Making A Scene
Late last year, after Texas passed a law banning abortions in the state after six weeks of pregnancy, veteran “Saturday Night Live” cast member Cecily Strong debuted a memorable new character for…
Late last year, after Texas passed a law banning abortions in the state after six weeks of pregnancy, veteran “Saturday Night Live” cast member Cecily Strong debuted a memorable new character for the show’s Weekend Update segment: Goober the Clown, Who Had An Abortion When She Was 23. Talking to Variety, Strong revealed that the character was an extremely personal creation for her, and one that allowed her to finally discuss abortion, a topic she’s been interested in tackling since first joining the show in 2012.
“I knew I wanted to talk about women’s healthcare and specifically abortion. I think I wanted to talk about it the entire time I’ve been on the show, and never quite figured out how,” Strong said. “Especially abortion, it’s hard to find comedy. It’s hard to talk about in general. But I’ve always been very vocally pro-choice and pro-healthcare, I would hope. But I had not spoken about my own experience.”
Strong was joined by “Saturday Night Live” co-head writer Kent Sublette and former co-head writer Anna Drezen for Variety’s “Making a Scene” presented by HBO. The three spoke to Variety about creating the character of Goober the Clown, and the process of transforming her from an idea into a memorable Weekend Update appearance that resonated with “clowns” across America.
According to Drezen, Strong approached the writing team with the Goober the Clown idea almost completely fully formed, and heavily based on her own personal experience. Drezen revealed how sketch speaks to another side of comedy as well, the exhaustion and anxiety comedians face while trying to make light of pressing topics again and again and again.
“It spoke to a thing that Cecily definitely felt, I’m sure me and Kent have felt, and a lot of people who are having to make comedy or anything light during these unprecedented times,” Drezen said. “It captured the feeling of, ‘I’m being a clown while this intense thing is happening and I don’t know how to do both.’ And it was nice and cathartic to have someone say it without having to put it in subtext. It’s nice to have someone to say it out loud.”
Once Drezen and Sublette began working on the character with Strong, the initial draft for the segment came in at 14 pages. After cutting it down, they had the first table read of the script the Wednesday before the show. After the reception for the scene was positive, the character’s look was lightly modeled after the main character Loonette from the Canadian children’s TV show “The Big Comfy Couch,” to create a contrast between the childishness of the look and the intensity of the scene.
“I think we had hoped that maybe people would make the direct mental connection,” Sublette said. “A few people clocked it. We didn’t hear from her, so I’m assuming she’s fine.”
In the scene, Jost calls Goober “Cecily” in the middle, a scripted moment acknowledging the fact that Strong is talking about her own experience. Strong also described wearing the clown suit as something of armor for her, in order to protect her from criticism and make her comfortable to discuss the topic on national television.
“I could have dressed as myself, but I was dressing as a clown because it wouldn’t have felt comfortable to just be myself. And there’s a protection in it too, ‘I’m just a clown, you can’t get mad at me.'” Cecily said. “I’m wearing a red nose, I know I look ridiculous, and this is what I have to do to say this. I wish I didn’t have to do that.”
“Saturday Night Live” is streaming on Hulu and Peacock. Watch the full Making a Scene video above.