Back when I was watching a young Michael B. Jordan on my stories — All My Children (R.I.P.) specifically — I would have never guessed he would become a full-fledged Movie Star, capital M, capital S. He was a cute kid, but, as demonstrated in the clip he included in his monologue, he wasn’t really given a lot to work with. Fortunately, casting agents saw something more in him, and after his breakthrough performance in Fruitvale Station ten years ago, followed by powerful performances in Creed and Black Panther, it’s safe to say Michael B. Jordan is a household name (and not just because he shares it with the best basketball player of all time).
It also helps that Michael B. Jordan is charming and handsome, qualities that he used to help this mediocre episode of Saturday Night Live. His charisma helped smooth out what might have been some rougher sketches, and his good looks were literally the subject of several others. I’d love to see him return, maybe with some stronger writing next time.
Aubrey Plaza is having a moment. After being best known for playing the dark and deadpan April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation, Plaza re-emerged last year as the dark and deadpan … and sexy Harper on The White Lotus. But it’s not that Plaza is typecast — she’s just playing Aubrey Plaza as evidenced by this old Today Show interview in which she discussed being a (very bad) NBC page in the early 2000s.
Yes, Plaza began her career as an NBC page (while also performing stand-up and improv at Upright Citizen’s Brigade) and even tried out for Saturday Night Live before landing the role of a lifetime on Parks and Recreation.
And so Saturday’s gig hosting SNL was a homecoming for Plaza, an opportunity to fulfill her dream of being on Saturday Night Live, and to reunite with her Parks and Rec co-star, boss and SNL alum, Amy Poehler. It was a celebration of Plaza’s growth, and (for the most part) the writers rose to the occasion, giving Plaza material that fit her dark and deadpan brand.
For all of my fellow olds out there; Austin Butler is the kid who played Elvis in that recent Baz Luhrman movie, but he got his start in Nickelodeon shows in the early 2000s. This is why if you remember watching Eddie Murphy on SNL when he was originally a cast member, you probably have no idea who this kid is. But that’s OK — all you need to know is that he’s handsome, he has a certain charisma, and he does bear something of a resemblance to Elvis.
But how was he as a host of Saturday Night Live? The answer is: fine. He seemed a little nervous early in the night, which is pretty typical for first-time hosts with little live performance experience. But he was very loose and natural in a digital sketch, and later in the night, he was clearly enjoying himself in a bit where, ironically enough, he played an enthusiastic Elvis fan.
As for the episode itself, it was a perfectly middling outing that was overshadowed by the news that after 11 seasons, this would be Cecily Strong’s last episode. The show says goodbye to her twice, which is only fitting as she joins Fred Armisen and Al Franken as the fourth longest-running cast members. Strong has left her mark on the show and will be missed.
Here’s a fun little SNL fact: this is not the first time Steve Martin and Martin Short have co-hosted the show. Back in 1986, Martin, Short, and their Three Amigos co-star, Chevy Chase shared hosting duties for what was also a holiday-timed episode.
As a matter of fact, the most enduring sketch of that night was “Steve Martin’s Holiday Wish,” a bit that I’m sure you’ve seen as it is often included in SNL Christmas holiday specials:
Just note-perfect Steve Martin.
This week’s SNL was lacking Chevy Chase — but not missing him. Over the years, Martin and Short have developed their own delightful comic dynamic, which carried the monologue. The two veterans kept the entire proceedings tight, funny, and professional and seemed to delight in playing off the younger cast. It was a warm satisfying cup of cocoa of an episode.
I came late to the Keke Palmer game. Being a member of Generation X, it wasn’t until Ryan Murphy’s 2015’s Scream Queens that I was introduced to the multi-talented star, but by that point, she had been in the business for 11 years, with 15 movies, 26 TV shows, 1 album, and 8 singles behind her. And she hasn’t slowed down since, having earned a Primetime Emmy, an NCAAP Image Award, she has been recognized as one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People in the World, has starred in countless other TV and movie roles, and hosted her own talk show.
Also, she had no idea who Dick Cheney was, which is just queen shit.
The first time Dave Chappelle, the brilliant and controversial stand-up comedian and star of Chappelle’s Show, hosted Saturday Night Live was the Saturday following the existential shock that was the 2016 Election. Chappelle handled that episode with a degree of calm and maturity that I don’t think a lot of us expected; giving even the most anti-Future President Firestarter among us pause when he asked us to give the man a chance. (That turned out to be a mistake, but I digress.)
Chappelle was then the obvious person for Saturday Night Live to have host following the 2020 Election, which everyone knew would be controversial no matter what happened. (Of course at the time, we had no idea HOW controversial, but, again, I digress.) It ended up being a largely anticlimactic and unmemorable episode — but for his monologue, in which he showed us a glimpse of where his career would take him next.
Dave Chappelle is funny, and his delivery — especially when he is talking about racial issues — is confrontational in a mischievous way: looking White America directly in the eye and calling us racist while making us laugh at the same time. It’s a trick that he pulls off beautifully.
What he doesn’t pull off beautifully are jokes that punch down. Dave Chappelle is a straight male comedian of a certain age, and what I have learned in the past four years is that many straight male comedians of a certain age feel pretty sure they are under attack from cancel culture and political correctness and that it is their singular job to fight back. Fighting back, to these guys, means unapologetically making sexist, homophobic, and racist jokes and then yelling at the audience that they are being too sensitive if they don’t laugh along with them.
Chappelle does it twice here: using Dr. Birx as an excuse to “joke” that women shouldn’t receive equal pay (and literally asking the audience if he “triggered” them) before making a “joke” about Freddy Mercury contracting AIDS, a joke that would have been considered offensive in the 80s. More than being offended by this, I’m just so fucking bored with comedians relying on shock value and then claiming that somehow they are the victims because society has moved on without them. Far from making them heroes who “dare to say what ‘everyone’ is thinking” — everyone being straight men — it just shows how lazy they truly are. The bottom line: Dave Chappelle is better than this, and if he’d just let down his defensive posturing for half a goddamned second, he’d realize that.
Perhaps this is cynical of me, but ultimately what does SNL care if some of their writers (and cast) feel personally attacked by the invited host? As when Elon Musk hosted in season 46, SNL will only benefit from the ensuing controversy. Both fans and detractors are sure to tune in to see if Chappelle continues spewing his offensive positions on gay and trans people either out of so-called principle or sheer perverseness.
In the end, and much to the relief of NBC, I’m sure, Chappelle avoided the trans issue altogether, while also managing once again to suggest that it is he who is the real victim; the victim of cancel culture.
To that, I will merely point out that the only reason I am writing any of this right now is because one year after being paid millions of dollars for doing a comedy special that specifically and relentlessly attacked gay and trans people, last night “cancel culture victim” Dave Chappelle hosted Saturday Night Live for the third time.
Back in 2016, Amy Schumer, depressed by the election results, took a break from her Comedy Central sketch comedy series, Inside Amy Schumer. She and the show are back as of this year — over on Paramount+ now — and to promote it/celebrate, she hosted the pre-midterm election episode of SNL this weekend.
And the crucial election was clearly on SNL‘s mind; the issue of abortion rights in particular, which Schumer touched upon in her monologue, and to which Cecily Strong devoted another impassioned “Weekend Update” segment, imploring voters to give a shit. Please give a shit.
Aside from the anxious political messages, the rest of the episode was hit-or-miss, with one-third of the sketches feeling like they could have been written for an episode of Inside Amy Schumer, and the other two-thirds being typical lazy SNL bits. I’m sure you can guess which of the two I preferred.