How Molly Shannon Convinced Whitney Houston to Do the Mary Katherine Gallagher Sketch on ‘Saturday Night Live’

Molly Shannon portrayed a plethora of hilarious characters during her time on Saturday Night Live. But one absolutely stands out from the rest. Mary Katherine Gallagher was one of the most popular sketches on the comedy show. Gallagher even got her own movie, Superstar, out of the deal.

The armpit-sniffing Catholic school girl was so much fun, in fact, that one very special guest star joined in on the fun. Shannon convinced musical legend Whitney Houston to be a part of the sketch.

Molly Shannon performs as Mary Katherine Gallagher during a 2001 skit on Saturday Night Live
Saturday Night Live star Molly Shannon performs as Mary Katherine Gallagher in 2001 | Mary Ellen Matthews/NBCU Photo Bank

Molly Shannon shone as Mary Katherine Gallagher

In 1995, SNL audiences were introduced to Mary Katherine Gallagher. Gallagher was a wildly eccentric, unpopular student in a Catholic high school. Shannon brought the character to life with unrivaled enthusiasm, perfectly capturing her barbaric mood swings. When in the throes of a particularly moody episode, Gallagher would either soar to hyperactive heights or deeply ponder her own existence. 

The quirkiest part of the character was how she dealt with her nerves. Gallagher would shove her hands under her armpits and then sniff them, all the while explaining exactly what she’s doing (usually to someone she just met). The sketch was such a hit with the audience that they created a movie for Gallagher. Shannon starred in the 1999 film, Superstar, alongside fellow SNL friend Will Ferrell.  

According to IMDb, Shannon joined the Saturday Night Live family in 1995. Although Gallagher is her most well-known character, she contributed many laughable moments to the show.

Some of her other popular characters were Circe Nightshade, a Goth teenager who hosted a talk show; Helen Madden, a self-proclaimed “joyologist,” and Sally O’Malley, a 50-year-old, high-kicking dancer. 

How Molly Shannon convinced Whitney Houston to join in on the school girl fun

During an appearance on The Howard Stern Show, Shannon revisited a memorable Mary Katherine Gallagher experience. In 1996, Whitney Houston was a musical guest on the show. Unlike the guest hosts, musical guests don’t usually participate in sketches. When Shannon suggested having Houston participate in the Gallagher sketch, producers and the rest of the cast never thought she’d go for it. 

Shannon told Stern, “They’re like, she’s not going to be in the sketch. She’s not going to do it.” Shannon decided to approach the issue in a slightly different way:

“Sometimes I would see where they would approach the musical guest and they would have too many lines or it’s too confusing. And I thought, ‘They don’t want to have all of this pressure memorizing these lines.’ So I just told Whitney, ‘Look, I’m going to play the Catholic school girl. You’re going to be like a snotty girl. All you have to do is, just do whatever you want. You just have to be snotty, push in front me, out-sing me. You can say whatever you want.”

Houston was totally on board after that. The “I Will Always Love You” singer agreed to be in the sketch. However, when the night in question rolled around, panic set in when Houston was late to the set.

She had the SNL crew sweating bullets until she showed up with about five seconds to spare. Houston jumped right in and helped create one of the most memorable Mary Katherine Gallagher sketches ever. 

Shannon recently released a memoir, ‘Hello Molly!’

Shannon retired from SNL in 2001 but has made several cameos since leaving. The decision to leave what she described as her “dream job” wasn’t made lightly.

Shannon didn’t leave to further her career or pursue something bigger and better; she left to focus on her personal life. Shannon wanted to date, start a family, and spend more time with her father. 

Since leaving the beloved comedy show, she has done all of those things, all while continuing to act. She had roles in several films, including The Other Two, The White Lotus, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and Evan Almighty. She’s currently starring in the Showtime series, I Love That For You

The comedy star recently released a memoir: Hello Molly! If Shannon’s fans are expecting a bright, bubbly book filled with laughs, they’ll be surprised by the personal tragedy she shares in its pages. In an interview with The New York Times, Shannon shared a heartbreaking story that profoundly influenced her life:

In 1969, Shannon’s family was traveling home from a party. She was four years old, and riding in the car with her parents, two sisters, and a cousin. Her father had been drinking at the party and it was a long drive home. At some point he swerved, hitting a steel pole. The collision killed Shannon’s cousin and younger sister. Her mother died later from her injuries. 

Although the accident was a terrible tragedy, Shannon didn’t blame her father. She had a very close relationship with her father while she was growing up, and he was always one of her biggest supporters. 

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