Nov. 6, 2021. Saturday Night Live’s (SNL) Cecily Strong takes the “Weekend Update” stage dressed in a costume reminiscent of Loonette from The Big Comfy Couch: an eccentrically patterned button down and vest, a bowtie, and two voluminous ponytails teased out of a little fuchsia hat.
Seated beside Weekend Update co–anchor Colin Jost, Strong portrays the character Goober the Clown—who had an abortion the day before her 23rd birthday. This feature appropriately aired just five days after the Supreme Court heard arguments challenging the Texas Heartbeat Act, a September 2021 law that almost entirely outlawed abortions within the state past six weeks of pregnancy.
Watching the segment, two things become clear.
First, all of the facts and figures Strong references about “clown abortion”—like that “one in three clowns will have a clown abortion in her lifetime”—are true. And second, this sketch feels deeply personal. Maybe it’s Strong nervously picking at her thumb, or the way Jost tells Strong, “You don’t have to do this, Cecily.” She replies: “Who’s Cecily? I’m Goober. And I wish I didn’t have to do this because the abortion I had at 23 is my personal clown business, but that’s all some people in this country want to discuss all the time.”
To end the sketch, Strong–as–Goober says, “Okay, Colin, here’s my truth.” She inhales helium. “I know I wouldn’t be a clown on TV here today if it weren’t for the abortion I had the day before my 23rd birthday. Clowns have been helping each other and their pregnancies since the caves. It’s gonna happen, so it ought to be safe, legal, and accessible.” To a chorus of audience applause, it’s at this point that many viewers realize that Strong may not just be portraying a character, but perhaps telling her own story through the voice of Goober. There’s clearly something raw behind each line.
“We will not go back to the alley. I mean, the last thing anyone wants is a bunch of dead clowns in a dark alley,” she concludes. In four minutes, Strong compellingly presents a candid narrative about a topic that has time and again been twisted and politicized, particularly in the media.
As a sketch comedy show, SNL is brimming with political satire. But Strong’s Weekend Update feature as Goober the Clown is more than that. It’s an accurate, striking, yet beautifully intimate commentary on abortion rights that will go down in SNL history.
While Strong didn’t explicitly state in the segment that Goober’s story was really her own, she took to Instagram Stories to confirm it the next morning. Unfortunately, stigma surrounding abortion can make it a difficult issue for discussion, especially from a personal standpoint—and not to mention, doing it on primetime television.
Strong serves as testimony to this in her post. “I didn’t tell my own wonderful and supportive mom for years and Saturday I told live TV,” she writes.
What’s more, this poignant sketch holds an even stronger significance today—over six months after its air date. Having garnered over 1.5 million views on YouTube alone, current top comments include: “Had to rewatch this today after I read the news today about the abortion laws in the [United States],” and “Just joining the crowds revisiting this moment of brilliance and laughing through tears.”
These viewers are referring to the upcoming Supreme Court decision on the fate of Roe v. Wade—the landmark ruling that determined that the Constitution protects a woman’s right to receive an abortion. A May 2022 leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion draft has the court currently poised to overturn the precedent. With abortion rights in jeopardy across the nation, every one of Strong’s lines as Goober remains extremely relevant.
She’s right that outlawing abortions won’t end them; it’ll just make them more dangerous. Abortions will happen, so they “ought to be safe, legal, and accessible,” she says. Overturning Roe would criminalize and villainize people for exercising autonomy over their own bodies and pregnancies—something that is already terrifying for many, even when abortion is legal.
Strong alludes to this in the segment, mentioning how the doctor jokingly asked her if she’d gotten pregnant on the way over to the clinic, since she wasn’t very far along. She says it remains one of her favorite jokes to this day—a reminder that “you’re not an awful person, and your life isn’t over.”
While some have supported overturning the precedent in favor of a federal law codifying abortion, such a bill recently failed in the Senate. Awaiting the Supreme Court’s June decision, the sketch continues to ring true. Strong has always pushed the envelope with her comedy, but the political commentary combined with her personal experience is piercing.
Strong’s feature on Weekend Update as Goober the Clown is a brilliant, witty, and brave contribution to television. Revisiting it six months later is a reminder of just how necessary it was and still is. SNL has engaged with political topics countless times, but Strong’s marriage of astute commentary with a profoundly personal story is stellar. There is no doubt that it took an immense amount of courage. Thank you, Cecily.
And this isn’t Strong’s first time discussing abortion within her comedy. While hosting the 2015 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, she didn’t hold back on sharp pro–choice punchlines.
To quote her at the dinner: “I’m not going to tell you politicians how to do politics or whatever. That’s not my job,” she says. “That’d be like if you guys told me what to do with my body. I mean, can you even imagine?”