Saturday Night’s Children: Laura Kightlinger (1994-1995)
Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 36 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.
Despite Laura Kightlinger’s fruitless year as an SNL writer and featured player, she’s built up a pretty kickass comedy resume over the years, with credits as an actor, writer, producer, and director working with comedians like Roseanne Barr, David Cross, Bob Odenkirk, Jack Black, and Louis CK. With company like that, it’s a surprise that Kightlinger’s managed to fly so far under the radar, but then again, the phrase “under the radar” describes her darkly oddball brand of humor perfectly, even though it doesn’t often lead to success in the SNL trenches.
Born in Jamestown, New York and raised by her mother in Boston, Kightlinger got her first start in comedy during her years at Emerson College, where she was a member of the “personal, uncomfortable, disturbed, and sometimes inappropriate” theater sketch troupe “This Is Pathetic” alongside future Mr. Show cast members David Cross and John Ennis. After graduating in 1986, she began touring Boston regularly as a stand-up comedian around future stars like Sarah Silverman, Dave Attell, Janeane Garofalo, and Louis CK and landed a brief gig as the host of Comedy Central’s Stand-Up Stand-Up in 1992. A year before joining the 20th season SNL cast, Kightlinger got a writing job at Roseanne and appeared as Marge the flirty bartender in an episode called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” where Roseanne visits her first gay bar.
Like Chris Elliott and Janeane Garofalo, Kightlinger was hired at SNL in 1994 as a season replacement following the departure of Melanie Hutsell, Rob Schneider, Sarah Silverman, Julia Sweeney, and Phil Hartman. Despite locking down no recurring characters, Kightlinger managed to land screen time through impersonations like Connie Chung, Brooke Shields, Entertainment Tonight host Mary Hart, Paula Poundstone, and head OJ Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark, who she appeared as eight times thanks to the show’s ongoing trial sketch coverage. She also appeared as herself on Weekend Update, where she’d launch into unabashedly narcissistic and depressive rants that broke so many of comedy’s golden rules they became fascinating deconstructions of editorials and are still so darkly comic they approach some of the abstract madness of early Andy Kaufman: “Anything can happen with a razor.”
Laura Kightlinger’s time on SNL was a brief and unhappy one, however, mostly thanks to arriving at the height of the show’s bro-centric focus (Farley, Spade, and Sandler were still cast members) and before the bro backlash, but her years of hitting the pavement as a stand-up comedian in the early 90s ended up paying off after she quit at the end of the season and moved to Los Angeles, where she appeared on Mr. Show and Roseanne’s briefly-lived 1996 Fox sketch show Saturday Night Special.
In 1997, Kightlinger began dating Jack Black, and their eight-year relationship led to collaborating on each other’s projects (the two had already performed on Mr. Show together) — she appeared in the Tenacious D TV series and 2001’s Shallow Hal, and Black produced and directed her 2003 documentary 60 Spins Around the Sun about comedian-turned New York drug law activist Randy Credico. The film won Kightlinger three awards for Best Documentary at the Beverly Hills, Boston, and Empire Film Festivals two years later.
Perhaps it was Kightlinger’s lack of spotlight that allowed her to pump out so much work. In addition to her many film and TV roles in films like Run Ronnie Run (starring David Cross), Daddy Day Care, and 2001’s Pootie Tang written and directed by Louis CK, she also an appearance as a contributing correspondent on The Daily Show in 1999. Her collaboration with CK continued with his shortly-lived HBO sitcom Lucky Louie in 2006, then she took her own turn at leading a show by creating, writing, and starring in her own show The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman, which ran for two seasons on IFC from 2006-2007 and earned her a Satellite Award nom for Best Actress in a Series, Comedy, or Musical, as well as praise from Time as “the kind of drawling feminist sarcasm rarely seen since Roseanne left sitcomdom.” She’s also appeared in several HBO and Comedy Central stand-up specials and most recently made an appearance on Workaholics’ season one finale.
On the non-performing side, Kightlinger has written for Dennis Miller Live, Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time, Daria, and Will & Grace, where she also served as a consulting producer and small role as Sheila the fertility clinic nurse for eight seasons. She also published a memoir in 1999 called Quick Shots of False Hope: A Rejection Collection. Her comedy continues to stand out as original and unusually dark (“I can’t think of anything worse after a night of drinking than waking up next to someone and not being able to remember their name, or how you met, or why they’re dead”), and while her her voice was mostly stifled on SNL (her Weekend Update segments being the lone exception), she never compromised on it, and it’s paid off slowly and surely ever since. She told After Ellen in 2007:
I feel bad actually that it’s [feminism] spoken with such derision. That’s what really bothers me, because if you’re a woman, shouldn’t you be a feminist? Shouldn’t you want women’s rights and shouldn’t you want the most success for other women? And so it just blows my mind when there are women that say, “No, I’m not a feminist.” I find that kind of surprising. To me it’s like saying, “I’m against myself.” I’ve had like three big breaks, and they’re all from women, acting, and writing.
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.