McKinnon is known for her character work and celebrity impressions of pop singer Justin Bieber, comedian television host Ellen DeGeneres, and politicians Hillary Clinton, Kellyanne Conway, Elizabeth Warren, Betsy DeVos, and Jeff Sessions. She has been nominated for five Primetime Emmy Awards; one for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics and four for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, winning in 2016 and 2017.
Kathryn McKinnon Berthold was born and raised in the Long Island town of Sea Cliff, New York, just outside New York City. She is the daughter of Laura Campbell, a parent educator, and Michael Thomas Berthold, an architect. She has a younger sister, Emily. Her father died when she was 18 years old.
As a child, McKinnon played the piano, cello, and guitar. She graduated from North Shore High School in 2002, and from Columbia University in 2006 with a theater major, where she co-founded a comedy group, Tea Party, which focused on musical improv comedy. At Columbia, she starred in three Varsity shows: V109 "Dial D for Deadline", V110 "Off-Broadway" and V111 "The Sound Of Muses". She was also a member of Prangstgrüp, a student comedy group who set up and recorded elaborate college pranks.
In 2007, McKinnon joined the original cast of Logo TV's The Big Gay Sketch Show, where she was a cast member for all three seasons.
Since 2008, she has performed live sketch comedy regularly at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City. She has also worked as a voice-over actress, and has voiced characters for series such as The Venture Bros., Robotomy, and Ugly Americans. In 2009, McKinnon won a Logo NewNowNext Award for Best Rising Comic. She was nominated for an ECNY Emerging Comic Award in 2010. In 2014, she appeared in the Kennedy Center Honors as part of a tribute to Lily Tomlin. In 2016, she starred in the reboot Ghostbusters, alongside Melissa McCarthy, and fellow SNL cast members Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones. In 2017, McKinnon is attached to star in Amblin Entertainment's Lunch Witch, an adaptation of a young adult graphic novel by Deb Lucke. She has been set to play the title role of Grunhilda, an out-of-work witch who takes a job in a school cafeteria to make ends meet. McKinnon is also slated to voice the character of Ms. Frizzle in the upcoming reboot of the Magic School Bus children's series.
McKinnon debuted as a featured player on Saturday Night Live on April 7, 2012. She was promoted to repertory status in season 39 in 2013. Following the departure of Vanessa Bayer, McKinnon is now the longest serving female cast member.
In 2013, McKinnon was nominated for an EWwy for Best Supporting Actress, Comedy. McKinnon won the 2014 American Comedy Award for Best Supporting Actress, TV for her work on SNL. In 2014, she was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, as well as for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics along with four of her colleagues for the song "(Do It On My) Twin Bed". She was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for the second time in 2015. She eventually won the very next year, becoming the first actor from SNL to win the award since 1993.
McKinnon began appearing as Hillary Clinton on the series leading up to the 2016 presidential election. The real Clinton appeared alongside her in a sketch during the show's season 41 premiere. McKinnon has said that her impression of Hillary Clinton comes from a place of deep admiration, and that "[she] unequivocally want[ed] her to win" the 2016 presidential election. On November 12, 2016, which was the first show after Clinton's loss in the election, she reprised the role to open the show with a solo performance of "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen, whose death was announced two days before her performance. After the election, McKinnon began to impersonate Kellyanne Conway alongside Alec Baldwin as Trump. On February 11, she debuted her impression of Elizabeth Warren during Weekend Update and Jeff Sessions in the cold open.Weekend Update characters
Olya Povlatsky, a Russian woman who voices her opinions on current events, comparing them to the outrageous struggles she faces in her village. She also appeared in a cold open with Beck Bennett as Vladimir Putin reading a prepared statement against her will.
Deenie, a.k.a. "Somebody's Mom", a middle-aged woman who attempts to recap soap operas she's been watching, but only knows the characters by self-applied nicknames, such as "Big Boobs" and "Mustache". She is always eating some foul concoction out of Tupperware, such as Brussels sprouts and imitation crab, which generally both revolts and breaks up anchor Colin Jost.
Mrs. Santini, an apartment dweller who writes passive-aggressive notes to her neighbors. Originally performed as Effie Villalopolus on Comedy Bang! Bang!
Sheila Sovage, a heavily intoxicated woman at a bar who meets and hooks up with a heavily intoxicated man, played by the host, at closing time.
Jodi Cork, one of the hosts of Women in the Workplace.
Barbara DeDrew, a lesbian volunteer at cat shelter Whiskers R We.
Helga Handler, a Swedish TV presenter who speaks only in exaggeratedly Swedish-sounding gibberish, occasionally saying crude English words.
Colleen Rafferty, a middle-aged woman who appears in panels in which other sketch participants recount idyllic paranormal events while Rafferty experiences less enjoyable versions.
Les Dykawitz, a lesbian cop from the 1970s who works for Chicago PD along with her partner, Chubina Fatzarelli (played by Aidy Bryant), in "Dyke & Fats".
Debette Goldry, a septuagenarian actress who appears in different round table panels.
A member of Woodbridge High School's theatre troupe, who make their performances obsessively and solely about social justice issues that they know very little about.
Noelle LeSoup, the co-host of the French show "America's Funniest Cats", who appears on the American version of the show along with Joelle LaRue (played by Cecily Strong).
Shud, a crass mermaid who is based on a blobfish, and makes sexual advances on an unfortunate marooned sailor.
Aside from SNL, McKinnon also co-created and co-stars in the web series Notary Publix with her sister Emily Lynne. In addition to Aidy Bryant, who stars in the series, McKinnon's SNL co-stars Beck Bennett, Jay Pharoah and SNL writer Paula Pell all guest-starred in the six-episode first season of the web series.
In 2015, McKinnon appeared in a number of commercials for the Ford Focus.
In 2016, McKinnon co-hosted the 31st Independent Spirit Awards with Kumail Nanjiani.
McKinnon has made appearances as a voice actress in series like The Simpsons (as Hettie in season 27 episode 14 "Gal of Constant Sorrow") and Family Guy (a voice in season 14 episode 15 "An App a Day", as Karen / Heavy Flo in season 14 episode 6 "Peter's Sister", and a voice in season 15 episode 9 "How the Griffin Stole Christmas"), and films such as Finding Dory (as Stan's fish wife), The Angry Birds Movie (as Stella / Eva the Birthday Mom) and Ferdinand (as Lupe).
McKinnon is SNL's first openly lesbian cast member, as well as the series' third known gay cast member after Terry Sweeney and Danitra Vance. She has a pet cat, Nino Positano, whom she jokingly refers to as her son. She has no social media presence, citing fear that she will "misrepresent her true feelings".