There is a moment, about halfway through Molly Shannon’s incredibly charming memoir, Hello, Molly!That was the moment that stopped me dead in my tracks. I recalled years spent in the showbiz, and finally made it. Saturday Night LiveShannon confesses.
She’d spent years waiting tables in Los Angeles at a place called Cravings. It was a skill she excelled at and, as an added bonus, she ran live shows together with her friends. She had hundreds of people to fill the house, so 500 calls meant that about 200 people would show up. She was only 29. People could see that she was talented, but anyone who’s ever pursued a career in the arts knows that talent alone is often not enough. The dramatic acting she’d intended to pursue and studied at New York University hadn’t worked out. She had a friend with whom she ran a scheme, getting one another auditions by pretending to be David Mamet’s assistant, and it had gotten them through plenty of doors but never the right one.
Then, SNLA call to audition for a job, and a trip to New York. All of this was possible because she had the ability to meet people and build relationships with them. She also managed to keep her cool when she thought she might fail. Few people thought Shannon’s now-iconic character Mary Katherine Gallagher was a good idea—she chose not to use her in the audition—but in the vein of most everything Shannon had done up until then, she eventually followed her gut and got Gallagher a sketch on the show. She was an instant hit. “It was such a great lesson to really write from your heart—write from yourself—what’s true, not reacting to boys, just being a girl and being yourself and writing from your heart,” Shannon writes. “It blew my mind What number of people responded to it… It came from Within.”
It was a routine thing to be stopped in the streets. After all these years she finally got it.
But then, Shannon writes—and this is what stunned me—”The one person I wanted more than anyone to tell me I was good was my mom.” Shannon had chased success hoping for something in return that she would never get. She would not be able to return home with her mother. “I realized I’d been running for years, driven to work so hard, on this track, trying to make it, to Attain, and when I finally got there… there was that Achieve your goals.”
Celebrity memoirs are a bizarre venture. Because a person is known, it is supposed to tell a compelling story. But fame is arbitrary and slippery. This can be like trying to understand an equation. There is so much damage from childhood, plus this passion, ambition and luck. Shannon’s mother died when she was four, a car accident in which her dad was at the wheel. Also, Shannon’s baby sister and cousin died. She, their father, and sister all survived. She was influenced by these losses. This is the ache.
Continue reading:Celebrity Memoirs that are so Good
But it was also the extraordinary relationship she has with her father, James Shannon, “the Mama Rose to my Gypsy Rose,” that kept her steady enough to push on. He “encouraged mischief,” tearing clothes off of mannequins to make his daughters and their friends laugh. Shannon writes that he “gave me a kind of freedom few other girls had.” “Super-charismatic,” he also had a quick temper and sometimes struggled with alcohol: “I either adored my dad or was frustrated and at the end of my rope.” It’s the complexity and intensity of this relationship, combined with Shannon’s incredible humanity, that seems to have built this particular star—or superstar, if you will. Shannon made her mark after becoming a household name. SNLShannon was cast in roles on a number of TV and film shows including Roxbury Nights, Christmas: How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Wet Hot American Summer, Transylvania Hotel, Enlightened, Two Other ThingsAnd The White Lotus.
Shannon provides a bit of advice every now and again. It is a philosophy that encourages hard work while also talking with everyone, building connections, and being open to new ideas. If I were to pull out any of the platitudes that she offers from the text, I’m not sure they’d feel like much. But they do work, within the context of her story, because it’s so clear throughout all these pages that Shannon actually means these things. She threw herself through the wall years ago, just like she did in those years. SNL, the way she always seems to inhabit her characters with her entire self, to feel fully possessed by whatever it is she’s tasked to do or wants to be. “I learned to trust myself,” she writes. “That somewhere deep in my gut I knew not to over-rehearse but to just let it rip.”
A few stories from Shannon’s motherhood to her two children are the final chapters of this book. She skips most of her early motherhood years and each anecdote is short. But the moments that she offers are ones that might, in a different type of parent, engender frustration, anger, or panic—a towed car, running out of gas—but instead show Shannon pulling from a seemingly endless well of groundedness. She demonstrates her ability to find joy even in difficult times. “I always ask Stella and Nolan, ‘Do I seem like a stressed-out mom or a happy mom?’” she writes. “And they say, ‘You seem happy.’”
If there’s an alchemy to what makes Shannon who she is, it seems as much about that ache she describes as the solidity and play that she shows toward the book’s end. Every story is a tale of struggle, loss and doubling down. Hello, Molly!There is also an insatiable desire to have fun, find joy, foster community and laugh. This seems, in part, to have come from her father, and the intensity and constancy of their relationship—but also from something ineffable inside of her.
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