Why Julia Sweeney Is Embracing Her ‘Pat’ Character Again

Julia Sweeney isn’t closing the door on her Saturday Night Live character, Pat, just yet.

Pat was first introduced to SNL audiences in 1990 as a geeky, sweet character who presented as androgynous. The “It’s Pat” sketches, which ran regularly through 1994, typically revolved around other characters being confused by Pat’s gender. 

Though the sketches are more than 30 years old now, the character has garnered controversy in recent years. During a GLAAD panel at the Television Critics Association press tour in 2017, Transparent creator Joey Soloway—whom Sweeney is a close friend of—deemed the sketches “hateful” toward non-binary people. “We didn’t understand that at the time, but looking back at that, what an awful piece of anti-trans propaganda,” said Soloway.

In a recent interview with People, Sweeney reflected on the criticism. She said that Soloway’s remarks “just broke my heart,” explaining, “I felt that I carefully wrote all the jokes to be about the people’s uncomfortableness with Pat, not Pat being uncomfortable with Pat’s self.”

“To me, it was an empowering nonbinary thing,” Sweeney added. “And that it was perceived that way was very upsetting.”

This isn’t the first time the actress has addressed the Pat controversy. From 2019 to 2021, Sweeney played a fictionalized version of herself in the Showtime sitcom Work In Progress, in which she attempts to make amends for the character. 

“There’s no better way to work through your past than through art,” Sweeney said of the Work In Progress storyline during a virtual panel at the 2021 Television Critics Association summer press tour. “I’ve been able to put in my own ambivalence and struggle thinking about how that character came down, and what it really means, and what it never meant, and yet what it could mean. It’s been great, which is what good art, I think, is.”

Sweeney also reflected on the character’s complicated legacy in a 2019 interview with The New York Times and explained why the “It’s Pat” sketches wouldn’t work now. “[Today] you would not make fun of somebody for being that way,” she said. “You’d be able to say, ‘What are your pronouns?’ And Pat would say, ‘I’m so offended, they’re obviously—’ And then the joke would be over.”

However, that doesn’t mean Sweeney has ruled out revisiting Pat. 

The actress told People she recently met with 10 transgender comedy writers to discuss the possibility of “reinventing” the character, whom the writers viewed in a more positive light. “A lot of the people who were there, well, all of them loved Pat,” she said. “They were little kids when they saw Pat and felt that was a transformative thing for them to see.” 

“For me, that was so emotional,” Sweeney continued. “When I left, I was really crying all the way home, because I felt like for the first time in 30 years, I felt proud of Pat.”

If it’s done right, right now could be the perfect time for a Pat comeback—as long as it’s better than the 1994 box office bomb, It’s Pat.

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