Maya Rudolph will be hosting Saturday Night Live for the second time this Saturday, March 27. While younger fans of the show may be familiar with her excellent impression of Vice President Kamala Harris in SNL’s cold open sketches, Rudolph’s history with the show spans two decades. She developed a repertoire of great impressions and characters during her seven seasons as a cast member between 2000 and 2007, and here are some of our favorites.
In Super Showcase Spokesmodels, Rudolph plays Shonda, a game show spokesmodel with an indiscernible, vaguely Scandanavian accent who, alongside her co-spokesmodel Vonda (Kristen Wiig), presents a series of prizes that game show contestant Debra (Vanessa Bayer) missed out on winning. This is one of the more popular sketches from Rudolph’s first hosting gig in 2012. To Debra’s chagrin her incorrect answer of “beef” (the answer to the unnamed question was in fact “nine”) means no fancy luggage, golf clubs or lifetime supply of chickens. The compounding ridiculousness of the 2013 sketch—one which as of the publication of this article has 8 million+ views of YouTube—is only overshadowed by the joy of watching Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader break in response to Rudolph’s delivery. At one point when removing a chicken from its shrink wrap, Rudolph rubs the skin of the chicken saying “tickle tickle.” There’s no way of knowing if these lines were on the SNL cue cards for that sketch but judging by Wiig’s pursed lips and bracing face, they weren’t. Another highlight of the sketch occurs when Wiig drives a golf cart in circles leading Shonda to goofily chase her around in pink pumps.
Season 32, 2006
Maya Rudolph can sang, not sing, sang. Her vocal chops have been leveraged in SNL sketches and in comedic award show bits for years. At this year’s Golden Globes she sang alongside SNL veteran Kenan Thompson as Beverly Jackfruit, a fictional musician nominated for “Least Original Song.” At the 92nd Oscars she and Kristen Wiig sang an arrangement of songs while presenting for Achievement in Costume Design. In this 2006 SNL sketch, Rudolph plays Pamela Bell, a Missouri woman who wins a local contest to sing the National Anthem before game 5 of the World Series. Rudolph’s exaggerated, staccato performance, which includes verses of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and spoken word delivery, effectively parodies the dramatic renditions of the anthem which have come to punctuate sporting events. Her glossolalia and scrunch-faced, drawn out runs will have you asking, “is Pamela still going?” The answer is yes, yes she is, and after a few minutes the mic will be nowhere near her face. Her silly singing is further reinforced by the live-studio audience laughter and the intermittent cuts to Jason Sudeikis and Bill Hader who play two understandably bewildered sportscasters.
Season 27, 2002
Halle Berry’s Best Actress Oscar win in 2002 was an iconic cultural moment. Although she and Denzel Washington’s Best Actor wins that year did not spur the change that Berry had hoped for within the exclusive, predominantly white world of Hollywood, her palpable gratitude and speechlessness did make for a touching, albeit easily satirized, moment. On the Weekend Update segment that occurred two weeks after the Oscars, Rudolph portrays an overjoyed Berry. The gag is that even though it’s been half a month Berry is still crying, clutching her award, and wearing her famous mesh, floral, wine gown. As Tina Fey inquires with Denzel Washington—superbly impersonated by Dean Edwards—about Berry’s wellbeing, Washington cooly announces “Halle is gone.” Rudolph’s Berry is mostly delivered through Rudolph’s physical comedy. She swivels back and forth, slowly scanning the audience with her mouth still agape and her eyes filled with tears. As the segment progresses Berry continues to thank random Black people including “the lady from the Pine Sol commercial” and Tootie from The Facts of Life.
Season 32, 2007
In “Bronx Beat,” a recurring daytime TV show sketch, Rudolph and Amy Poehler play two fast-talking, Bronx-based mothers who host a revolving door of guests. Together the duo use their airtime to overtly lament the challenges of domestic life. In this installment of the sketch, Rudolph’s Jodi Dietz helps interview Frank (Jake Gyllenhaal), a young author who has completed a book on mountain biking trails. While Frank discusses the background research he did to write about differing trails across the country, Dietz frequently interrupts him to talk about her unsatisfying sex life saying, “You know how many times I had sex last year Frankie? 0.00 times.” Remarks like this catch Frankie off guard and result in a palpable discomfort that makes excellent fodder for audience laughter. Rudolph and Poehler’s spitfire takes, teased hair and united front results in six minutes of late 2000s late-night sketch comedy gold.
Season 29, 2004
You get an Oprah impression! You get an Oprah impression! You get an Oprah impression! In this sketch, Rudolph parodies the famous episode of Oprah in which she gifts her audience members new cars. Rather than directing her devoted admirers to look for car keys beneath their seats, Rudolph’s Oprah namedrops like a champ (Julia Roberts, Salma Hayak, John Travolta, and on and on) and dishes out gift after gift, sending her studio audience into a fine frenzy during an “Oprah’s Favorite Things” segment. At the sight of the gifts, women overcome with jubilee begin making out, ripping limbs off and going into labor. Aside from the absurd audience reactions which do well to communicate how much people love Oprah, Rudolph’s impression of Oprah is great. She does the elongated pronunciation and the enthusiastic high-pitched intonation well. In response women can be seen being carried out on gurneys after receiving Ugg boots, luxury frozen turkeys and hand-held camcorders. At one point the anonymous studio audience member that Tina Fey plays urinates on herself out of pure excitement. Now that’s what I call pee glee.
Season 37, 2012
In a parody of Betty White’s Off Their Rockers, a hidden-camera show in which White and other senior citizens pulled pranks, Rudolph plays famous Black poet Maya Angelou in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Laughs.” It’s another standout sketch from Rudolph’s first hosting gig in 2012. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Laughs” is a sketch which answers the age-old question, “what if Maya Angelou wanted to goof on all of her acclaimed Black friends?” Rudolph speaks in verse as a sage, ethereal version of Angelou who, donned in colorful clothes, places creams pies beneath the butt of Morgan Freeman (Jay Pharoah), cuts out the bottom of Dr. Cornel West’s (Kenan Thomposon) briefcase and tricks Stephen King (Bill Hader) into thinking his car is being towed. Angelou glides through every room as a bevy of “zoinks!” sound effects score big reveals like “Yes it’s me, Maya Angelou. This is a prank.” When Dr. Cornel West asks sister Maya if the defamation of his briefcase was “an act of malice” she soothingly retorts that in contrast it was “an act of whimsy.” Rudolph’s convincing portrayal of Angelou compellingly highlights how silly prank shows are by placing a beloved figure like Angelou—who is typically associated with sincerity and grace—as the orchestrator of a series of gags.
Season 28, 2003
In this Weekend Update segment, Rudolph portrays Stripped era hip-hop Christina Aguilera. The sketch showcases two elements of Rudolph’s personhood that Saturday Night Live was quick to employ: her aforementioned singing skills and her racial ambiguity. Rudolph portrays Aguilera after that year’s Grammy nominations, which Aguilera’s album was released too late to qualify for. Update hosts Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon inquire about Aguilera’s disqualification from Grammy nominations, to which Rudolph’s Aguilera responds with a series of grunts and runs saying “as far as the Grammys go, ‘MMMOOOUUuuuuwahhhahehehehehheheuh’.” Fallon then serves as an interpreter for the exaggerated sing-song, pregnancy breath exercise, whalespeak that Rudolph’s Aguilera communicates through. The short Weekend Update segment does well to comment on Aguilera’s powerhouse vocals and the shift in her aesthetic from bubblegum pop, fair-skinned singer to the heavily-tanned, braid wearing songstress that Rudolph does an impression of. The joke doesn’t merely ask “isn’t it something that this is how Aguilera sings?” The joke also asks “isn’t it something that this is how Aguilera looks, and therefore Maya Rudolph can portray her?”
Season 37, 2012
The “Prince Show” sketches which recurred throughout Rudolph’s tenure on SNL culminated in an additional “Prince Show” adjacent sketch during Rudolph’s hosting gig in 2012. In the sketches Rudolph plays a blinged out, song-belting Beyoncé opposite Fred Armisen’s cool and comically elusive, pencil mustached Prince. The sketch takes place after Blue Ivy’s birth. Jay-Z (Jay Pharoah) and Maya Rudolph welcome a carousel of guests including Taylor Swift (Kristen Wiig), Nicki Minaj (Nasim Pedrad), and, you guessed it, Prince. At one point Prince hides bashfully behind a couch when Minaj performs an original rap dedicated to Blue Ivy. When LL Cool J (Kenan Thompson) asks about the safety of the delivery, Rudolph’s Beyoncé sings in response saying when her water broke she was like “haaaAHHHHHHH” and then she went into labor and was like “AY AY AY” and on and on. Yet again Rudolph’s vocal prowess breathes comedic life into a much beloved cultural figure. In addition to Rudolph’s chops in this sketch, it’s fun to watch her play alongside an ensemble of fellow comedic actors. Her well-timed back and forth with Pharoah is great, and her response to Prince’s dramatic entry is too.
Season 46 of SNL has blessed viewing audiences with a bevy of great sketches and digital shorts, from Dan Levy’s Superbowl musical number to Rege-Jean Page’s rendition of “Driver’s License.” But the show is often at its best when former cast members come back to play. Rudolph’s performances this Saturday are likely to generate laughs nationwide.
Adesola Thomas is a screenwriter and culture writer. She loves talking about Annette Benning’s performance in 20th Century Women and making lasagna.