Cecily Strong Leaves SNL After 11 Years

Nora Toscano, Editor-in-Chief

On Saturday, December 17, 2022, Cecily Strong performed in her final episode of Saturday Night Live after eleven years of being a family favorite on the show. Strong first joined the cast in 2012 and in the following decade became a household name with recurring characters such as “Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation with at a Party” and “Cathy Ann.” She did not announce that Saturday would be her last show until SNL shared an Instagram post on Saturday morning of a cue card that read “We’ll miss you, Cecily!” with the caption “Tonight we send off one of the best to ever do it. We’ll miss you, Cecily!” 

Strong’s exit follows the retirement of Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon, Pete Davidson, and Kyle Mooney at the end of last season and the retirement of Chris Redd, Alex Moffat, Melissa Villaseñor, and Aristotle Athari over the summer. In last season’s finale, the show paid tribute to the cast members who had announced they were leaving through various sketches. Kate McKinnon starred in a Cold Open in which her character left Earth to go live with aliens, the third installment of the “Close Encounter” sketch series, tearfully telling the audience, “Well, Earth, I love you. Thanks for letting me stay awhile.” Aidy Bryant said farewell in a final Weekend Update performance with Bowen Yang in which the two announced what trends were “in” and “out.” To close the “Trend Forecast,” Yang stated, “In: A friend I couldn’t have done this without” and Bryant replied, “My best guys kissing me,” to which Yang and Update anchor Michael Che kissed her cheek goodbye. Pete Davidson also starred in a final Update feature as himself, sharing Lorne Michael’s advice to him when he first auditioned: “I don’t think you’re right for this show, so let’s screw this up together.” Davidson joined the cast during season 40 at age 20, being one of the youngest cast members in the show’s history. He’s continuously frequented the Update desk, critiquing political figures and celebrities and shedding light on his own mental health struggles. Now 28, Davidson shared, “I never imagined this would be my life.” In a final goodbye to the audience, he said, “I appreciate SNL always having my back and allowing me to work on myself and grow. Thank you to Lorne for never giving up on me or judging me even when everyone else was, and believing in me and allowing me to have a place that I can call home with memories that will last a lifetime. So thank you guys.”

Strong’s last episode also featured special goodbyes. She reprised her role of “Cathy Ann” on Weekend Update with Michael Che, in which Cathy Ann says goodbye to the audience because she’s going to prison, joking that she had “friends on the inside” (Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant were pictured behind bars in the corner of the screen). To end the feature, she said, “Everybody has to go to jail at some point, and it’s just my time now, but I feel really lucky that I got to spend so many of the best moments of my life with these people that I love so much.”

In the episode’s final sketch, Kenan Thompson, clad in a Radio Shack manager uniform, honored her “11 years at Radio Shack” and introduced host Austin Butler and some of the cast to serenade her with Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas.” To fit the evening, some lyrics were changed to “You’ll be doing alright every Saturday Night,” which her costars delivered tearfully. At the end of the sketch, Strong hugged Colin Jost, Ego Nwodim, Kenan Thompson, Bowen Yang, Heidi Gardener, and Mikey Day. 

After the show, Strong shared in an Instagram post, “I’m sorry I’ve been a little quiet about it publicly. I didn’t want the extra pressure on something already so emotional for me. And I’m so grateful I got to have these wonderful past six shows to help me ease into it and get to meet and laugh and probably overly hug Molly, Marcelo, Devon, and Michael who I think are not only brilliantly funny but also really great humans. I am ready to go, but I’ll always know home is here. I’ve had the time of my life working with the greatest people on earth.” 

Co-star Heidi Gardener commented, “Cecily, the undeniable champ. Could do anything tossed her way. Anything. I’ve truly never seen anything like it. I love you so much and thank you for being a big sister, mentor, and friend.” Kenan Thompson posted a collage of pictures with Strong on Instagram with the caption “So many memories!! All of them great and cherished!!! We love you and will miss you!!”

Ex-Weekend Update anchor Seth Meyers also tributed Strong in an Instagram post with the caption “Co-anchoring Update with Cecily Strong was a career highlight but I’ll never forget the first time she did Girl at the Party…in her rookie season. It was self-assured and unflappable in a way that takes most of us years (if we’re lucky!) and when she checked her phone making both me and the audience wait it took my breath away. Congratulations on an incredible run to one of the all time greats!”

Strong exiting the show marks nine cast members from season 47 gone. With so many household favorites no longer dominating the screen and an abundance of new cast members, many are questioning the quality of the show this season and in the future. This is not uncommon, as there are often rocky years in between the exit and entry of generations of casts, and this unease is currently heightened with rumors of Lorne Michaels’s retirement. But the show has dominated popular culture and the comedic world for almost a half-century, and it is hard to imagine a time in which this is not the case.