Maya Rudolph on SNL: Will She Impersonate Whitney Houston? Should She? And If So, How?

Whitney Houston‘s untimely death in a Beverly Hills hotel suite last weekend has raised a huge question in the Saturday Night Live writers’ room: Whether or not to build a sketch around the late pop star when Maya Rudolph, who is known for her legendary Houston impersonation, makes her hosting debut this coming Saturday.

TVLine has learned that SNL is indeed considering such a skit, although an NBC spokesperson declined to confirm the information. “As you know, the show never comments on potential show content,” said the rep. “As Maya impersonated Whitney, it’s a natural question, but one [to which] we do not have an answer.”

My initial gut reaction to the idea of a Whitney-centric sketch? It’s simply too soon. After all, the sad truth is that Houston leaves behind a teenage daughter, and there’s no ignoring that the singer’s battles with drug addiction and sometimes erratic public behavior had often reduced her to a punch line for comedians and pundits over the last decade. And with Houston’s funeral reportedly scheduled for Saturday, SNL would be reviving the late star’s image only hours after she is laid to rest.

But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if there aren’t scenarios in which an SNL sketch could be an homage to Houston, could celebrate her contributions to pop culture, and help heal the broken hearts of her fans with the stuff that Reader’s Digest always reminds us is the best medicine: Laughter.

Looking back at Rudolph’s surprise appearance as Houston on SNL‘s Dec. 3 episode — she popped up alongside host Steve Buscemi on Vanessa Bayer’s Miley Cyrus Show (embedded below) — the Up All Night actress’s caricature is decidedly loopy, a little bit haughty, but certainly lovable. And that got me thinking about a few ways SNL could employ Rudolph’s Whitney in a way that’s tactful and entertaining.

1 | Whitney judges The Voice from heaven | Sure, NBC’s buzzy singing competition doesn’t feature any “bad” vocalists, but what about when you compare ‘em to the woman who was frequently referred to as “THE VOICE”? Who better to point guns of harsh truth at the wannabes tackling “I Will Always Love You” and “I Have Nothing” — and maybe bring a copyright-infringement suit against the show and network itself?

2 | Or alternately, Whitney descends from heaven to heckle Jennifer Lopez judging American Idol | Imagine one of the most celebrated power balladeers in music history having a laugh over the tinny-voiced dancer sitting in judgment of other singers? This one’s almost too easy.

3 | Whitney pays a visit to Lindsay Lohan in a nightclub bathroom | No one on Earth seems to be able to get through to the rapidly spiraling young actress: But we’d bet Whitney might be able to scare the once-promising Mean Girls star straight with frequent/spirited repetition of her Being Bobby Brown catchphrase: “Hell to the no!” (Bonus points if Lohan happens to tune in to this week’s telecast.)

4 | Whitney stages a coup to become Heaven’s choir director | Not sure who’s in charge up there currently — Luther Vandross? Janis Joplin? Patsy Cline? — but they’d better make way for Whitney!

What do you think? Is it too soon for SNL to go near Whitney? (Obviously, the show made the right decision not to build a sketch around her during last week’s telecast, on the day of her death.) Or are there scenarios where a sketch could provide welcome relief? Take our poll below, then hit the comments!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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74 Comments
  1. Jay says:

    No. Absolutely not. Next question.

    • Kvivik says:

      Agreed. I do not see anyway that they could have a comedy bit about this issue. It’s one thing to impersonate her behaviour while she is alive, but to try something like this would be tasteless and inappropriate unless handled very carefully…and I don’t see that being the case with this show.

      • Sandy says:

        She was a coke head, so they can start making fun of her right away.

      • Rock Golf says:

        Except it’s not Whitney who’ll be hurt. It’ll be her mother, Cissy Houston, and her family. They did nothing to deserve this kind of hurt.

        • Cna says:

          They, also, did not acknowledge the problem, seemly had their heads stuck in the ground and even participated from time to time. the whole situation is a mess. Don’t think they held back on Winehouse’s family..

    • Rock Golf says:

      Maya Rudolph’s mother was Minnie Riperton, who had a voice that was in Whitney’s league. Riperton had a #1 hit with “Lovin You” in the 1970’s but died not too long after of cancer. Maya’s dad was her mom’s record producer.
      To cut a long comment short, even if she was asked to do Whitney in these circumstances, I’m quite sure she’d turn it down. Thirty years ago she was Bobby Christina.

    • Elizabeth says:

      You made the only point: Houston leaves behind a young daughter.
      There are enough people piling on right now and Maya has plenty of other celebs in her wheelhouse she can portray on Saturday Night.

    • Kim R says:

      Agreed. I’m stunned. We really are going to hell in a handbasket if this is even a consideration. Next.

    • G-Mom says:

      The option should have been NO!!! I would probably never watch SNL again. That would be too crass, even for SNL.

  2. Bobbi says:

    Whitney’s funeral will be Saturday, in Newark. I think SNL could let at least another week pass before they do anything rather than do this on the day of her funeral. It isn’t as if anyone is going to forget she’s gone or how she died.

  3. Daniel says:

    It’s never a good idea to SUGGEST sketches for the show because they would never be written for the show. This is not SNL You, where fans write their own sketches.

  4. Marc says:

    I personally can’t believe that this is even up for debate. It’s obviously too soon and the viewer backlash towards SNL/NBC for doing such a thing would be ridiculously huge. Are these hacks so desperate for ideas that they can’t structure a show with strong enough material that doesn’t include a Houston skit?
    I personally don’t care since I don’t watch the show unless someone I really like is a guest. I just think it’s kind of tasteless that they’d even consider such a thing so soon… just because you can do something doesn’t always mean that you should.

  5. Heaven says:

    Ehhhhh Debra Wilson did it better

  6. Marc says:

    P.S. The skit ideas in this post are terrible — stick to writing about TV shows… not content for them.

  7. Ebony says:

    As I was reading your article, all of sudden I remembered that Whitney Houston was once on Saturday Night Live and she did a sketch with Molly Shannon and that episode’s host Roise O’Donnell. It was sketch involving one of Molly’s most famous characters Mary “Superstar!” Catherine Gallagher. If they want to honor her memory, they should re-air that sketch during the telecast.

  8. FrankiePitt says:

    It’s probably too soon, but I wouldn’t be especially offended if it happened. Bad taste can often lead to good comedy. On the other hand, I’ve never liked Rudolph’s Whitney Houston impression – which always played as a crazy version of Oprah – so I’d be happy if they ignored the subject altogether.

  9. Brian says:

    There’s nothing absolute about it. And there is no next question. Stop acting like you’re some infallible authority.

  10. Brian says:

    They showed a still from that sketch during last week’s broadcast, after the crab sketch.

  11. Ant says:

    SNL has sucked for years

  12. Brian says:

    The premise of the article is that Maya Rudolph, who has a famous Whitney impression, is hosting THIS WEEKEND. Whether or not Whitney Houston’s being dead will or should come up in later broadcasts is beside the point; it will. The question asked is whether, since Maya is hosting this week, there’s no way for her impression to play a part. Certainly there is. Maya could simply sing a Whitney song. There would be nothing mean about that, and it could be funny, touching, and reverent all at once.

  13. Nadine says:

    I’ve always found Maya Rudolph’s Witney to be mostly respectful. If they perform a skit, it would have to be funny, respectful, and meaningful. No small feat!

  14. kirads09 says:

    I haven’t watched SNL for a very long time. I assume Whitney has been the musical guest and/or host on SNL at least a few times, no? Why not put together a nice montage of her best moments on the show as a tribute instead? Just a thought.

  15. Mainer says:

    My first thought when I found out Houston died was “yes, Maya Rudolph is hosting Saturday, ” and I think all those sugestions would be funny and not to mean spirited. Another funny one would be if she “judged” the gramys from Heaven, probubly praising/being jelouse of Adel and Jennifer Hudsen , and then it would be so funny to here her insult Niki Minaj (sorry no idea if that is spelled right) and probubly T-Swift.

  16. Tara says:

    Whitney didn’t care about her life. She threw it away on crack and every other damn drug. She was in the news constantly for her drug abuse and next to never for the talent she wasted. How she lived her life was offensive. Any comedy that pays homage to her is a step up from that.

  17. Juan says:

    I think they should, as a tribute. Those ideas? No. Hell to the N, to the O. Hell no.
    It should be her getting to heaven and them doing other dead singers welcoming her.
    No crass jokes about any of them, just a send-off to someone they used for fantastic material.
    Maya has a nice singing voice herself too.

  18. Josh says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s sort of like Lana Del Ray’s impression but even nicer. Sure they made fun of the actress’ weirdness but overall they were making fun of the reaction to her. I’m guessing Whitney will be used to make fun of something else while also making fun of Maya’s version of the character but in turn fully respecting and honoring her.

  19. Josh says:

    Just reread the article…so it isn’t confirmed…I thought it was…If not, then no I don’t think they’ll perform a sketch. I’m guessing Maya will do her Oprah instead, and her Donatella Versace and not do her Whitney. But I wouldn’t be surprised if she gives her a shout out.

  20. april-ann says:

    Excellent article, Michael Slezak. I agree with your initial gut reaction that it’s quite simply too soon. I also agree with you that an SNL sketch at this time could be an homage if done correctly. There may never be a “right” time for SNL (being a satirical comedy first and foremost) to “do” anything on Whitney. She really was a wonderful, talented performer but I know nothing of what she was like personally, ie. whether or not she was a good sport about being mocked on SNL etc., and I think it also depends on that. I know they care not (nor should they) about how living celebrities “take” being featured on the show, some love it, some hate it, some don’t mind it and some are indifferent. If she hated how she was portrayed on the show, then it’s probably a good idea to leave her alone.

  21. Ken says:

    If they do it right, then go ahead…tasteful humor is the key to Whitney sketch, The Choir skit in the article is an example of a non-offensive sketch…whereas recreating her death in the tub would be reprehensible & Bad.

  22. cj says:

    she should do her closing thank yous dressed up as whitney. or one of the interstitial pictures.

  23. Mark C. says:

    YES YES YES I need to see Whitney in heaven! Bring it Maya!

  24. The Pride of Yankton says:

    But keep in mind that SNL was the first place that dared to be funny after 9/11. There were plenty of naysayers then as well, but the mayor’s appearance with Lorne was one of the great moments of the show.
    Say what you want about SNL, but they’ve never jumped the gun in respect to the recently deceased.

  25. I’d rather see Maya bring back Donatella & Oprah, honestly.
    I don’t think there’s anything that can be written that would justify bringing the character of Whitney back on the day of her funeral.

  26. Rachel says:

    It’s a comedy show not a serious drama show.
    Besides anyone who takes so many drugs they can’t take a bath safely is fair game in my opinion.

  27. Laurie says:

    WAY. TOO. SOON.

  28. Jesse says:

    I am not myself a fan of Maya Rudolph’s impression of Whitney Houston, but regardless of the merits of the performance, I think this Saturday is not the right time to mock her. Her death marks not just the loss of a singular talent but a woman’s failure to pull her life back from the brink after years of trying. SNL is supposed to be funny; instead of an “In Memoriam” style tribute, I would leave this one alone, period.

  29. Eliz says:

    The way to answer this question is to ask what they did with other famous folks who’ve died unexpectedly like Heath Ledger, Britney Murphy, MJ, Amy Winehouse etc. And I have to ask, is a week really “too soon?” I don’t feel it is, but based on the comments that’s not a popular opinion.

  30. Sg.Grant says:

    Death is death. It happens. Sometimes people do a few too many drugs and die. Not to be cold, but SNL should capitalize on this prime opportunity to do a celebrity Walking Dead skit. Zombie Whitney, MJ, Elizabeth Taylor, etc.

  31. Michael says:

    Bobby Brown!
    No, seriously, WAY WAY WAY too soon.

  32. Edie says:

    The funeral is on Saturday, her family (including her daughter) will be mourning their loss. Showing some poorly written (and the past two years of SNL, have been hit or miss at best) unfunny skit, mocking her is disrespectful beyond words. I honestly hope they throw this idea out quickly.

  33. Nate says:

    No, no, no, and no.
    The best Houston tribute would be to show her Mary Katherine Gallagher skit with Rosie O’Donnell and Penny Marshall. I don’t think that Houston was ever (intentionally) funnier in her entire public life than she was in that skit. I believe (I missed it) there was a picture from that skit shown during this past Saturday’s episode and, especially as I still haven’t seen it on hulu but have very fond memories of it, it deserved to be shown as a proper tribute. Anything Rudolph would do, as talented as she is, would smack of tastelesness at some level, as she only did Whitney as loopy, not Whitney as a signing talent, so, even though Rudolph is capable of capturing that essence, her prior impressions would predominate.

  34. TigerNightmare says:

    SNL has mocked the recently dead many times. Will Ferrell did Harry Carrey after he died. There were also several other bits on Update about non-celebrity famous people, such as this line: “On Thursday Harvey R. Ball, the inventor of the smiley face, died. He is survived by his wife and two children. (graphic: women’s restroom sign, crosswalk sign)” Granted, I don’t remember them doing a sketch about any iconic celebrity so soon after their death, but the best example I found in my brief research was this sketch where Darrell Hammond played Johnny Cash in Heaven just under three months after his death. It was tasteful, funny and paid tribute to his music and legacy. That’s how you do it right.

  35. Jon G says:

    I think if they do it, it gives SNL an opportunity to honor her in a way no one else could. A few years ago, right after Rodney Dangerfield died, they had him (played by Darrell Hammond) up at the pearly gates where St. Peter (played by Horatio Sanz) asks him to plead his case to get into heaven. After reciting beat-for-beat some his classic stand-up, Dangerfield asks, “So, can I get in?”, to which St. Peter replies: “Of course. I just wanted to hear those jokes one last time”. And it ends with Dangerfield entering Heaven saying “I finally got some respect!” If the SNL writers could come up with a once-in-a-blue-moon sketch with that much heart, they absolutely should.

  36. Laurel says:

    No way. NBC should remember that Bobbi Kristina lost her mother and Ms Cissy Houston has lost her daughter.
    Have some respect.

  37. Dan says:

    I think the best thing to do is have Maya sing as Whitney, and sing it straight.

    • Dan says:

      To add, the problem is they have to acknowledge Maya as Whitney. It’s one of her most iconic impersonations. To ignore it would be the pink elephant in the room the entire 90 mins.

    • Micah says:

      I agree that Maya singing a Whitney song would be tasteful, but I don’t think she needs to do it in character. I would wager that, were they to have Maya sing, they would take the more reverent route and just have her sing a song straight, without trying to be funny. She has a great voice, and it could be a surprisingly tactful tribute. (Would be best to stay away from “I Will Always Love You”, though, for several reasons… not the least of which would be to avoid comparisons to Jennifer Hudson’s Grammy performance.)

  38. Sean D says:

    Hmmm. It’s an interesting question Slezak, Maya Rudolph seems like a wonderful, kind person and I feel like she could figure out a way to play an Whitney in a way that’s appropriately respectful. I’d sort of rather they address it than have it just be the elephant in the room.
    I agree that her impression of her is lovable, the writers indulge in her eccentricity and drug use but like all successful SNL characters there’s an immense likability to her presence.

  39. Freddy says:

    it CAN be done tastefully, I like the idea of Whitney becoming the new choir director, Keenan Thompson could play Luther Vandross, Kristen Wiig as Judy Garland etc.

  40. John says:

    I think it can be done tastefully, although (no offense) your suggestions were kind of lame.
    I always thought it was ridiculous that it is okay to make fun of someone while they are alive, but as soon as they die, it’s suddenly a horrible thing, even though the person isn’t alive to hear it. I get that it is offensive because friends and family are dealing with the loss of the loved one, but why does that make it okay to do it when the person is alive and aware of it? If the material is harmless fun that wouldn’t bother the person if they were alive, then it should be fine to do post-mortem. If the material would have hurt the person if they were alive, then scrap it..

    • april-ann says:

      John, I get what you are saying. But, and it’s a BIG but, the reason it is offensive and suddenly a horrible thing is NOT because friends and family are dealing with the loss of a loved one. The reason it makes it okay to do it (and not ridiculous) when the person is alive is because they are here to defend themselves if they are so inclined. It is considered bad taste to do so if the person is deceased and therefore unable to go on the show to defend themselves and answer to what is being said or done with regard to them. The mere fact that they are not alive to hear it is exactly what makes it a suddenly horrible thing. I hope that makes sense. I’m totally with you though when you say that material which may have hurt the person if they were alive should be scrapped.

      • John says:

        I think I mostly agree. As an example, SNL might make references to the drug use, which presumably would be offensive alive or dead. That I would avoid at all costs. Making fun of a Whitney movie by having Maya do an overexaggerated version of a character would probably be something that everyone, including Whitney herself, could have had a good laugh at, which I think would be acceptable this Saturday.
        You’re right, though, about the ability to defend oneself- I hadn’t thought about that, only because that result (inability of one to defend herself) wouldn’t have any effect (since the person is dead and can’t speak up), whereas a relative would certainly speak up if something offended them.

  41. forrest says:

    Actually, SNL has access to all NBC archives if they really wanted to do a serious tribute. A compilation of past performances and reflections by the cast can be a great thing. In memorial.

  42. Barack Palin says:

    My guess is no it is way too soon. Unlike Muammar Qadaffi and Osama Bin Laden Whitney Houston, despite her problems and erratic behavior, was a beloved entertainer and a magnificent singer. A bad idea for a sketch would be for Maya as Whitney to be welcomed into heaven by Bobby Moynihan’s Amy Winehouse, with Amy bearing a straw, a spoon, and a line of coke. If SNL wants to honor Whitney Houston they should re-air the sketch with Molly Shannon, having Maya Rudolph introduce it and acknowledging her Whitney impersonation, or have Maya sing one of Whitney’s songs, but as Maya Rudolph not Whitney Houston.

  43. Kendall says:

    No, No, No…No. That’s all I can say.

  44. Scott Rachal says:

    Maya’s impression of Whitney Houston wasn’t anything spectacular to begin with. I would hope the one good thing to come from Houston’s death is to not have to see Maya’s terrible impression any more. Nor do I need to see Maya pay tribute in any other way. I’m sorry if Houston’s death came as a major inconvenience to Maya, but seriously it’s time to let it go.

  45. Amber says:

    I know SNL likes to imagine that it’s an “edgy” show doing things others are too afraid to do, but it just doesn’t sound like it would be funny.

  46. Jeff says:

    It is still so saddening to hear that Whitney Houston has died and it is way too soon if ever to joke about her death. I think though that SNL should honour her in some way such as having Maya speak at the end of update about it. I cannot think of a skit with Maya impersonating her that would be appropriate although what a coincidence that she is hosting the week following her death. One possible idea – they could do a skit surrounding The Bodyguard – the climax of her career – and end with one of Whitney’s songs. That possibly could be funny and still honour her.

  47. Stephen Grayce says:

    Unfortunately, it is WAY too soon for Rudolph to “do” her Whitney impression. Fortunately, that was only one of her multitude of talents, and she will wow us no matter what she does. Break a leg, Maya.

  48. Pete says:

    No. If Maya Rudolph had any ounce of talent should should start the show by honoring Houston with praise worthy remarks and do the show with her own creativity. Really? Is she that desperate that she just has to do the show as Whitney? I’ve seen her in other things and I know that she is funny. She should not have to reduce herself to mocking a music icon so close to the death. It would be distasteful and without honor…

  49. Sean says:

    I will be so sad and disappointed if Maya doesn’t do Whitney for her first time hosting. It is one of my all time favorite SNL celebrity parodies. My first thought when I heard she was hosting was “I can’t wait to see Maya as Whitney this weekend”. Then a few days later the death of Whitney broke, and my next thought was, “…now Maya HAS to do Whitney!”.

  50. Nay says:

    I think it is even mentally sick to consider it! There is nothing funny about Whitney Houston right now in anyone’s life with her mother, daugther and family still grieving! That is ridiculous! Now the toxicology reports!

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