SNL: Molly Shannon’s 10 Most Iconic Characters

SNL: Molly Shannon’s 10 Most Iconic Characters

With the April 2022 release of her new memoir Hello, Molly! and a breakout role on Showtime’s recently wrapped I Love That For You, Molly Shannon is once again gracing fans with her hilarious charm. Though she’s popped up in a number of television shows and films over the years, fans know that Molly Shannon is best remembered for her time as a cast member on Saturday Night Live.

Fans of the long-running sketch comedy show can easily summon memories of Shannon’s antics and remember her as a genius daredevil of physical comedy. Molly Shannon’s unique brand of humor is thoroughly explored in her book, Hello, Molly! and offers SNL fans great insight into how she birthed her whacky, original characters. As one of Saturday Night Live’s most iconic cast members, Molly Shannon’s best roles are worth revisiting as fans dive into her memoir and the season one finale of I Love That For You.


Veronica – “Veronica & Co.”

Starring as supermodel Veronica, host of the talk show “Veronica & Co.,” Molly Shannon gets playful with an 0ff-the-wall European accent. Shannon’s Veronica leads viewers down a strange rabbit hole, jumping from one odd guest to the next. Veronica proves to be comically insensitive and superficial, as she shares deeply personal trivia about her life.

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Often playing awkward characters, Molly Shannon shines as Veronica as she leans into the overly-serious personas of professional models of the 1990s. Though Shannon’s Veronica poses for the camera, she charms as she giggles about the hardships of her guests.

Ann Miller – “Leg Up”

In an ode to Hollywood and Broadway’s Golden Age, Molly Shannon plays dancer, Ann Miller, alongside Cheri Oteri as Debbie Reynolds. The two performers host “Leg Up”, a talk show meant to serve as a vehicle for the two stars of an era gone by. The sketch pokes fun at the women and their absurd celebrity personas.

Oteri and Shannon are literally in perfect sync as the two hit hilarious dance beats together. Shannon’s Ann Miller impression terrifically captures a precise caricature of the famous performer and still has the power to leave modern audiences with a clear idea of Miller’s personality and reputation.

Elizabeth – Southern Gals”

In a sketch titled “Southern Gals”, Molly Shannon plays Elizabeth, a naive, New York City tourist, discussing the city’s peculiarities with her Southern friends. Truly an ensemble piece,  Shannon shines with her fellow SNL co-stars, Cheri Oteri and Ana Gasteyer. Though her overwrought Southern accent, Shannon charms even as a New York City rat climbs upon her shoulder.

While “Southern Gals” offers a low-octane performance from Molly Shannon, her character was refreshingly utilitarian as she offered her two cents about what she observed in New York City. Great with accents and hilarious with props, Shannon and her new rat friend made a splash in this late 1990s sketch.

Helen Madden – “Pretty Living”

SNL has featured a number of talk-show parodies over the years, but the “Pretty Living” sketches with Ana Gasteyer as host, Gail Gleeson and Molly Shannon as the guest, Helen Madden, served as a prime opportunity to showcase Shannon’s over-the-top brand of funny. Shannon’s character, Helen Madden, a “joy-ologist,” was always ready to offer up a creative, yet absurd solution to life’s little problems.

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Bouncier than Shannon’s most popular characters, Helen Madden was confident and unwavering. Though she was mostly confined to her seat on the talk-show couch, Shannon’s physical comedy was still explosive as she shouted and kicked up her feet when talking about her “unending joy.”

As Herself – “Real Housewives Opening”

In a 2010 Saturday Night Live TV special titled “The Women of SNL,” the sketch series tapped some of the show’s top-tier alumni to revisit its beloved cast members. The special’s opening sketch featured an unforgettable spoof of the popular Real Housewives reunions, in which stars from all eras of SNL played whacky versions of themselves.

The hilarious Real Housewives parody didn’t have time to utilize every player to their full potential, but Molly Shannon’s fake storyline as a cookbook author and cocktail creator sticks out as a cool, fun aside from the other dramatic quips.

Courtney Love – “The Courtney Love Show”

Though she is not often known for her celebrity impersonations, Molly Shannon was sometimes drafted by SNL to play headline-making women of the time. In a sketch called “The Courtney Love Show,” Shannon played the rock star starring in a spoof of late-night talk shows. Shannon’s spin as Courtney Love was played with perfect clumsiness and wild, physical antics.

Shannon, always willing to commit to even the most outlandish scenarios, was terrifically cast as Courtney Love. Though her times playing Love included plenty of physical gags, Shannon was able to adopt Love’s vocal eccentricities and seemed to really embrace the fun of playing the famous singer.

Colleen – “Dog Show”

When Molly Shannon was paired with another best SNL cast member, Will Ferrell, viewers knew they were in for a zany trip. In sketches dubbed “Dog Show”, Ferrell and Shannon played the strange, loud hosts of a low-budget talk show about their dogs. Weird, off-beat, and silly, Shannon expertly crafted the personality of an avant-garde dog lover.

The “Dog Show” sketches allowed Shannon to exhibit an “in your face”, aggressive approach to audiences. Shannon’s Colleen character created an opportunity to see her play an exaggerated, up-tight attitude, where viewers could enjoy Shannon and Ferrell’s intentionally ice-cold chemistry.

Terry Rialto – “NPR: Delicious Dish”

Teamed with Ana Gasteyer, Molly Shannon and a rotation of guest hosts gifted SNL fans with a series of hilarious sketches called “NPR: Delicious Dish.” Based on public radio’s, nerdy and informative chat shows, the “Delicious Dish” series featured innocent hosts Margaret Jo (Gasteyer) and Terry (Shannon) unwittingly offering their listeners an ear-full of dirty, double entendres.

Related: 10 SNL Stars Who Were Famously Fired From The Show

The magic created by Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon proves to have staying power as the “Delicious Dish” sketches remain a popular staple of SNL canon. Fans remember the way that Shannon’s overtly sexual remarks were played with tremendous, innocent sincerity.

Sally O’Malley – Various Sketches

Sally O’Malley, an instantly recognizable SNL character by Molly Shannon, popped up a number of times throughout the years, always wearing her iconic red jumpsuit and ready to kick, stretch, and kick again. The O’Malley character and her proud proclamation of being “50 years old!” allowed Shannon to strut and take viewers on a wild ride.

Shannon’s unique ability to lean into the physicality of her characters was reminiscent of original SNL veteran, Gilda Radner. With just the touch of her waistband, Shannon had audiences howling, knowing that her O’Malley character was about to launch into a series of off-the-wall brags about her ability to remain spry.

Mary Katherine Gallagher – Various Sketches

When fans think of Molly Shannon’s tenure on SNL, they likely conjure up an image of Shannon as the rambunctious and awkward, Catholic school student, Mary Katherine Gallagher. Shannon’s Gallagher character was desperate to please and the actor used the role to explore her physical limits, often throwing herself onto set pieces.

Shannon’s high-key commitment was made evident by the sheer physicality she devoted to bringing Mary Katherine Gallagher to life. While the Gallagher character is best remembered for her exaggerated flailing and hilarious armpit sniffing, Shannon’s genius shines in her ability to make the character dynamic, with small, timid moments that swerve and lead to large physical comedy.

Next: Kyle Mooney’s 10 Most Iconic SNL Sketches

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About The Author

Kara Morrison
(9 Articles Published)

Kara Morrison is a performer, podcast host, playwright and pop culture enthusiast. Morrison loves reality TV, TV/Film history and has a special affection for Saturday Night Live.

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