By the time Melissa McCarthy hosted this weekend’s “Saturday Night Live,” she had already become a highly anticipated presence on the show for one reason: “Spicey.”
Her take on White House press secretary Sean Spicer, which debuted in February, has become a standout moment for this season of the NBC show, helping to draw record viewers and even reportedly unsettling the president himself so much that Spicer’s longevity in the job became questioned. Considerable buzz built ahead of this week’s episode when cellphone videos and photos emerged Friday of McCarthy in character as Spicer traveling along busy Manhattan street on a portable podium.
So how did this year’s big political comedy moment come to be? It all started with an airplane pitch about a monologue to Kristen Stewart, McCarthy explained to The Hollywood Reporter.
McCarthy was headed to New York for a movie shoot, while Stewart was en route for her SNL hosting gig. “She has a reputation for not loving to be interviewed, which I think becomes very funny, so I shamelessly pitched her [this monologue idea where she’s] doing the worst opening ever,” McCarthy told THR for their cover story about SNL’s “yuuuge year.”
At the same time, SNL writers had been watching Spicer’s first few press briefings. “They were just so insane,” writer Kent Sublette told THR. “It was a Tuesday, and one of our producers, Erik Kenward, told me that Melissa had flown out with our host and had a monologue idea. That’s when I just blurted out, ‘Melissa should play Spicer.’”
In that lead-up to that moment, many people had lamented that they wished Chris Farley was still around to play Spicer, Kenward told the outlet.
If only Chris Farley was alive to portray Sean spicer on SNL.
— helen (@liberalchik) January 22, 2017
Man, Chris Farley would've done a number on Sean Spicer.
— rufus jones (@rufusjones1) January 23, 2017
— Jesse Berdinka (@jesseberdinka) January 22, 2017
“In a lot of ways, Melissa is the closest thing just in terms of sheer power and comedy physicality that we have to Chris Farley, and I knew Lorne felt the same way,” Kenward said. “I called him and he immediately was like, ‘Absolutely. Let’s make it happen.’”
Sublette, who’s friends with McCarthy from the Los Angeles-based Groundlings, knew the comedian would be okay playing a man and being outrageous on camera. In fact, McCarthy played Farley’s famed “Matt Foley” character on SNL for the 2015 40th anniversary episode. When she appeared on “Weekend Update,” Fey introduced her: “Oh, it’s just Melissa McCarthy doing her favorite character!”
There was still a problem. “I don’t do impressions. I don’t have the ear for it,” McCarthy said. “But when I read the script, I was like, ‘Oh, God, that is juicy, but I don’t understand how we’re going to physically make it work.’ To which the amazing special effects person at SNL was like, “Oh, yeah, that’s not that big of a deal. That’s gonna take me, like, 15 minutes.” I was like, ‘Hey!’”
Sublette told her “it was more about the attitude — the bombast and the anger.”
McCarthy told THR she was “so nervous” playing Spicer for the first time:
It was very quiet at first, and I’m thinking, “The audience is already turning before they even know what’s going on.” There was this weird, great delay, and first people figure out it’s Spicer and then they figure out it’s me. You could just feel it in the room. And then I get off, and I have all of these texts, like “Oh, my God, are you looking at what’s happening?” I didn’t quite know what to do with the reaction.
The sketch was a big hit, even overshadowing chatter about Alec Baldwin’s Trump impersonation that week.
Melissa McCarthy has a 108 MPH comedy fastball.
— Seth Meyers (@sethmeyers) February 5, 2017
If I had a kid, I would've woken them up during Melissa McCarthy's Spicer like it were the moon landing.
— Jesse David Fox (@JesseDavidFox) February 5, 2017
And while SNL writers worried that it would be too soon to bring her back the following week, there was more to tackle: A new controversy erupted over the White House response to Nordstrom dropping Ivanka Trump apparel line. McCarthy thought up this moment:
“Well,” McCarthy recalled, “once I heard ‘motorized podium’ and ‘jewelry,’ I said, ‘Can he also be wearing a shoe?’”
The impersonation still draws viewers. An estimated 10.3 million viewers tuned in Saturday, making the McCarthy-hosted episode SNL’s highest-rated May edition in seven years, according to overnight preliminary ratings numbers from Nielsen released Sunday. For this season, only Alec Baldwin’s turn as host on Feb. 11 had more viewers (McCarthy also played Spicer on that show, too).
Amid rumors the real-life Trump may fire his press secretary, this latest Spicer sketched ended with her character receiving a mafia “kiss of death” from Alec Baldwin’s Trump. That, plus the logistics of working around a non-cast member’s schedule, has left some wondering whether that was McCarthy’s last turn as Spicer.
Sublette told THR that the show didn’t have a shortage of potential “Spicers.”
“If it hadn’t been Melissa, it would have gone to Beck [Bennett]. He has an amazing impression,” Sublette said. “In fact, he reads Spicer for the read-through because Melissa’s not usually there.”