Arts and Entertainment | Theater

McKinnon, CC ’06, SNL comedienne, receives Varsity Show’s Diamond Award

Kate McKinnon, CC ’06, was named the 10th recipient of the Varsity Show’s prestigious I. A. L. Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts in a ceremony on Sunday. McKinnon was recognized for her work in comedy, most notably as a featured player on “Saturday Night Live.”

McKinnon, who joined the cast of SNL in April 2012, acted in three Varsity Shows during her time at Columbia—V109, V110, and V111—and said the shows were the highlight of her time at Columbia.

In her acceptance speech in Lerner Party Space, she told the group of Varsity Show cast, crew, alumni, and parents that if she had to pick one award she wanted to receive, it was the Diamond Award.

“I prayed,” she told Spectator after the ceremony. “Honestly, I thought about it all the time. I didn’t think I would, but I hoped I would.”

After members of the V119 creative team and cast suggested names for the award, this year’s producers, Ally Engelberg, BC ’15, and Laura Quintela, CC ’14, selected McKinnon as the recipient.

McKinnon was “totally the obvious choice,” V119 director Chris Silverberg, CC ’13, said. 

The first openly lesbian SNL player in the show’s 38-year history, McKinnon appeared on all three seasons of “The Big Gay Sketch Comedy Show” and spent several years performing at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.

“She was unbelievably gracious and excited and really inspirational,” Silverberg said.

“Just to be a part of this community is very special,” McKinnon said, “To be able to continue to do comedy beyond this is a real dream come true, and the dream really began here.” 

Institutions like the Diamond Award illustrate the closeness and camaraderie that all Varsity Show alums seem to share. 

“We get all the alumni together—people who are really excited about the show going back to the ’40s and ’50s,” V119 co-writer Eric Donahue, CC ’15, said.

Even in its short history, the award has become important to the Varsity Show community, with past recipients including “Next to Normal” composer Tom Kitt, CC ’96, and lyricist Brian Yorkey, CC ’93, and Art Garfunkel, CC ’62.

The award itself is hand-crafted based on a design by the current show’s art director. This year, Jiin Choi, CC ’14, created a wood carving of the Varsity Show’s logo—Alma Mater’s bust.

McKinnon credits her experiences in the Varsity Show as a formative part of her growth as a comedienne.

“I learned a lot about sketch comedy while doing the Varsity Show,” McKinnon said. “Having to create characters and pitch them, having to do monologues and then improvise as them. It really is great training for sketch comedy.”

rachel.dunphy@columbiaspectator.com | @RachelLouie

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