here, Strong got to use comedy to speak, in a way that was barely contained underneath the surface, about what was going on in America with women’s rights. Strong took another crack at it the new year after the repeal of Roe vs. Wade with “Tammy the Trucker on Gas Prices and Definitely Not Abortion”. The performances earned Strong two Emmy nominations the past few years for Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy Series.
She Also Shined in Sketches
Strong’s strengths didn’t stop at Weekend Update though. She was great in the main sketches as well, and was regularly given a spot in the much desired Cold Open to start the show. She could play wacky characters and deliver great impersonations there too, but she also got to showcase another skill that doesn’t get as much attention. She was the perfect straight man, er, straight woman, the grounded, more “normal” character in a sketch who helps move things along. Phil Hartman was the best at it in the 1990s. He could do his own great characters such as the Anal Retentive Chef and Handyman, but he was also a great character actor who could do anything asked of him, such as keeping the wild ball of energy Chris Farley grounded in the “Matt Foley: Van Down By The River” sketch.
Cecily Strong was the best at that since Hartman. It didn’t mean she sunk into the background. She was still an integral part of the sketch, but she was phenomenal at letting someone else next to her shine, while she was the force they could bounce off of.
That wide range, from the ability to do impressions and physical comedy, to being the straight woman, and even her ability to sing and be serious, will take Cecily Strong far in the next chapter of her career. You already see her on TV all the time as the spokesperson in the Verizon commercials. This year she also began doing big time stage plays in New York for the first time, acting in the Off Broadway play The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.
Cecily Strong Was the Voice of a New Era
Cecily Strong was the voice of a new era on Saturday Night Live at a time when the show needed one most. Kristen Wiig was a highlight of the era before her and is one of the best ever, but she had big name men surrounding her too with the likes of Armisen, Hader, Samberg, Sudekis, and Will Forte. Wiig was equal to those men, which was a major accomplishment in modern TV. Strong surpassed that. She had some great men to work with also like Kenan Thompson, Taran Killam, Bobby Moynihan, and Beck Bennett, but here it was the women who were completely in charge and the men who were trying to keep up. It was Kate McKinnon who was the star. It was Aidy Bryant who was the star. It was Cecily Strong who was the star.