Saturday Night Live’s Molly Shannon has a new memoir, “Hello Molly!”


LOS ANGELES — Just as I arrived for our lunchtime date, Molly Shannon came gliding down Larchmont Boulevard on a Trek bike, looking for ways to spread her personal brand of quirky joy.

I was worried about a mud flap I recently got with my rental car, but Shannon told me not to worry. Wearing a puffy summer dress on a Friday afternoon in February, she walked to the front of my car and looked at the scrapes near a headlight. From time to time, she greeted passers-by who shouted, “Hi, Molly! (It was unclear whether she knew these people or not.)

Then, in her own way, she explained that life can take away but it also gives back.

As a teenager, Shannon said she applied to a selective private school – a school whose acceptance could have put her on the path to an adult life of influence and prestige, if not necessarily future roles on TV shows. television like “Saturday Night Live”, “The Other Two” and “The White Lotus”.

While awaiting judgment from the school, she was also anticipating the arrival of her Sea-Monkeys, the brine shrimp sold to trusting children with colorful advertisements in comic books that depicted them as exotic animals.

And the same day she learned that the school had rejected her, Shannon said, “my Sea-Monkeys hatched.” She stopped and added briskly, “So you never know.”

This playful attitude was fundamental to many of Shannon’s best-known characters, like Mary Katherine Gallagher, the misfit but spunky schoolgirl who was her star role on “SNL.”

Shannon, 57, is wiser than her oblivious characters, but she shares their determination to happily move forward no matter the circumstances, and that spirit is alive in her new memoir, “Hello, Molly!”, which will be published by Ecco on April 12.

But before readers experience Shannon’s picaresque tales of her upbringing and career, they must first follow her account of one of the darkest days of her life and the car accident that devastated her family.

As I sat down with her to go through the heartbreaking details, Shannon told me, “It’s very vulnerable to open up to people, but I wanted to be brave and just push past it.”

On the night of June 1, 1969, when Shannon was 4 years old, her father, Jim, drove the family home from an all-day party at their home in Shaker Heights, Ohio. He had been drinking and taking a nap earlier in the afternoon. About 90 minutes into the trip, he slid into the side of another car and then swerved into a steel light pole. Although Molly and her older sister, Mary, survived with injuries, their younger sister, Katie, and cousin Fran were killed in the collision; his mother later died in hospital.

Shannon lived with relatives while her father recovered. When she got home, the school was a blur. “I was like, why is everyone so shredded?” she says. “They were like, ‘The wheels on the bus are going -‘ and I was like, I’m exhausted.”

While the accident could also have severed the relationship between her and her father, Shannon said they grew closer in the years that followed. “Teaching blame, resentment or anger does no one any good,” she told me. “He picked himself up and then raised two daughters. He did his best and he was proud of me. I admired him.

By Shannon’s own reckoning, her dad was a puckish influence — a sleek dresser with a salty vocabulary who filled Judy Garland’s house with music after spending the day doing diet pill-induced housework.

Her father tricked her into engaging in outrageous behavior, such as boarding a flight to New York when she was 13. “He was wild,” Shannon said. “He would take simple things like going to a candy store and saying, ‘Let’s pretend we’re blind,’ asking, ‘Is that chocolate? “”

Yet within their community, Shannon’s father was seen as a capable (if permissive) parent. Alison Doub, a childhood friend of the author, recalled: “In my family, we used to say, ‘Jim Shannon is doing a wonderful job with these girls.'”

Shannon then studied at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and performed in student productions, including a comedy revue where she created an early version of her character Mary Katherine Gallagher.

After graduating, Shannon held out in Los Angeles, working as an office temp and restaurant hostess and occasionally landing appointments with agents by running a scam where she and a friend pretended to work for David Mamet. (According to Shannon, she’s only been arrested once.)

Although Shannon believed her future was in drama, she landed reliable representation and ultimately her spot on “SNL.”

“I was looking for clients and I couldn’t believe my eyes,” said Steven Levy, who became one of Shannon’s first agents and is now her manager. “She was literally bleeding. Her knees were bleeding and her elbows were bleeding. When she did Mary Katherine Gallagher, she was so committed she threw herself into the wall.

“Hello, Molly!”, which Shannon wrote with Sean Wilsey (“Oh the Glory of It All”), then recounts his time on “SNL”. the successful characters – including the shameless dancer, Sally O’Malley – were somehow inspired by her father’s theatricality.

Then, as Shannon was about to leave “SNL” in 2001, she learned that her father had come out as gay during a phone conversation with Levy. Weeks later, in a private moment when Shannon thought her dad was about to share this with her as well, he instead revealed he had prostate cancer.

Several weeks passed before Shannon found the courage to ask him, “Have you ever thought you might be gay?”

She writes that her father replied without hesitation:More absoutely.”

Jim Shannon died in 2002, moments after advising Molly to get married and have children and praising her for her small role in the comedy ‘Analyze This’.

Molly Shannon, who married artist Fritz Chestnut in 2004 and has two teenage children, told me she found it helpful to unfold her personal story from the time of the accident – a tragedy that dictated the course of her early years but that she would not let dominate her life.

“It gives you resilience,” she said. “You are able to jump over obstacles. Maybe I wouldn’t have taken that first chance if I hadn’t had those disadvantages.

Shannon said the accident left her with a sense of loss that she will never be able to fully dispel. “I couldn’t believe good things could last,” she said.

For example, she said, “When I started on ‘SNL,’ I didn’t want to hang anything in my dressing room. I was afraid that everything would explode. I always felt like disaster was just around the corner.

Writer-director Mike White, who cast Shannon in projects like “The White Lotus,” “Enlightened” and “Year of the Dog,” said his book has a candor rare in show business memoirs.

“In a way that isn’t didactic or serious or preachy, she gives you the keys to life,” White said. “How do you overcome loss and transform your life into something beautiful? It made me feel like I had to stop complaining about all the bumps in the road I encountered.

Shannon will next play a star personality on a fictional home shopping network in the Showtime comedy “I Love That For You,” which premieres April 29.

To this day, she said she considers herself a graduate of ‘the Jim Shannon acting school’: ‘He loved acting but he didn’t have the confidence to be a performer,’ she said. said, adding that before almost every new gig, “I always ask myself, do I still really want this? Did I do it just for him?

But her father, she says, remains the part of her that doesn’t care about being recognized for a particular performance as long as she approaches her work with a positive attitude.

Shannon also isn’t terribly concerned about how readers might react to the side of herself she reveals in “Hello, Molly!”

As an explanation, she shared a story from when she was a restaurant hostess and invited customers to see her after-hours comedy show.

One guest seemed to be particularly receptive to her material, Shannon said: ‘She was an Irish Catholic mother of five and I invited her on my show. I thought, well, she’s Irish like me.

But the performance did not receive the reception it expected. “She was disgusted,” Shannon said. “She thought Sally O’Malley was so bawdy, and how dare you roll up your pants like that?”

This review didn’t bother Shannon at all. “I thought Jim Shannon approved of everything,” she said. “He gave me a lot of freedom,” she said. “He was like: this is. My. Molly.


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