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Emmys 2011: Making a Case for Kristen Wiig

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Aug 31, 2011 | 6:13am EDT
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Kristen WiigThere’s a special dedication to the craft of humor that exists in a select few comedians and comic actors—what separates the good from the great is their willingness to do anything for a laugh. The great ones are willing to completely debase themselves, experiment with the absurd and the dangerous, and throw themselves entirely into a performance. With that in mind, one contemporary comedian comes immediately to mind: Saturday Night Live’s Kristen Wiig.

Wiig’s performances are never underwhelming. They are often outlandish, regularly scene-stealing and frequently unflattering. She plays inherently dislikeable characters that are somehow impossible not to love.

Oftentimes, sketch comedians are branded with certain character types they’re forced to revive over and over again. Wiig, on the other hand, exemplifies an insuperable versatility; she plays obnoxious and bawdy as terrifically as she plays skittish and neurotic. Even her formulaic characters, such as the one-trick pony Penelope (the “topper”), are consistently enjoyable watches.

As ostentatiously silly as Wiig is, an incredible respect for her work emanates from her in every performance. She seems to hold all of her characters and skits in the same high regard; she puts her all into sketches wherein she may not even be the comedic focus. What she seems to hold in the highest esteem is the production of laughter. Whether she is the one directly inciting that laughter, or she is simply helping to set the scene for another SNL cast member’s spotlight, she is always very clearly investing all of her talent and passion into her act.

In addition to her dedication, Wiig’s comedic momentum is boundless. She handles demanding roles tirelessly. She is in many ways a physical comedian—rarely will there be an episode of Saturday Night Live in which Wiig is not challenged to bounce around the stage for one reason or another. But her subdued performances are often even stronger. With tiny glances and glimmers, Wiig delivers nuanced, unforgettable characterizations.

There is more to her characters than just a playing up of eccentricities and the wickedly irresistible tool of slapstick. Wiig's performances are more than funny; they are inviting and gripping. None of her characters' jokes or quirks would be so markedly powerful were it not for the earnest charm that the actress carries with her at all times. It’s not simply the likeability with which she was fortunate enough to be born—she is, at all times, with every piece of dialogue and action, working so admirably hard to construct a character we cannot help but fall in love with. And beyond her ambition are her talent and knowhow; she gives us everything she has. And everything she has is filled with a definitive understanding of the craft of comedy and graceful skill -- something few comedians are lucky enough to exemplify.

Wiig is the best thing Saturday Night Live has to offer today. She deserves to be remembered among the comic greats the show has spawned. Her attitude and abilities are remarkable, and her career in film and television from this point forward promises nothing but excitement.

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