Playing one on TV

Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer sets ‘new standard for cross-gender casting’

Melissa McCarthy playing White House press secretary Sean Spicer on 'SNL' (YouTube).

Over the weekend, Melissa McCarthy took on the role of White House press secretary Sean Spicer in a Saturday Night Live sketch that became an instant classic. Chewing a ridiculous amount of gum, she ridiculed Spicer’s notoriously fraught relationship with the press, dousing one of the reporters with a Super Soaker and apologizing “on behalf of the press, to me.” By Sunday morning, McCarthy was being widely praised for pulling off one of the best SNL impressions in years.

In an Op-Ed for The New York Times, Anna North praised the performance, calling it “a new standard for cross-gender casting.” North argues that having a man dress up as a woman has been a “time-honored source of cheap laughs” in comedy, relying on the idea that “men wearing dresses and speaking in high voices are naturally hilarious.” What McCarthy does, however, is make the cross-dressing almost beside the point. “Ms. McCarthy isn’t funny as Mr. Spicer because she’s a woman, she’s funny as Mr. Spicer because she’s made a career of playing aggressive characters who are often angry for no reason,” North argues. “While her gender isn’t the center of her performance, it matters. There’s a bit of an extra bite in a woman lampooning the spokesperson of a president who once bragged about grabbing women’s genitals, and who was reportedly moved to rage last month when attendance at women’s protests around the world dwarfed attendance at his inauguration. Add to that the fact that President Trump reportedly wants his female staffers to ‘dress like women,’ and Melissa McCarthy dressing like a man to play his press secretary feels like a particularly astute way to needle the White House,” North wrote. Watch the full sketch of McCarthy channeling Spice in the video below.

Read the full Op-Ed at The New York Times.

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