Ellen Cleghorne

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Ellen Cleghorne
Ellen Cleghorne Aviano.jpg
Cleghorne at the La Bella Vista Club
Born (1965-11-29) November 29, 1965 (age 53)
OccupationActress, comedian
Years active1984–present

Ellen Cleghorne (born November 29, 1965) is an American actress and comedian, best known as a cast member of Saturday Night Live from 1991 to 1995. Cleghorne was the sketch comedy show's second African-American female repertory cast member, succeeding Danitra Vance in its eleventh season, and the first African-American female cast member to stay for more than one season. She returned for its 40th anniversary special on February 15, 2015. Cleghorne was ranked the 69th greatest Saturday Night Live cast member by Rolling Stone magazine.[1]

Life and career[edit]

A native of the Red Hook Projects in Brooklyn, New York, Cleghorne is a graduate of Hunter College.[2] She first established her talents in New York City comedy clubs and career started when she competed in the Johnnie Walker Comedy Search in 1989 where she was directed in a video by Saturday Night Live short film producer Neal Marshad at the comedy club Carolines in the South Street Seaport. In 1991, she appeared on Def Comedy Jam and landed minor roles in season two of In Living Color, where she was discovered by producers of Saturday Night Live. Cleghorne joined Saturday Night Live in 1991, and remained on the show for four seasons. During her time on the show she performed impressions such as Alfre Woodard, Dr. Dre, Anita Baker, Florence Griffith Joyner, Debbie Allen, Mary J. Blige, Natalie Cole, Patti LaBelle, Marla Gibbs, Robin Quivers, Toni Morrison, Joycelyn Elders, Tina Turner, and Whoopi Goldberg. Also, she had two recurring characters: Zoraida, an NBC page, and Queen Shenequa, who appeared frequently on Weekend Update. She was the first woman of color to appear on Saturday Night Live as a full-fledged cast member for longer than a single season.

Her former SNL costar Jay Mohr's book Gasping for Airtime notes that Cleghorne did not get along well with some of the other cast members during her time on the show. He also mentions a tiff with host Sally Field during a pitch meeting. In 1995, she left SNL to star as single mother Ellen Carlson on Cleghorne!, a sitcom that aired for one season on The WB network, which also starred former SNL alumnus Garrett Morris, and Sherri Shepherd in her first acting role. “I don’t think I was ready,” Cleghorne later said. “In terms of being strong and saying, ‘I can write, this is what I do,’ and feel confident in that. And to be able to say, ‘No, this does not work, this works better.’ ” (source)[3]

Cleghorne also appeared, off and on, on the cult children's TV show The Adventures of Pete and Pete, which aired on Nickelodeon. Cleghorne played a bus driver whose main function was as the love interest of Pete's regular bus driver.

Cleghorne has appeared in independent films and comedy segments since the cancellation of Cleghorne!, making brief cameos in films Armageddon, Coyote Ugly, Little Nicky, and Old School.

She has had a series of skits played on Sirius XM Radio's Raw Dog Comedy channel.[citation needed]

Cleghorne was mentioned on a segment of the Family Guy DVD Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story, when Stewie asks if "they ever found a suitable vehicle for Ellen Cleghorne." Seth MacFarlane has claimed that she called the show's staff about the joke, which Cleghorne has denied.[4]

In 2013, she appeared in a small role in Grown Ups 2.

In 2014 she received her PhD in Performance Studies at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts.[5]

In 2015, she was one of the contestants for Worst Cooks in America: Celebrity Edition, finishing in 3rd place.

In 2018, she played the role of Shaniqua in Second Act.

Celebrity impressions on Saturday Night Live[edit]

Recurring characters on Saturday Night Live[edit]

  • Queen Shenequa, an Afrocentric social critic who dressed in African garb, observed Kwanzaa, and made commentaries on race.
  • Zoraida, an exuberant but short-tempered NBC page who pesters the celebrity hosts of the show as they prepare backstage. Usually, when the celebrity grew tired of her bothering them and would try to leave, she would suddenly become angry and threaten them.


  1. ^ "'Saturday Night Live': All 145 Cast Members Ranked". Rolling Stone.
  2. ^ "Saturday Night's Children: Ellen Cleghorne (1991-1995)". splitsider.com. 14 August 2012. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  3. ^ Hoglund, Andy. "Ellen Cleghorne on Breaking Down Saturday Night Live's Racial Barriers, and the Ones That Remain". Slate. Slate.
  4. ^ "'SNL' Alum Ellen Cleghorne on Black Women in Comedy and What She's Been Up To Since the Show". vh1.com. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  5. ^ "What Ever Happened to...Ellen Cleghorne? - JetMag.com". 11 June 2014.

External links[edit]