Millions of people watched comedian and national treasure Kate McKinnon’s somber Saturday Night Live cold open this weekend. If you missed it, do yourself a favor and watch McKinnon, dressed as Hillary Clinton, sing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” It’s a sincere moment that spoke to many who are still reeling from Tuesday’s election and Cohen’s recent passing.
Unless you watched very closely, you may have missed the most important part, which really has little to do with Clinton, or Cohen, or McKinnon’s singing ability. The beauty of the sketch is actually in McKinnon’s choice to be deeply vulnerable and honest.
One of the best parts of SNL is when comedians break character, reminding us that the sketch is all an outrageous construct. (We’re looking at you, Fallon.) Here, McKinnon does just that—not by laughing, but by giving in to the emotion surrounding last week’s events. You can see the exact instant she makes that choice, around the 57-second mark. She tries this sort of cheesy head bob, over-exaggerating the open’s potential sappiness, and it falls flat. No one laughs. Rather than fighting it, she makes a bold choice to embrace it. Yes, she’s wearing a white pantsuit and a wig, but we’re not seeing McKinnon-as-Clinton. It’s just Kate on that stage, voice cracking with emotion. And it’s profoundly beautiful the way she—a gay woman—taps into the sadness of so many, rather than going for an easy laugh.
“I’m not giving up,” she says, turning to face the camera. “And neither should you.”