Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

SNL impression virtuoso Chloe Fineman got her start doing bird calls for David Letterman

Chloe Fineman
Chloe Fineman
Screenshot: The Tonight Show

The never-ending comedy cruise ship that is Saturday Night Live can’t run without celebrity impressionists stoking the engines. Seriously, think about the times when nobody in the cast could do a decent must-have famous person each week and watch the whole thing churn in place for five painful minutes. (Looking at you, Fred Armisen, and your indifferent, blackface-wearing, post-Jay Pharoah President Obama.) Luckily, SNL’s got several more-than-capable impressionists on staff at the moment, and although the show seems to have forgotten that Melissa Villaseñor’s mimicry gifts exist, second-year featured player Chloe Fineman is getting some airtime to show her stuff this season. Plus, as one of her go-to impressions is of a bashful, mumbly Timothée Chalamet, the Call Me By Your Name/Little Women/coming-to-your-house Dune star’s hosting gig this Saturday should provide her with a guaranteed spotlight or two.

Appearing on The Tonight Show Tuesday alongside former SNL voice guy Jimmy Fallon, Fineman explained that Chalamet had given his (stammering, effusive, adorable) blessing to the idea of Fineman playing him this weekend. The actor, sitting incognito (easier during the COVID times) in the audience for last week’s Jason Bateman-hosted episode, approached Fineman to assure her that they should definitely both be him come Saturday. As to the other people Fineman traditionally is, who knows, although a Fallon-esque bit asking her to read out “The Night Before Christmas” in a series of her top tier famous voices showed just how good Fineman is at changing everything about her affect on the fly. Sure, Fineman does a stellar Drew Barrymore, but the expressively singular Drew’s got more handles on her than a subway car. How about Fineman doing both Meryl Streep and out-dueling Meryl Streep by playing Margaret Thatcher in the same bit? Those aren’t featured player guts—those are cast member guts.

But it was when Fallon’s staff really dug into Fineman’s sordid impressionist past that the interview hit pay dirt, as a high school-age Fineman’s appearance on Late Show With David Letterman showed that, yes, she’s always been like this. Alongside an equally committed school chum (who sadly did not ride the silly voice train to SNL stardom) the grainy young Fineman showed admirable—not to say loopy—dedication in replicating the “sounds like a dying cat” screech of the noble peafowl. Dave was impressed, although Fineman did lay claim to a little embarrassment at Fallon having unearthed the pre-YouTube treasure. Not at her already SNL-worthy peafowl face, but at her at-the-time super-cool white jeans. Peafowl and white pants—everybody starts somewhere.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.

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