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Molly Shannon on how she got Whitney Houston to star in iconic ‘SNL’ sketch

The former “Saturday Night Live” star reflected on what it was like trying to convince the musical icon to show off her funny side in a sketch.
/ Source: TODAY

Molly Shannon just opened up about an appearance known for being a holy grail of "Saturday Night Live" sketches.

In a recent interview on "The Howard Stern Show," the "White Lotus" actor and comedian spoke about her book and reflected on a time in her career as an "SNL" cast member appearing alongside Whitney Houston. Back in 1996, Houston was tapped to appear as a musical guest on the late-night television series, but ended up appearing in a Christmas sketch after Shannon got her to change her tune.

"It was so nice. They were like, 'She's not going to be in the sketch. She's not going to do it,'" Shannon recalled to Stern. "And I was like, 'She'll do it. Let me go talk to her.'"

At the time, Shannon had become known for her breakout character Mary Katherine Gallagher, an awkward and egomaniacal teenage Catholic school girl. The sketch sees Houston appear as a prim character named Jennifer set to lead the school's choir in a performance of "The Little Drummer Boy." Mary Katherine Gallagher (known widely for always marching to the beat of her own drum) played Jennifer's foil, comically interrupting the latter's every note and shoving in front of her on stage. Rosie O'Donnell also appeared in the sketch as the stern choir director, with Penny Marshall playing an aloof accompanist.

Rosie O'Donnell, Whitney Houston and Molly Shannon.
Rosie O'Donnell, Whitney Houston and Molly Shannon.SNL / NBC

For her part, Houston managed to hold her own, singing perfectly while also stealing laughs from the audience.

"Sometimes I would see where they would approach the musical guests and they would have too many lines or it's too confusing," Shannon explained to Stern. "I thought 'they don't want to have all this pressure memorizing these lines, right?' So I just told Whitney 'look, I'm gonna play the Catholic school girl. You're gonna be like, snotty girl and it's all you have. To do is just do whatever you want. You just have to kind of be, you know, snotty push in front of me out sing me and so you can say whatever you want.' She was like, 'I'll do it! I'll do it!' So that's how I got her to do it."

Coaxing Houston into appearing in the bit proved to be just one of Shannon's challenges when things came down to the wire.

“The night that it was the sketch was on she was not there yet. And I was like, ‘Oh no,’" Shannon explained, adding that her fellow cast member on the show, Ana Gasteyer had gotten dressed up and ready to fill in for the six-time Grammy Award winner onstage. It was like, honestly, like five seconds, they’re counting down, (Gasteyer)’s about to go on. And then they’re like, ‘Whitney’s here, Whitney’s here!’ They usher her on and she was fantastic. She showed up.”

At the end of the sketch, which culminated in Shannon flying off the stage after trying to outshine Houston during a singing battle of “Sleigh Ride,” the singer was pleased.


"She was so good," Shannon told Stern. "And Whitney was so nice after. She loved being in that and she was like, 'Girl, you're crazy.'"