Why Melissa McCarthy's Sean Spicer 'SNL' Skit Is Important for Women

February 6th 2017

Danielle DeCourcey

Melissa McCarthy is getting a lot of attention for her spot on impersonation of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on the most recent episode of "Saturday Night Live." However, the less obvious aspect of the sketch was how important it was for women in the comedy world.

McCarthy, as Spicer, mocked his strained relationship with White House reporters by throwing a desk at one and shooting water with a squirt gun at another. Her portrayal of a man in the Trump administration has an extra layer of significance considering that President Donald Trump has faced sexual assault allegations, weathered a leaked tape scandal where he talked about grabbing women's body parts, and reportedly wants women in his administration to "dress like women."

However, McCarthy's performance achieved something that few women have done on the show, Anna North from The New York Times pointed out.

"She not only delivered a hilarious send-up of the Trump administration’s increasingly tortured relationship to the press, facts, and language itself ('when you use the words and he uses them back, it’s circular using of the word'), she set a new standard for cross-gender casting," wrote North.

Men have generally been cast in women's roles on the show, sometimes for laughs, but also because of sexism and a lack of diversity in the cast, a legacy the show has fought for decades.

During a cast reunion on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in 2011, Jane Curtin, who worked on the show from 1975 to 1980, called out John Belushi for his alleged sexism. "They were working against John, who said women are just fundamentally not funny. You'd go to a table read and if a woman writer had written a piece for John, he would not read it in his full voice. He would whisper it," she told Oprah Winfrey. "He felt as though it was his duty to sabotage pieces that were written by women."

In her 2011 memoir "Bossy Pants," Tina Fey wrote that when she first started working at "SNL," the show would often put the male stars in drag as women, instead of using female players, because they thought the men were funnier. She talked about a decision to put cast member Chris Kattan in drag instead of having his castmate Cheri Oteri play a role. However, Fey wrote that when she left the show nine years later in 2006, things seemed to have changed.

"But I tell this specific tale of Cheri being passed over for Kattan-in-drag because it illustrates how things were the first week I was there," she wrote. "By the time I left nine years later that would have never happened. Nobody would have thought for a second that a dude in drag would be funnier than Amy, Maya, or Kristen."

A lack of racial diversity came back to haunt the show a few years later, when Kenan Thompson, started dressing as famous black women.

"Thompson’s black female celebrity impersonations include Aretha Franklin, Serena Williams, Mo’Nique, Chaka Khan and Patti LaBelle," wrote Salon's Carolyn Edgar in 2013. "Fey’s statement about putting an end to dudes in a dress on 'SNL' is true only if Thompson didn’t count as a dude in drag, or if the black female characters he played didn’t count as women."

In 2013, Keenan Thompson, told the media he didn't want to dress up as a black woman anymore, something he did consistently because there were no black women in the cast. Jay Pharoah, who is no longer a part of the cast, told the Grio in September 2016 that he felt the show lacked diversity.

The show later added Sasheer Zamata to the cast and Leslie Jones as a writer, who eventually moved to the front of the camera.

However, McCarthy's portrayal of Spicer wasn't because of a lack of men to play to play the role - she was just the best person to do it, according to North. "Ms. McCarthy isn’t funny as Mr. Spicer because she’s a woman, she’s funny as Mr. Spicer because she’s made a career of playing aggressive characters who are often angry for no reason," she wrote.

Check out the full sketch with Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer on "SNL" in the clip below.

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