Okay, so the modifier in that headline isn’t really necessary. At this point, Dwayne Johnson has probably been acting long enough that it’s sort of silly to keep referring to him by his old ringside name. After all, SNL itself made the switch years ago.
In 2000, when Johnson first hosted Saturday Night Live, he was at the height of his professional wrestling career. So naturally, he was credited as The Rock—and his maiden hosting voyage incorporated lots of WWF-inspired material, including cameos from pile-driving pals Mick Foley, Vince McMahon, Triple H, and Big Show. Ironically enough, though, that wrestling-heavy episode was what got Hollywood to take notice of Johnson as an entertainer with outside-the-ring potential; he’d nab his first starring movie role (the title character in The Scorpion King) just two years later. He’d also host SNL for a second time that same year, credited once more as The Rock.
But by the time Johnson returned to helm NBC’s sketch series a third time in 2009, he’d made numerous additional movies, including Walking Tall, Southland Tales, and The Game Plan—and he’d also shed the epithet in favor of his given name. It was a big enough deal that The Rock’s—er, Johnson’s—monologue revolved around the switch: “The first time I hosted, it was as The Rock,” he explained. “But over the past nine years, I’ve transformed myself from wrestler to actor. In fact, I did such a good job that when they were casting the movie The Wrestler, they didn’t even consider me.” Then Abby Elliott and Kristen Wiig tore off his blazer to reveal a sequined vest, which sparkled as Johnson shimmied his way through a musical defense of his own toughness.
The joke, of course, is that tough guys don’t sing about how tough they are. It’s territory that Johnson knows well—more than a few of his comedy roles have their foundation in the incongruity of seeing a guy who looks like a professional wrestler taking a ballet class with a bunch of little girls or being conscripted into Julie Andrews’ army of tooth fairies. Though these days, SNL‘s been basing fewer sketches on how inherently hilarious it is for a man to wear a dress (maybe? hopefully?), I still wouldn’t be surprised to see “The Rock does ‘sissy’ stuff!” pop up as a gag more than once during tonight’s show.
But hopefully, there’ll be more to Johnson’s fourth Saturday Night Live turn than hoary gay panic jokes. By now, he’s a relatively seasoned pro (even if he hasn’t hosted in six years); he can handle more challenging, smarter material, and I’d love to see the show’s writers really rise to the occasion, especially considering how much time they’ve had to relax and reboot since their last episode. (They might even be able to use a few sketches that got left on the cutting-room floor last time, since Johnson and Chris Hemsworth are both action beefcakes.) There are One Direction jokes to be made, Fast and Furious movies to be parodied—and the potential for a real musical breakthrough from musical guest George Ezra, a 21-year-old British songsmith who has potential to be the next Sam Smith. (He’s already opened for Smith and the similarly soulful Hozier.)
What are you hoping to see from The Rock—sorry, Johnson—and George Ezra on SNL tonight? Discuss here, and check back in the morning for a full recap.