Kristen Wiig's 11 Best 'SNL' Characters

From Gilly to Kathie Lee, Wiig Made Us Laugh for Years

Since joining the cast of Saturday Night Live in 2005, Kristen Wiig became one of the show's biggest stars. The comedian had a huge arsenal of recurring characters she played from week to week.

Before leaving the show in 2012, Wiig gave us eleven memorable moments with everyone from the Target Lady to Suze Orman. Let's recap her SNL career by looking at Wiig's most popular characters.

1
Target Lady

Kristen Wiig as the Target Lady
Photo courtesy NBC

One of Wiig's earliest recurring characters feels like something that came right from the stage during her time improvising with The Groundlings. Playing a wacky Target employee who's way too enthusiastic about her job and would constantly leave her register to take advantage of a deal, Wiig's performance amounted to a funny voice and facial expression. 

There's a kernel of an idea in the character -- we've all been to stores where the employee seemed a bit overenthusiastic -- but most of that was obliterated by the cartoonish nature of the sketch.

2
Penelope

Kristen Wiig as Penelope on SNL
Photo courtesy NBC

Another of the characters that put Wiig on the map at SNL, Penelope was the ultimate one-upper. She would show up at a party and top any story or anecdote with one of her own, often going to totally nonsensical places.

The punchline was always the same -- Penelope was really telling the truth about her outlandish life all along. That took some steam out of what was actually a very observant skewering of a very specific kind of person that exists in real life.

3
Gilly

Kristen Wiig as Gilly on Saturday Night Live
Photo courtesy NBC

So much of what could be considered wrong with Kristen Wiig's recurring characters -- and even the institution of Saturday Night Live -- is best summarized by "Gilly."

Wiig plays an odd elementary school student who wears a giant wig and hurts other students in class; when called out on it, she only says "Sorry." It's a single joke over and over and a particularly lazy one at that; the sketch seems to want to coast by on the visual of Wiig in a big afro wig doing a silly dance.

Like a lot of SNL's repeat sketches, there's an appeal to going back to it over and over again because it has a recognizable character, a theme song, and a built-in structure. Wiig herself promised to retire the character at one point (but went back on her word).

4
Kathie Lee Gifford

Kristen Wiig plays Kathie Lee Gifford on SNL
Photo courtesy NBC

A recurring sketch that took shape after NBC added a fourth hour of its flagship morning show "The Today Show " found Wiig playing TV icon Kathie Lee Gifford opposite her co-host, Hoda Kotb (first played by Michaela Watkins, then Nasim Pedrad).

Wiig's approach to Gifford was smart: rather than just doing a straight impersonation, she found the things that were funny about the talk show host -- namely, her laugh, her penchant for saying inappropriate things and her love of drinking wine on air. The result is something that - like Will Ferrell's George W. Bush or Darrell Hammond's Sean Connery - less resembled Gifford than it became its own character entirely.

5
Mindy Gracin

Kristen Wiig in Secret Word
Kristen Wiig stars in Secret Word on Saturday Night Live

During her last few seasons on the show, there were few characters that Wiig played more often than Mindy Gracin, delusional actress and contestant on the Secret Word game show.

Once again, the joke was always the same: Gracin would reveal the secret word to her partner and ruin his or her chances at winning, but the character was the kind that Wiig excelled at -- theatrical, pompous and very, very stupid.

Plus, Wiig had an ability to nail certain period details, from speech patterns to physical mannerisms, and embodied Gracin with all of them. She was always worth watching in the Secret Word sketches, even well past the point where they had become totally predictable.

6
Shana

Kristen Wiig plays Shanna
Photo courtesy NBC

Wiig's sexpot character Shana made good use of the comedienne's willingness to perform without vanity. She was breathy and seductive, but prone to fits of repellent behavior that typically turned off every man who had previously been lusting after her (except for one; that joke was a constant). ​

She would spit food all over the place while trying to eat something seductively. She would pass interminably long farts. She would do something akin to hacking up a furball. As usual, it was just one joke: she would be sexy, and then she wouldn't be.

Wiig's commitment to the bit, though, and her slinky physicality and breathy, Marilyn Monroe-times-ten line delivery managed to make the character memorable.

7
Aunt Linda

Kristen Wiig as Aunt Linda on SNL
Photo courtesy NBC

A recurring character on "Weekend Update," Aunt Linda was Wiig's grouchy, pedestrian movie critic character with little tolerance for anything offered by Hollywood (most movies got reviews of "Oh brother!" or an exaggerated eye roll).

Like so many of Wiig's characters -- and recurring SNL characters in general -- nothing ever changed and nothing new was revealed about Aunt Linda no matter how many times she appeared. The character was the character was the character.

8
Kat (of Garth & Kat)

Kristen Wiig and Fred Armisen are Garth and Kat
Photo courtesy NBC

Another "Update" fixture, Garth and Kat are a singing duo (played by Wiig and castmate Fred Armisen) that haven't actually written or rehearsed any of their songs.

The inspired thing about this one is that Wiig and Armisen didn't rehearse the bits, either, which meant she had to just follow along as he made songs up off the top of his head -- something, it turns out, she's very good at.

It would ultimately lead to the two of them breaking character and cracking up on camera. That really was funny the first few times (because neither performer ever made a habit of it), but grew tiresome the more it became a staple of the sketch.

The sketch also suffered from total overexposure, eventually appearing on what felt like every second or third episode.

9
Suze Orman

Kristen Wiig plays Suze Orman on SNL
Photo courtesy NBC

Wiig was never known for doing great impressions of celebrities, though there were a few, including conservative commentator Greta Van Susteren and congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Her strength was more in building original characters from the ground up.

And while she always made a valiant effort to find what was funny about a real person and create a character from that (as in the case of her Kathie Lee Gifford impression), sometimes it just amounted to a funny voice and an affectation. That was pretty much the case with her characterization of financial guru and TV personality Suze Orman, an impression that consisted of a clenched jaw and a short wig.

It was never one of her best characters; no telling why SNL went back to it so often.

10
Dooneese

Kristen Wiig as Dooneese on The Lawrence Welk Show
Photo courtesy NBC

The freakish "other" sister spotlighted at the start of every "Lawrence Welk Show" sketch, Dooneese was the culmination of all of Wiig's most out-there characters.

Sporting a receding hairline and one hand way smaller than the other, Doonese would join in her sisters' musical performance with some bizarre non-sequitur (like "I'm only allowed upstairs!"). She was always the punchline, and the punchline was always the same. As punchlines go, you could do worse.

11
Karina (The Californians)

Kristen Wiig in The Californians on SNL
Photo courtesy NBC

Another very popular recurring sketch, this one a parody of a soap opera in which all of the characters speak in exaggerated West Coast accents and constantly give one another directions.

Wiig plays Karina, wife of Fred Armisen, who is often caught cheating with the handyman played by Bill Hader. The great appeal of this sketch -- which has the same structure time and time again -- is that Hader, Armisen, and Wiig can often be seen breaking character and cracking one another up.​