Twenty-five years after the popular character's final appearance on “Saturday Night Live” — and the box office bomb feature film based on the character — Julia Sweeney has a lot to say about Pat. As part of her current one-woman show, “Older and Wider,” Sweeney tells stories of her time from 1990-1994 as a cast member on “SNL” and her experiences in Hollywood. Pat comes up naturally — though that hasn't necessarily been a good thing in the three decades since the character’s mainstream debut.
Sweeney showed her teenage daughter an “It's Pat” sketch, only to get the response: “It really feels like that character is just about making fun of someone where you can't tell if it's a man or a woman.” In the same show, Sweeney asked herself, “My God, what did I do? Was I the Al Jolson of androgyny?”
Dave Itzkoff of The New York Times spoke to Sweeney — as well as notable critics of the Pat character, “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway and “Work in Progress” co-creator and star Abby McEnany — about the character and its legacy. From the character's origins during Sweeney's Groundlings days to its appearance in over a dozen “SNL” sketches, Sweeney explains that the character was based on a male co-worker she had when she was working as an accountant at Columbia Pictures. However, since she didn't feel like she could successfully play the character as a man, she went the route of androgyny and obliviousness when it came to people not knowing Pat's gender.
“I didn't do that character to make anyone feel bad,” Sweeney told The New York Times. “On the other hand, I created a character and then people happened to look like that character. I'm not responsible if they take it negatively, either. So that's a complicated situation.”
But people did take it negatively, twisting the intent of the character past comedy. Sweeney brought up public appearances where she'd play Pat, only to realize that the character was the malicious butt of a joke, and a moment where her when her former college sorority asked for her blessing to use a pledge button with Pat's image and the caption “Pledge No Pats.” That's when Sweeney realized the character was telling some viewers “anyone who doesn't look like a man or a woman is someone we can point at and laugh at.”
“I'm always open to me doing something wrong,” she said. “Because I have done so many wrong things.” But Sweeney doesn't believe that Pat should be swept completely under a rug, even though she acknowledges the “icky part” of what came with the character's success.
While Soloway told The New York Times that Pat taught a generation of viewers to see gender nonconforming people as outsiders, she added that while she wishes Sweeney would offer “a huge blanket apology to all nonbinary people for making fun of their essence,” not doing so “doesn't make her a bad person.”
Comedian Abby McEnany shared that sentiment about Sweeney, declaring, “She and I do not see totally eye-to-eye on Pat, and that's O.K., because I love her.” McEnany's upcoming Showtime series, “Work in Progress,” includes a plot about how Sweeney — who plays a version of herself on the show — “ruined” her life with the Pat character. But McEnany doesn't really harbor resentment over Sweeney herself. “Julia Sweeney didn't ruin my life,” McEnany said. “What ruined my life is people's bigotry and their reaction to this character.”
“But times have changed so quickly that even things that seemed right three years ago are no longer right,” Soloway added. On that, she and Sweeney — who currently plays Vera on “Shrill,” mother to “SNL” cast member Aidy Bryant’s Annie — agree.
“Don't dismiss everything,” Sweeney said. “Because norms and expectations that we once accepted are going to keep changing.”
Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Series: I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson
Where You Can Stream It: Netflix
The Pitch: Former Saturday Night Live featured player and Comedy Central’s Detroiters creator and co-star Tim Robinson teams up with fellow SNL writer and his Detroiters co-creator Zack Kanin to deliver a series of offbeat comedy sketches mostly featuring characters that need to desperately leave, would be wise to leave, or are being implored to leave a variety of awkward, confrontational and goofy situations.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: Saturday Night Live is still largely considered the gold standard for sketch comedy, even if you always hear someone saying that the current cast isn’t as funny as the previous generation, which has happened with every new roster of players since the beginning of the show. But that doesn’t mean SNL is the only place to find great sketch comedy. In fact, sometimes the style of the series doesn’t lend itself well to certain comedians’ sensibilities. Such is the case with Tim Robinson. But that’s not always a bad thing.
During his single-season tenure as a featured player of Saturday Night Live, Tim Robinson appeared in a handful of memorable sketches but never really found firm footing as a cast member. But what you might not know is that Robinson stayed on the show as a writer for another three years afterwards. That’s because he’s truly a great sketch comedy writer, and I Think You Should Leave shows the comedy of Tim Robinson at its absolute best.
I Think You Should Leave basically feels like a collection of pre-recorded “10-to-1” sketches from SNL, the kind of weird sketches that were put in the timeslot that was typically 10 minutes left until the show ended at 1:00 A.M., around the time people started tuning out. These sketches are typically much weirder and riskier than the rest of the SNL sketch line-up, and when they land, the payoff can be massive. And most of the sketches in I Think You Should Leave are gut-bustingly hilarious.
Tim Robinson is a master at overdoing it, but in a truly commendable and hilarious fashion. Whether it’s peak awkwardness, unnecessary rage, being severely inconvenienced by something trivial, unconvincingly trying to avoid being blamed for driving a car through a shop front, or getting wildly specific about legal advice, Robinson proves to be a master sketch comedian with a unique comedic perspective. But he’s not the only one who gets to have fun.
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