By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
It’s difficult to predict how God Said, "Ha!" will change public perceptions of the creator of Pat. This bizarre character, with her unisex attire and Brillo coif, had been a quantum departure for SNL, a show whose attitude toward non-heterosexuals had devolved from a Monty Pythonish tolerance in its early years to the frat-boy loathing that continues to this day. That is because Sweeney’s sketches touched on something far deeper than fear of sexual "others" — they tapped into the vertiginous unease of not knowing a person’s sexual orientation, or even the person’s gender. It is the same kind of social dis orien tation that gripped Sweeney as a teenager in Spokane.
"I had incredibly wonderful experiences at an all-girl high school with about 10 nuns," she remembers. "It was like a man-free zone where no one judged your looks or sexuality. You were judged solely on what you had to say and how much you comprehended. I couldn’t relate intellectually to my mother, who was telling me how cute and thin I had to be to get a guy. The nuns had chosen to ignore that aspect of life, which to me gave them an enormous freedom, from the bondage of heterosexuality."
But Sweeney lost her compass when Marcliff High School went coed. "Sud denly the most popular girls weren’t the smartest but the prettiest ones," she says. "The rules had suddenly changed, and it was very traumatic — I gained about 40 pounds after that. I joined the debate team, never talked to guys and was never asked out on dates."
Sweeney’s sensitivity to male sexual politics was to play a critical role in her leaving SNL. "The only way I could get a sketch on was to cross-dress and become a guy," she recalls. "Mostly the Saturday Night Livewomen were there to service the guys’ comedy vision. Christine Zander and I would write a women-friendly sketch that was, say, about shopping. We’d read it around the room and the men would just go, ‘Huh?’ Then Adam Sandler would write a sketch about someone pooing in their pants and it would get enormous amounts of laughter."
Sweeney, who believes the current SNLhas reformed its ways, found the old regime’s open gay-bashing even more oppressive than its unconscious misogyny. "There was a constant telling of compulsive, almost Tourette’s syndrome–level jokes whose point would always be how horrifying it was that a man would be attracted to another man. Norm Macdonald was the king of homophobic jokes — it was literally one every 15 minutes."
Today Julia Sweeney is busy working on, among other projects, the upcoming Baby Blues, an animated version of the comic strip to air on the WB, and a screenplay about her old character, Mea Culpa, a timid and guilt-ridden office drudge she created with longtime friend and collaborator Jim Emerson at the Groundling Theater in the late ’80s. With her brother’s death behind her, she has settled into the domestic tranquility she sought four years ago. As she fantasizes in God Said, "Ha!": "I figured after a few years my neighbors would look down the street and they would say to their friends, ‘There lives Julia Sweeney. You know, she never married after a brief, early liaison, but we’ve never known anyone who was happier and more full of life than that Julia Sweeney!’"
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