My fellow Coneheads, welcome back to SNL in Review! The show’s October 12th episode with David Harbour was a high watermark for this era of the show — nearly everything and everyone firing on all cylinders. This includes the now-classic “Grouch,” co-written by College Humor’s Streeter Seidell and Mikey Day, who specializes in the show’s penchant for pop culture nostalgia. But writing aside, the sketch was anchored by Harbour, who brought an energy and a gameness to the proceedings we rarely see in a host.
This week’s host and musical guest, Chance the Rapper, previously performed in 2015 and 2016. He also hosted in season 43, the episode that featured the Emmy-winning K-Ci & JoJo homage “Come Back, Barack.” Can he repeat on this Halloween-focused episode? Will he appear as David S. Pumpkins’ younger, hip-hop-flavored nephew? I guess we will see.
I am thrilled to be joined tonight by former Saturday Night Live cast member, and Chance superfan, Ellen Cleghorne! Cleghorne tells me Chance’s 2016 Grammy-winning Coloring Book won her over “with his raspy vocals and the soulful infusion of gospel and political.” Referencing Chance’s Netflix new music competition show, Rhythm + Flow, which he judges alongside T.I. and Cardi B, Cleghorne calls him “the Simon Cowell of hip-hop.”
And on his now-classic musical tribute to the 44th president, Cleghorne quips: “I was disappointed with his ‘Come Back Barack’ because Barack didn’t come back.” Fair!
That spoof’s legacy likely explains Chance becoming a repeat host. During SNL’s first season, I Love Lucy star Desi Arnaz became the first to balance juggle and performing; other hosts to pull double duty include Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder. We will see if Chance can compete on the same scale. Cleghorne adds: “Recently, I saw [Donald] Glover successfully pull it off. And Janet Jackson.”
Hard to argue with that so let’s get started.
Return of The Donald — what can even be said? The extras seem to be having a good time. And there are some amusing punchlines: quid bro code, bad Mexico, our current energy secretary.
Cecily Strong remains game as always. Once she leaves, a recuperated Mikey Day appears, followed by Aidy Bryant as Trump supporters. They are both satirizing just how delusional/faithful people in MAGA country are. Pete Davidson playing a recently freed member of ISIS drives the point home.
Of course, the cold open would not be complete without Kate McKinnon portraying another grotesque (male) member of Trump’s brigade, this time Lindsey Graham. She’s skewered Graham several times at this point. The sketch continues with Alex Moffat reprising his creepy and on point Mark Zuckerberg. Moffat last impersonated him on Weekend Update on April 7, 2018.
“Second Best One” is a fun concept and Chance executes the routine well. Him rapping alongside a capable Kyle Mooney works surprisingly well, too. It’s got a great message about Chance’s support of his beloved hometown of Chicago, and how that refracts his second time as an SNL host.
Not a ton of rappers have hosted SNL. The first was MC Hammer, followed by Snoop Dogg, Ludacris, Drake, and Queen Latifah twice, in 2003 and 2004.
In fact, Cleghorne had just joined the cast when MC Hammer hosted and performed as the show’s musical guest in 1991. “He was amazing,” she recalls. “His dancing and rapping and sketch work was phenomenal. He’s a solid talent.”
Wow, Kyle is being given quite the spotlight tonight! This premise is timely, as mainstream media’s difficulty (or resistance to) covering the video game industry has come under scrutiny. This smells like a Mikey Day-penned sketch but I defer to my sleuthing friends in the LFNY sub reddit. Bowen Yang continues to impress, doesn’t he? He’s been a breakout (male) cast member in a way few have lately.
First Impressions Court
“No mess, no nonsense!” Chance plays a knee-jerk judge in SNL’s latest trial show spoof. And cameo alert: Opposite Kate McKinnon in old age makeup, Jason Momoa (who hosted in season 44) pops up in a cheeky role.
Tasty Toaster Tarts (short)
In a pretty hilarious takedown of snack food commercials, Chance invites his friends over after school. Soon, they become unnerved at his home-life situation. It’s shrewd, dark, and has a nice payoff.
More Kyle — what a treat! This is the David S. Pumpkins “spiritual” sequel we knew was coming. It’s silly and slightly spooky, but can you ever truly recapture the magic without Tom Hanks? Sure, the format is similar and it works, but why rehash just because it’s Halloween?
It’s also worth noting this sketch has great production values — those clouds! And is it just me, or is Chance channeling Tyrone Biggums here?
Chance the Rapper — “Zanies and Fools”
There’s no Nicki Minaj included on this live performance, but Chance fans will love this exuberant production of “Zanies and Fools” off Chance’s latest project, The Big Day.
Cleghorne has been listening to The Big Day this week and has this to say about Chance’s new album: “Truly the secular and the profane come together to make an ironic blend of danceable soundscape. He stomps out the devil with trap music and makes us laugh while staying woke.”
Her votes on what Chance should perform tonight off the album? “Hot Shower” and “Handsome.”
Update kicks off going over the latest Trump tweets, including one from an hour ago! This is one of the benefits of live, I guess! You get to make these jokes in real time — it’s the closest thing late-night TV has to Twitter.
Calling Rudy Giuliani the “9/11 of mayors” is a vicious punchline from Michael Che. And, as a native New Yorker, Che’s jokes have a sad edge of truth, disappointment, and horror to them. (However, his Bruce Jenner/Kanye West digs fall devastatingly flat.)
Next up, the Trump brothers return to the Update desk. Moffat and Day portrayed them on Sept. 28 in the cold open, but it’s been a minute since they’ve popped up giving Update commentary. It’s fun.
Here’s a stat that boggles my mind: Colin Jost has tied Tina Fey for the second most appearances as Weekend Update host. (He only trails Seth Meyers at no. 1.) Doesn’t it always feel like Colin is still settling in, working through his first segments as anchor? He has hosted Update twice as long as Kevin Nealon, and longer than Norm MacDonald and Chevy Chase combined.
Cleghorne, who appeared on Update several times, adds, “I love Che and Jost…that rhymes with host.”
William: Nice But Shy
Cecily plays a lovelorn single woman, recovering from a breakup at a bar with her friends (Ego Nwodim, Heidi Gardner) when a debonair Chance literally sweeps her off her feet. They hover together, and it’s mostly sweet and silly — kind of how new relationships are! Chance and Cecily get to ham it up as they shatter the set, all in the name of love. It’s a nice metaphor, and has some pathos in it, which is rare. Cecily carries it (pardon the pun), though the physical gag becomes a bit hammy by the end.
Space Mistakes (movie spoof)
“I’m worried you’ll make a mistake!” This is a well-observed rip on Apollo 13 and Ad Astra-style movies and their insistence on obsessing over the cost of errors on landbound families. Not exactly hilarious — the live audience barely seems to acknowledge it is on — but commendable.
Aidy and Kate are back together again! This is a good showcase for them, and they clearly enjoy bouncing off one another. It’s a little disjointed, but having Chance, Chris Redd, and Pete playing reluctant choir participants is true-to-life.
Chance the Rapper — “Handsome”
SNL, make some noise! After being introduced by Jason Momoa, Chance dives into “Handsome.” He’s also joined by Megan Thee Stallion, who blew up earlier this year with “Hot Girl Summer.”
I will give credit where it’s due: The live performances have been fun this season, so far. And it’s especially impressive tonight given that Chance has appeared in nearly every sketch thus far.
Werewolf Dance Instructor
This is another Halloween sketch. This time, Kenan Thompson chews the scenery as a lycanthrope dance instructor in the 1970s. This is very on-brand for me; I love werewolves (Lon Chaney especially), and even dig retro wolf man comedies, i.e. Teen Wolf. This is kind of classic as a 10-to-1 — it’s absurd. “Release the drapes!”
So there you have it! Another SNL is in the books. Chance is more than capable, and the show used him often. There’s a lot of positive here. I just wish, like a lot of you, that the show would resolve its political crutches and cameo addiction. Let me know your thoughts. Either weigh in below, or vote here.
—I remember Paul Thompson — rap journalist, I Feel Like Dying author, RapBasement alumnus — once positing that Chance is the inspiration for the outwardly personable, actually calculating pop rapper Clark County on FX’s Atlanta. Might be another reason I am not as keen on SNL embracing him.
—Looking for a fun podcast that delves into SNL history? Look no further than the good people at SNL Nerds. Based in New Jersey, the show features the goofy, easygoing insights from two comics, Darin Patterson and John Trumbull. Their platform, Non-Productive, owns a solid morsel of the pop culture podcast universe — give them a shot!
—Thank you to the incomparable Ellen Cleghorne for her contributions tonight! Chance is for Chicago, as is Cleghorne’s mother. She adds: “I love Chance…I am here for it. (Stan).”
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