Kate McKinnon & Her Sister Had The Funniest Childhood

Kate McKinnon had only performed her Hillary Clinton impression three times on Saturday Night Live when Ian Crouch, writing last month in The New Yorker, deemed it “already among the best impersonations of a politician ever to appear on the show.” Clinton is just McKinnon’s latest indelible send-up, notable for nailing Clinton’s toughness and vulnerability, on a list that includes Iggy Azalea, Jane Lynch, and Justin Bieber. Fans will have to wait until fall to get more of McKinnon on SNL — this weekend is the last live show of the season — but they can sate themselves in the interim with Notary Publix, the six-episode web series for Above Average in which she co-stars with stand-up comedian Emily Lynne, who is also her kid sister. The show, which drops every other Tuesday and is “Rated M for Mozzarella,” features McKinnon and Lynne playing the absurdly named actresses Kulie Bishop and Ashlaheigh Braun-Samuels, who, in turn, chew the scenery portraying a pair of sister notaries named Gina and Theresa Fra Diavolo in the faux series-within-a-series called — yes — Notary Publix. Meta to the max, each episode consists of a few delightful minutes of over-the-top crazy.
This isn’t the siblings’ first time in front of the camera together — and if you grew up near them in the ’90s in Sea Cliff, Long Island, you may have had a guest-starring role in one of their homemade productions. “There were a lot of videos made,” says Lynne, sitting beside McKinnon last week at Refinery29’s offices. “Really weird videos. Our first foray into the Long Island thing was — and I just watched this with Mom — The Grivadelchkis. Madison and Terry Grivadelchki.” “She played a little bitch, and I was her trashy mom,” McKinnon says, holding Lynne’s hand and riffing on some of the voices they’ve been toying with for years. The inspiration for Notary Publix was a local commercial for Brothers 3 Pools, in which, Lynne recalls, “This woman was like, ‘My uncle makes them, my father sells them — you can’t beat that combination.’ And she had this crazy, teased-up ’80s hair, and that was it.”
“We wanted to do those people,” McKinnon says, picking up the thread without missing a beat. (This happens a lot when the sisters get going.) “And I was like, 'What should they be?' And Emily just said” — here she breaks into a thick lawn guyland accent — “‘I’m a notary public.’ And that was it. …Some people are not proud of being from Long Island. I relish it.” As kids, McKinnon and Lynne honed their punch-line skills watching classics with their parents. “There was a lot of sketch comedy in the house,” McKinnon says. “They loved SNL. They encouraged us to watch Mel Brooks movies, which was required viewing.” “The Producers,” Lynne recalls. “I had no idea what that movie was about, but I knew all the dialogue.” “For me,” McKinnon chimes in, “it was watching The Producers once a week and — we didn’t own Young Frankenstein — but when we did get to watch it … ” “It was very exciting,” Lynne says. Madeline Kahn was “tops,” McKinnon adds. “Our mom and dad are both very funny. And, they always encouraged us to look at things in a funny way.”
There was a lot to see, most notably Catherine O’Hara and Christopher Guest movies for McKinnon, and for Lynne anything by “Miss Sarah Silverman.” The siblings have an extensive list of movies they watched together “a million, thousand times,” according to Lynne, including Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Legally Blonde, Death Becomes Her, and Troop Beverly Hills. In August, McKinnon will appear in the Kristen Wiig–Zach Galifianakis bank heist comedy Masterminds, and in December, she’ll pop up in Sisters, starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. The movie costars Dianne Wiest, who was such a childhood idol of McKinnon’s that the SNL cast member couldn’t bring herself to say hello to her on set. “I saw her,” McKinnon says. “I was too scared to go up to her because one of our movies is Practical Magic.” And, of course, this summer McKinnon shoots the all-female Ghostbusters reboot with Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and Leslie Jones. Not a bad lineup. “I think it’s definitely a golden age for women in comedy,” she says. “I think it’s just a golden age for comedy.”
Now that Clinton has declared her candidacy, McKinnon stands to get even more screen time on SNL next season. McKinnon is a stellar impressionist, and while her abilities seem limitless, she is careful in her approach. SNL alum Amy Poehler wrote very movingly in her book Yes Please about the time she inadvertently hurt someone with an impersonation, and that resonates with McKinnon. “I am so frightened about that,” she says. “I never want to offend anybody. I always want to do comedy with love, and to make fun of someone as a celebration — really to make fun — but not to deride in the process. To celebrate what’s unique and bizarre, but also just great about that person. That’s my first thought: What will this person think of this?” And speaking of burning questions, will McKinnon ever revive “Dyke & Fats,” the SNL sketch she did last year with Aidy Bryant and Louis C.K.? The one-and-a-half-minute ‘70s police procedural parody was an instant classic — and many fans would love to see those characters again. “Well, we’re trying,” McKinnon says. “We’re thinking about how to bring it up again.” In the meantime, we’ll keep enjoying those Fra Diavolo sisters.

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