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Saturday Night Live has spawned many stars over the decades, from Eddie Murphy to Will Ferrell and Gilda Radner to Kate McKinnon. Another SNL great is Molly Shannon, who rose to fame on the show in the ’90s. Shannon’s most vital contribution was arguably her character Mary Katherine Gallagher, the awkward Catholic schoolgirl with numerous nervous tics. Since leaving SNL in 2001, the actor/comedian has opened up about her time on the show, often discussing what inspired Mary Katherine Gallagher and the demands of playing the character.

What inspired ‘SNL’ star Molly Shannon to create Mary Katherine Gallagher?

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

Shannon joined SNL in 1995, launching the character of Mary Katherine Gallagher not long after. Mary Katherine, nervous and eager to please, was unique in the series. And as it turns out, some of her mannerisms came directly from Shannon’s history.

The comedian told the Los Angeles Times in 2021 that the character was inspired by a tragic event that occurred when Shannon was just 4, when her mother, younger sister, and cousin were killed in a car accident. As Shannon described it, she found a way to escape the “terrible pain” of the accident through performance.

“[Mary Katherine Gallagher] was really based on me, how I felt after the accident — really nervous, accident-prone, wanting to please, f***** up but full of hope,” Shannon said. “I just exaggerated everything I felt as a little girl and turned it into a character.”

Molly Shannon says she ‘didn’t care’ if she injured herself playing Mary Katherine Gallagher

Shannon dedicated everything to her performances, whether she was inhabiting the character of Mary Katherine Gallagher or another role, such as public radio host Terri Rialto. Sometimes, when playing Mary Katherine, things got physical.

Shannon recounted how she threw her body onto piles of heavy props, eager to get a laugh from the audience and not even registering she was hurting her body. Only the next day, when the comedian woke up and discovered she was bruised and sore, would she realize how far her performance had gone.

“I didn’t care if I cut myself or I made myself bleed. I did not give a s***,” she told the LA Times. “I looked at it like punk rock. I was reckless, and because of what I went through, I just didn’t care about anything.” 

What is the former ‘SNL’ cast member doing now?


How ‘SNL’ Alum Molly Shannon Snuck Onto a Flight When She Was 12

When it was announced that Molly Shannon was leaving SNL in 2001, many fans were devastated. But for the actor/comedian, exiting the show was a complicated decision and not one motivated by money.

In an interview with Collider, Shannon admitted that “when I left, I wasn’t leaving to go do something else. I was just leaving because I wanted to spend more time with my dad, and I wanted to have kids and date more.”

She added, “I felt really great, that I had a good run. And if anything, I left to have more of a personal life.”

These days, Shannon’s career is still going strong. In 2021, she appeared in the buzz-worthy series The White Lotus, and in 2022, she acted alongside another SNL alum, Vanessa Bayer, in the comedy series I Love That for You. Shannon is also acting in several film projects, with a new movie, A Good Person, scheduled for release in 2023.