RuPaul serves sketch comedy genius on ‘Saturday Night Live’

Saturday Night Live
RuPaul & Justin Bieber
February 8, 2019

I’m just going to be honest: there are some people who host Saturday Night Live who I am just completely incapable of grading fairly because I love them so much. RuPaul Charles, Mama Ru, the Queen of Drag, is one of those people. RuPaul is unquestionably the world’s most famous drag queen, having managed to break into straight pop culture awareness back in 1993 with his single “Supermodel” and then bringing the universe of drag into all of our homes with RuPaul’s Drag Race, his drag competition series that started out as a spoof of Tyra Banks’ America’s Next Top Model, but which has become so much more. RuPaul, more than anyone else, is responsible for making drag culture part of the popular lexicon. But more than that, RuPaul helped create a more understanding, and accepting culture, giving drag queens and transwomen agency over their identities instead of just being the butt of jokes.

One of my few pop culture bragging rights is that I saw RuPaul in a small teen club in Houston, Texas in 1986. A 6’4″ black man in platform boots, what appears to be football shoulder pads covered in streamers and little else, flanked by two shirtless men in tight pants and brandishing toy guns, all singing “Starbooty, Starbooty, Starbooty, yeaaaaaaaah! Starbooty, Starbooty, Starbooty, awwwwww!” in falsetto — it left quite the impression on a 13-year-old me. It was wild and funny and unlike anything I had ever seen before, and in a small way it shaped me. The performance begins at the 1:20 mark in the video below.

And this is going a long way to basically say, no matter how Mama Ru did on Saturday Night Live, no matter what garbage they gave her to work with, she was going to come away with a high grade from yours truly.

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J.J. Watt charms ‘Saturday Night Live’ on Super Bowl weekend

Saturday Night Live
J.J. Watt & Luke Combs
February 2, 2019

I’m going to be honest, I was worried for J.J. Watt. Athletes do not have a great record on Saturday Night Live, and for every Payton Manning, there is a Michael Phelps (and the less said about that, the better). While J.J. is a beloved Houston treasure and we all know he’s charming and delightful, would he be able to translate that charm to the 8H stage? The short answer is yes! Watt held it together and was funnier than your average athlete on SNL. The longer answer is, it took him a little while to warm up, and he didn’t always have the best material to work with, but he was always game and did not once embarrass Houston or himself. All in all, well played, J.J.

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In which Adam Driver continues to be one of the most consistently great ‘Saturday Night Live’ hosts

Saturday Night Live
Adam Driver & Halsey
January 25, 2019

Adam Driver specializes in intensity. The characters he is known for tend to be barely containing their emotions, be it rage or anger or rage … And so it’s easy to forget — even after having hosted Saturday Night Live twice before — that he’s a brilliant comic actor. Now, a lot of that humor is based in his perceived intensity; in fact, three of my favorite sketches from last night were firmly predicated on the idea that Driver’s characters are on the edge of becoming dangerous (or, in the case of Kylo Ren, have firmly crossed it). But I’m not complaining — this weekend’s Saturday Night Live was funny (almost) from beginning to end, thanks in large part to Driver being such a great comic actor that he elevates what might otherwise be a mediocre bit in the hands of a less funny actor.

kylo ren snl thumbs up saturday night live adam driver

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Relive Eddie Murphy’s almost-perfect ‘Saturday Night Live’

Saturday Night Live
Eddie Murphy & Lizzo
December 22, 2019

I’m going to try to avoid overthinking this episode because comedy never benefits from thinking about it too hard. (It’s one of the reasons I never recap comedies.) But, Eddie Murphy returning to Saturday Night Live for the first time in 35 years is not just a historically notable TV event, it’s one that required a little contemplation on both our part and the writers’.

Here’s the thing: Eddie Murphy blazed into superstardom on Saturday Night Live in 1980 when he was only 19 years old with characters like Mr. Robinson and Buckwheat — characters that made fun of racist stereotypes in a way that was so close to the chest that some viewers may not have understood they were supposed to be laughing with Murphy, not at him. Murphy was never putting on a minstrel show, he was pointing out how racist the minstrel show was. The problem is some viewers, particularly white ones, might have missed that nuance. (Honestly, maybe the greatest SNL sketch of all time is the one in which he went undercover as a white man — genuinely brilliant and tackling race in a way that remains as stinging and poignant 40 years later.)

So because a great deal has changed in the past 40 years, it was always going to be a delicate dance bringing some of these characters back to the show in a way that not only would be relevant but culturally palatable. But God damn, if they didn’t pull it off. Murphy’s 80s characters found themselves up against 21st-century issues like gentrification and the #MeToo movement — and that tension is where the comedy blossomed.

Then when you add to all of that the fact that Eddie Murphy waited long enough to come back to the show so that there were no more hard feelings, that he had shed enough of his movie star ego and aloofness that he could really enjoy himself on that stage in an uninhibited, genuine way … well, it made for the best episode of the year, certainly, and one of the best episodes of Saturday Night Live I’ve ever seen.

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Scarlett Johansson steers a wildly uneven ‘Saturday Night Live’

Saturday Night Live
Scarlett Johansson & Niall Horan
December 14, 2019

I am not coming for Scarlett Johansson. This is her sixth time hosting Saturday Night Live, she knows what she is doing, and for a gorgeous starlet who is probably best known for her superhero role in the Avengers films, she has good comic timing and is always game for whatever the show will throw at her.

So you would think that as the fiancee of the head writer, she’d enjoy some really well-written sketches. You’d think very wrong! This week’s Saturday Night Live was a mess of mediocre sketches punctuated with some genuinely terrible ones. And the saving grace of the night was a commercial spoof that Johansson wasn’t even in. It’s not that the episode was TERRIBLE, it was just so not-good medium. So medium. Listen: you’ve got a lot of negotiating power, Scarlett Johansson. Don’t let Jost do this to you again.

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‘Saturday Night Live’: BREAKING NEWS! Jennifer Lopez is attractive

Saturday Night Live
Jennifer Lopez & DaBaby
December 7, 2019

I don’t know if you are aware of this, but Jennifer Lopez is a very attractive woman. I only mention it because the writers at Saturday Night Live seem to believe we were not aware of this, and so they devoted the first full hour of last night’s episode to reminding us that Jennifer Lopez — despite being the unimaginable age of 50 — is, in fact, a very attractive woman. And it’s not that any of the sketches were bad, exactly, it’s just that they were so very repetitive and unimaginative.

And listen, I get it, it’s easy to criticize. I’m not having to come up with 10 original sketches every week — I wouldn’t be able to, I know that. But. If I were in that writers’ room, my pitch would have been to have the very attractive 50-year-old Jennifer Lopez pay tribute to SNL‘s most famous 50-year-old, Sally O’Malley:

i'm fifty sally o'malley snl saturday night live.gif

Oh well. Missed opportunity.

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Be thankful: Will Ferrell and a slew of other stars deliver an excellent ‘Saturday Night Live’

Saturday Night Live
Will Ferrell & King Princess
November 23, 2019

When it comes to judging hosts, it’s unfair to compare regular actors, sports figures, musicians or even other comedians to former cast members. For former hosts, this was their job for years — they understand how to play to the audience; they aren’t afraid of a live performance; they, better than probably most actors, understand comic timing. This is how they became household names. And among those who have been invited back to host Saturday Night Live, Will Ferrell might be one of the funniest and most talented cast members of all time. So to compare him as a host to a Harry Styles or a Kristen Stewart, it’s just not fair. They aren’t on the same playing field.

Will Ferrell returned to Saturday Night Live for his fifth time hosting and delivered easily one of the funniest — if not the funniest — episodes of the season. Ferrell’s big golden retriever energy makes every sketch just that much funnier, even sketches that by all rights should have just been mediocre. And while I can’t be certain, it certainly felt like the writers held back on the last couple of episodes so that they could give Will Ferrell the choicest material. And honestly? I don’t blame them in the least. He knocked it out of the park.

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‘Saturday Night Live’: I blame you, Harry Styles.

Saturday Night Live
Harry Styles
November 16, 2019

Most of the time, I don’t blame the hosts for a shitty show. When an episode of Saturday Night Live is weak, it’s most often the fault of lazy or bad writing. Sometimes a lackluster performance from the cast can doom things — or just way too much Alec Baldwin, that never helps matters — but in large part, the hosts — who are usually actors or comedians — are doing their best with the material they have been given.

The exception makes the rule, so the expression goes, and pop singer and former boy bander, Harry Styles, he is that exception. I don’t want to be too hard on Styles: he seems like a nice enough guy. He’s obviously very handsome and oozes charm; he clearly has a sense of humor and does not take himself seriously. But your boy, he can’t act, much less deliver the comedy. And his inability to act really was the difference in several of these sketches from being kinda funny to straight-up clunkers.

And what I’m saying, SNL, is feel free to invite Harry Styles back as a musical guest, but please please please keep him away from the sketches.

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Kristen Stewart helms the weakest ‘Saturday Night Live’ of the season so far

Saturday Night Live
Kristen Stewart & Coldplay
November 2, 2019

Kristen Stewart returned to host Saturday Night Live for the second time this week and it was not great. It’s not Stewart’s fault. Despite her stand-offish, awkward persona, she has good comic timing and a willingness to be silly. Unfortunately, the material they gave her to work with didn’t allow any of that to really shine through, and so the night felt like more like a Kristen Stewart wig showcase than an actually funny episode of Saturday Night Live. Better luck next time, Stewart.

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Chance the Rapper continues to be a natural on ‘Saturday Night Live’

Saturday Night Live
Chance the Rapper
October 26, 2019

The impossible-to-not-like Chance the Rapper was back to host Saturday Night Live¬†for a second time, and it turns out that he’s just one of those irritatingly talented people who can do everything. He’s charming, he has impeccable comic timing and delivery and when given good material can pretty much sell anything. Fortunately, aside from one particularly weak sketch and one terrible transphobic joke, most of last night was pretty good material. Is this season going well so far, or am I becoming a big dumb softie? It’s really six of one, half dozen the other, honestly.

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