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Pat is an androgynous fictional character created and performed by Julia Sweeney for the American sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live, and later featured in the film It's Pat. The central aspect of sketches featuring Pat was the inability of others to determine the character's gender.
Pat (whose full name was revealed on an episode of Saturday Night Live as Pat O'Neil Riley) was a somewhat overweight character with short, curly black hair who wore glasses and a blue western-style shirt with tan slacks. The character spoke in a nasal voice that sometimes squeaked. Pat apparently suffered from very sweaty palms, and constantly wiped them on his or her clothing while making a strange whimpering sound, further adding to the character's unappealing quality. Sweeney wore no face makeup but colored her lips beige and overdid her eyebrows to hide any gender identity clues. Sweeney has said that Pat originated when she tried to play a male character in a sketch but looked unconvincing.
The sketches always involved the celebrity guest hosts of the show playing everyday people who encounter Pat and then go to great lengths to discover Pat's true gender without being so rude as to actually ask (because Pat can be short for either "Patrick", a male name, or "Patricia", a female one). Pat remained oblivious, endlessly frustrating the questioners with answers that leave the character's gender vague. The character often made statements that seemed to reveal a gender, only to then immediately confuse things again. (A typical example might be, "Sorry if I'm a little grumpy, I have really bad cramps... I rode my bike over here, and my calf muscles are KILLING me!") In another sketch, Pat tells Kevin Nealon that his or her name is Pat Riley, same as the coach of the Lakers, "except there's a big difference between him and me. I'm not the coach of a professional basketball team." Other gags included Pat's attempts at humor, which served to confuse everyone further, such as when asked what Pat is short for, the character would reply, Pat is short for "P-a-a-a-a-a-t!", or when asked in an application for sex, Pat responded, "Please!" Another joke was when Pat was asked the full name, to which the character responded that Pat almost never referred to the character's self by the middle name, as it was embarrassing, to which an eager audience was filled in that it was "O'Neill," again continuing the joke. In yet another sketch where Pat goes to the hairdresser, the stylist asks which magazine Pat would like to read, naming gender-specific titles. However, Pat asks for People.
The character was popular enough to spawn a feature length 1994 film called It's Pat (from the lyrics of the character's theme song on Saturday Night Live). In the film, Pat meets Chris, another gender ambiguous character played by Dave Foley. (On SNL, Chris had been played by Dana Carvey.) They quickly fall in love and propose to each other at exactly the same time. Before the wedding, however, Chris breaks up with Pat on account of Pat's arrogance and the fact that Pat cannot decide on a direction in life. Meanwhile, Pat has become an object of obsession of a neighbor (Charles Rocket), who is so determined to discover Pat's gender that he goes insane. Pat also has a brief rock music career in the film and plays with the band Ween. After the band hired Pat for a cameo appearance, he/she built it up and started looking at it from an unrealistic point of view (in which Pat thought he/she was going to become an overnight celebrity), which had a hand in the breaking up of Pat and Chris. The film was a critical and commercial bomb.
Sweeney also helped co-write a book to coincide with the film's release, entitled "It's Pat!: My Life Exposed." Pat makes it through the entire 96-page book without revealing his or her true sex.
Sweeney admitted that Pat is probably a woman. This admission stems from a sketch with Harvey Keitel in which their two characters, both of dubious sexual provenance, share a kiss. Sweeney reflexively tilted her head to receive the kiss in the stereotypically feminine fashion, a move that was not noticed at the time but was brought to her attention a couple of years later. Sweeney says she normally paid close attention to such details in her performances as Pat and was disappointed that she had made this mistake. Although a slip of acting does not necessarily define Pat's gender, Sweeney nevertheless accepted that she has defined Pat as a woman.
In the SNL episode starring Linda Hamilton, 16 November 1991, a few people are able to learn the truth about Pat's gender. In a sketch set at a gymnasium, the showers there are separated by gender, forcing Pat to choose one or the other; when Pat does, Hamilton and the other characters in the sketch learn Pat's gender. However, the audience is still left wondering, because while the characters in the sketch were learning the truth, SNL cut to Kevin Nealon, from the Weekend Update desk, for a Special Report announcing that families with small children get five times as many colds as single adults. In the final Pat sketch to air on television, Keitel asks Pat directly what Pat's gender is. Just as Pat is about to reveal the truth, an audience member (played by Adam Sandler) suddenly stands up and screams at Pat not to tell, declaring that NBC will be bereft of comedy if Pat told, as the hit programs Cheers was ending its run and David Letterman was leaving the network. Pat reluctantly agrees to this, and the question goes unanswered. The sketch was parodied on the animated show The Critic when the main character watches "Yesterday Night Live" and the Australian host comes out and says, "She's a girl mate, I saw her backstage," and pulls her wig off with her saying, "You ruined my career!"