Saturday Night Live recap: RuPaul makes hosting debut and it's no drag
Welcome back, fellow Coneheads, to SNL in Review. Tonight’s Saturday Night Live host is RuPaul, a multi-hyphenated legend. Since achieving international notoriety due to the breakout success of “Supermodel (You Better Work)” in the early ’90s, RuPaul has been a singer, actor, reality TV host, and “the world’s most famous drag queen.”
Certainly, it feels like society has caught up with the RuPaul’s Drag Race host, which should make tonight’s show a genuine celebration of a pioneering pop culture presence. Even in SNL lore, RuPaul already has an iconic moment; he appeared in the “What’s That” sketch during the season 19 premiere, hosted by Charles Barkley with musical guest Nirvana. I mean, look at this picture.
I am joined tonight by Ellen Cleghorne, who was a cast member on the show during RuPaul’s guest appearance in 1993. “She was dressed like Wonder Woman,” recalls Cleghorne. “Congrats to RuPaul and break a leg, hunty.” Cleghorne also adds it was during this episode she learned the meaning of the word “fungible,” which is a perhaps fitting adjective for how RuPaul has parlayed stardom for over a quarter of a century.
Tonight’s musical guest is Justin Bieber, who previously performed during a season 35 episode. He also hosted during season 38 and cameoed in 2012. Bill Hader and Jay Pharoah have both said Bieber was the single worst-behaved guest of their respective tenures, which could partly explain why the “Biebs” became a creepy recurring character played by Kate McKinnon. Will she reappear as him tonight?
Anyway, whether you’re discovering the show for the first time by reading this recap, or hate-watching from a chatroom, welcome. This should be a joyful one. We’re LIVE, people – let’s DO THIS!
We shift from impeachment to the Democratic debate in New Hampshire. “Iowa was a disaster,” says Mikey Day as debate moderator George Stephanopoulos, recapping the week. “Let’s meet our future MSNBC contributors.” For those keeping score, Mike Myers used to play Stephanopoulos back when he was a Clinton administration boy wonder.
SNL alum Jason Sudeikis jumps in as Joe Biden, talking about kissing voters on the neck in South Carolina. We also see Colin Jost as “Mayo” Pete, and — checks notes — Pete Davidson as a “tripping balls” Tom Steyer. (His appearance also brings us a great cutaway to Kenan Thompson in the audience.)
The show returns Larry David as Bernie Sanders, complaining about the Iowa caucus app. Of course, the Sanders campaign insisted on the state’s so-called reforms about transparency. He also boasts about being the most popular person on 4Chan. Yikes! But true.
The flow of this sketch was upset by audience members reacting to the celeb cameos plus reacting to seeing Kate McKinnon as Elizabeth Warren. She’s in celeb cameo status! That’s how well-regarded she is. Rachel Dratch’s Amy Klobuchar-as-Shakira moment needs to be a GIF now. “I’m here, I’m square, get used to it” — put that on a bumper sticker. She’s such a treat. (As is Bowen Yang, back as Andrew Yang.)
Overall, this is way better than the Trump cold opens, though a non-political opener would be refreshing. Can’t shake the whole madlibs aftertaste.
“This is fun, right?” asks Ru. The answer: YES. He gets into a description of Drag Race, one of TV’s bright spots. “I moved to New York in the eighties,” he says, briefly getting into his backstory and rise to stardom. This is a short monologue: punchy and charming.
At an after-dinner game night in the burbs, the Johnson family — led by RuPaul — are experts. Their secret? They talk out their clues. Ego Nwodim briefly sings “Purple Rain.” So, this is the show’s latest playful look at race relations. Any sketch that spotlights the super-fun Bad Boys for Life is A-OK in my book. Plus, we get Chris Redd trying on his best Marlon Wayans/Loc Dog impression from Don’t Be a Menace.
Drag Magazine With Chad
“Drag needs someone new,” says RuPaul, looking at Pete Davidson’s recurring blank space, Chad. He’s never done drag, just weed and pills. This is the apathetic Chad’s ninth appearance on the show, after showing up in December’s J Lo episode opposite Alex Rodriguez. This works, in part, because drag is so focused on performance and theatricality — Chad’s exact opposite qualities. “Bye Ruple,” he utters decked out in runway attire.
Birthday girl Cecily Strong is Marybeth, and she’s outraged at Heidi Gardner having to pay for wine at dinner. She’s joined by RuPaul to defend Gardner’s honor. They’re dressed like they’re going to a Designing Women cosplay. This is an MVP performance by Strong. She knocks it out of the park.
Chris Redd, Mikey Day and Chloe Fineman are joined by dad Beck Bennett for this overly complex game. Bennett gets increasingly frustrated, sending Redd’s Taylor home early. Turns out he and wife Heidi Gardner are in the process of a divorce.
Reading With RuPaul
RuPaul comes to a public library to promote literacy. “The library is open!” he shouts in snazzy glasses before reading from Kay Thompson’s Eloise, and Madeline by Ludwig “Beethoven.” If you wanted to watch RuPaul riff on classic children’s books, this is it. Reading is throwing shade in the drag world after all. Very fun and — dare I say it — educational. Digging it.
Justin Bieber — “Yummy”
Bieber launches into the single “Yummy” from his upcoming album Changes. He’s in a giant green box, initially accompanied by an acoustic guitar and cello. The art direction gives the performance some fun shadow play as Bieber begins dancing. His hair and creeper stache are a far cry from the teen heartthrob look that won our hearts on YouTube. I wonder if a later season of The Other Two will ever spoof this era?
Colin Jost lands several savage jabs at President Trump, and tackles his impeachment acquittal and attacks on Senator Romney. “It’s wonderful to watch Uber rich white people (men) fight and bully each other. And the lying! Reminds me of The WWF,” says Cleghorne on the last several days of impeachment. “I fell in love with Mitt Romney. He needs a statue in my heart.”
“At least he’s happy,” reasons Michael Che. He also dunks hard on Rush Limbaugh. This was a bewildering week in politics, and Jost and Che comment well on the insanity.
Chloe Fineman pops up to discuss tomorrow’s Oscars ceremony. It’s a savvy observation on the different kinds of awards acting. It’s great seeing Fineman get a moment on the show — literally — on her own. She impersonates Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland and Saoirse Ronan and Timothy Chalamet in Little Women. The audience really gets behind her Laura Dern — seemed like it took them a moment to warm up. “Do you feel like you’re at home, Colin?” she asks as Scarlett Johannson, Jost’s fiance. Cute!
Jost and Che riff on Gritty the Mascot — AND THEN CATHY ANN IS BACK! “It’s your birthday today?” asks Che, incredulously. YES IT IS! (Meta.) This is the first appearance of the character in over a year — since the January 2019 episode with James McAvoy. (And only the second time since December 2017.) Remember when Cathy Ann started out as a mentor to fairy tale characters? Interesting, her transition to a modern Drunk Uncle. “Go Parasite,” she calls out.
We last visited these thirsty cops when Leslie Jones was still a cast member. Pete Davidson is a texting Lehigh driver — RuPaul and Ego Nwodim try to decide which one of them has a better shot at. “Make it sizzle!” The last time these characters popped up, the Baltimore police union was not happy! I like that this iteration has a clear public service announcement, “Don’t text and drive baby.” This episode feels like the most the show has utilized Pete all season. Maybe ever! And between this, Chad and Cathy Ann, I appreciate the show leaning on non-political recurring characters. MORE OF THIS.
The Old New York Show With Madge and Dickey
Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon are teaming up again, remembering the fabled era of NYC with Rudy Giulani. I always get a sense Aidy and Kate sketches are very much for them which I don’t hate. RuPaul is their first guest, Terry, an unemployed shoe critic and usher. He seems to love this premise – the songs, the reminiscing of classic New York, the eccentricity. (Fact check: he’s been game for everything so far.) “The sound of bed bugs stampeding outside electrical sockets,” is a very Mulaney/Stefon line.
Justin Bieber — “Intentions”
Bieber’s fifth studio album, Changes, will be released next Friday, on Valentine’s Day. Fun to see Quavo back on the SNL stage. The music video for “Intentions” just dropped. In addition to McKinnon, Jimmy Fallon and Miley Cyrus have both busted out Bieber impressions on the show. Quite the range of performers.
-What did you all think?! The consensus on Twitter is RuPaul is a great host; I agree. If you have a free moment, weigh in below — or vote here!
-”If you not going to love yourself, how are you going to love somebody else,” says RuPaul as Justin Bieber and Larry David look on approvingly.
-Thank you so much to Ellen Cleghorne for her time!
-Congrats to Adam Sandler, who took home the lead actor prize for his performance in Uncut Gems tonight at the Film Independent Spirit Awards. His Oscar snub continues to haunt me.