The Girls Trip star gives the venerable sketch series a needed dose of adrenaline

By David Canfield
November 12, 2017 at 12:56 PM EST
Saturday Night Live - Season 43
Credit: Will Heath/NBC

Tiffany Haddish gave SNL a vibrant spark in her hosting debut. The Girls Trip actress, who’s the first black female comedian to ever host the sketch series, arrived for her monologue by shrieking in excitement and sporting a proud smile. It was infectious to watch, and it spilled out into every sketch in which she appeared — even if quite a few never fully came together.

But first, the monologue: After introducing herself to audiences by chatting about Girls Trip — she cracks that though the movie is a huge hit, she hasn’t exactly seen her cut of the profits — Haddish gets more personal, discussing her youth growing up in foster care. “I want to say thank you to anyone who paid taxes between 1990 and 1999,” she says, “because if you didn’t pay taxes, I wouldn’t be standing here today.” It’s an example of the kind of sharp commentary that Haddish renders accessible through her warm, funny, passionate delivery. She then hilariously explains the difficulty of getting a bunch of black and Hispanic kids in group homes to gather to watch SNL, which she loved growing up, over In Living Color: “Having to convince them that Dana Carvey was as funny as Damon Wayans was a problem,” she explains. “I got stabbed twice, y’all.”

Haddish also briefly touches on the wave of sexual harassment allegations that’s the talk of Hollywood right now — addressing men, she says, “If you got your thang-thang out and she’s got all her clothes on, you’re wrong!” — before dedicating the final minutes of her monologue to a less expected topic: her decision to re-wear a lovely white dress in public, which is considered taboo. “I don’t give a dang about no taboo,” she says. “I spent a lot of money on this dress — this dress cost more than my mortgage.” She says she’ll wear it to her own wedding, and to another person’s wedding too — acknowledging in the process she probably shouldn’t be invited.

But let’s be real: Haddish can wear that dress as much as she wants if she’s as funny and as energized as she was in this monologue.

Cold Open

This week’s cold open is Alec Baldwin-free, giving a few other politician impressions the spotlight. Beck Bennett reprises his turn as Mike Pence as he attempts to convince embattled Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore of Alabama (Mikey Day) to drop out of the race, calling “this latest news” about him “concerning.” Day’s Moore denies the allegations, as the actual man has done in recent days, before quipping, “It’s hard to convince people that you’re not into young girls when you dress like Woody from Toy Story.”

Naturally, the sketch perks up upon the arrival of Kate McKinnon’s wily Jeff Sessions, who emerges from a small liquor cabinet. (You read that correctly.) He joins Pence in asking Moore to drop out, but speaks his language as a fellow Alabamian: “You check a lot of boxes for me, Roy,” Sessions says, referencing his anti-Muslim and anti-gay stances. “I’m usually the creepiest one in the room but I look at you and I go, ‘Oh my God!’” When they finally get rid of Moore, the cold open gets into more surreal territory, with Sessions pulling out a stuffed possum and referring to it as “Papa,” asking for advice. “I want to go back to the Senate, Daddy,” he pleads. “I’ll be good; I’ll talk to Kamala Harris, I promise.”

Weekend Update

Colin Jost kicked off Weekend Update not with the sexual harassment allegations which have overwhelmed the headlines, but rather a breakdown of President Trump’s trip to Asia. “It’s Veteran’s Day and Donald Trump celebrated by finally going to Vietnam,” he joked, before adding to the chorus of disbelief over Trump’s “believing” Vladimir Putin’s denials of Russian election meddling. And though it was only a few hours from air, Trump’s seemingly unhinged tweets about Kim Jong-un were picked up by Michael Che, who could only laugh at them: “A lot of the time, Donald Trump goes way over the line with his tweets — but this time, it was pretty damn funny.”

Che also followed up on his powerful commentary from the aftermath of the Las Vegas mass shooting by criticizing Trump’s response to the Sutherland Springs church shooting, in which the president called it mainly a “mental health problem.” “Why can’t it be both?” Che asked incredulously. “Why can’t it be that because we have a mental health problem, we now have a gun situation?”

Though it took them a while to get to it, Che and Jost did tackle the widespread sexual misconduct scandal at length. In a bit that would have been exceedingly broad were it not sadly, painfully accurate, Cecily Strong’s “Claire from HR” joined the pair to go over protocol. She questioned if it’s okay to take “it” out in private with a woman; asked, “When is it okay for an adult to have a relationship with a 14-year-old?”; and at one point cathartically exclaimed, “Yes, leave her alone!” (Given how pervasively awful the news on this topic has been of late, the specific context hardly matters.) It’s a clever bit, but Jost best captured the mood of the week earlier when he leaned into the topic a little more unexpectedly: “It’s a good weekend to stay inside since it’s 20 degrees out and everyone you’ve ever heard of is a sex monster.” It’s worth noting too that recent SNL host Louis C.K. was only obliquely mentioned.

Best Sketch: “Message from the DNC”

“The Dems are back!” While Haddish was consistently great, SNL’s best sketch of the night didn’t include her, as it was restricted to a collection of old-guard Democratic lawmakers attempting to sell a more exciting vision for the future in a DNC ad. We’ve got Alex Moffatt’s crotchety take on Chuck Schumer, Cecily Strong’s stoic Dianne Feinstein, Mikey Day’s chronically Spanish-speaking Tim Kaine, and, best of all, Kate McKinnon pulling double duty as Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton.

“We haven’t felt this confident since the day before Trump won,” Schumer tellingly reveals in the ad early on. It’s the rare SNL political sketch with perspective and biting execution, endearingly painting the Democratic establishment as hopelessly out of touch. Smartly, it brings back Jason Sudeikis’ Joe Biden, Larry David’s Bernie Sanders — who even says “that guy should rot in jail” of the comic “who thinks it’s okay to make jokes about concentration camps” (note: It’s his portrayer) — and, most notably, Hillary Clinton to drive the message home. “Another chance for me, Hillary Rodham Clinton,” she requests as she joins the group in the ad. “Just one more chance. And maybe one more chance after that.” Cue a cut to Donna Brazile (Leslie Jones) quipping, “I thought she was dead.” Here’s the right kind of ode to an ever-dysfunctional political party.

Best Digital Short: “Lion King Auditions”

It’s not uncommon for SNL to use a digital short to showcase a bunch of celebrity impressions successively — but it helps, as is the case here, when the impressions are good. In this “additional Lion King casting news,” coming on the heels of that ridiculously star-studded announcement, we get Cecily Strong’s Lin-Manuel Miranda mixing “Hakuna Matata” with “My Shot,” Leslie Jones shouting “Simba!” as Oprah, Tiffany Haddish working wonders in a split second as Mary J. Blige, and some delightfully niche impressions of Sterling K. Brown, Kristen Schaal, and Nick Offerman. It doesn’t add up to much, but we’ll always take a short that delivers consistent laughs like this one.

Best Unicorn Impressions: “The Last Black Unicorn”

“The Last Black Unicorn” fairy tale makes for a strange, meandering sketch, but fortunately for us, two great comics making horse noises proves to be more than enough. Haddish plays the aforementioned unicorn, huffing and blowing raspberries with gusto as she’s greeted by a trio of wide-eyed adventure seekers. The unicorn can see into the future, predicting that Aidy Bryant’s young woman is destined for a life of hardship: five husbands and five kids, many of whom are either drug users or sellers. (“One of your sons is sober,” Haddish adds — “But he is like, the worst.”) Jones then emerges as the other, older “Last Black Unicorn,” and proceeds to rival Haddish’s unicorn impression with some snorting and whinnying of her own. This is a shapeless sketch elevated by a very game host.

Best Sketch Reprisal: “Whiskers R We with Tiffany Haddish”

McKinnon had already aptly revived her Jeff Sessions and Hillary Clinton impressions, but she shined brightest in the return of the “Whiskers R We” sketch, which she’s previously performed opposite Kristen Wiig, Reese Witherspoon, and more. Once again, this loopy final sketch proves inspired for its actor pairing alone. The entire bit consists of McKinnon and Haddish starring as older cat ladies promoting their “fall cat giveaway.” It’s hardly common for McKinnon to be the one breaking and struggling through her lines — rather than causing other people to do so — but, blessedly, that’s the case here. As she and Haddish provide increasingly bizarre background on the cats, as is typical for “Whiskers R We” — one’s from Colorado and “likes to smoke reefer”; another’s sporting a secret weave — the two can’t help but crack each other up, and it’s a joy to watch. Unsurprisingly, the unpredictable actual cats being handled only help matters in that regard.

Most Unusual Sketch Ending: “Beck and Kyle”

What seems like a cute, lightly funny addition to the Leslie Jones-Kyle Mooney romance canon — with Beck Bennett lamenting his friendship with Mooney being diminished due to the latter’s new relationship — quickly devolves into bizarrely violent farce. Mooney and Jost, who has a thing for Jones, hatch a plan to win back their respective estranged other halves. Yet somehow, the sketch ends with Bennett, and then Haddish, and then Lorne Michaels jointly, brutally beating up Jost for trying to snag Jones away. If the argument of the whole thing is that Colin Jost is eminently punchable, well, we’ll leave it to the viewers to weigh in on that one.

Worst Sketch: “Get Woke with Tamika”

It’s always nice to see Leslie Jones front and center, and “Get Woke with Tamika” has a lot of promise on paper, as a sketch about a talk show host preaching wokeness while also being more than a little misinformed. Yet everything about this iteration is just … off. Tamika begins by listing topics — “Discrimination: It’s wrong”; “Progress: It’s right”; “House of Cards: I liked it” — before bringing on a women’s rights advocate (Aidy Bryant). Tamika doesn’t understand, initially, that her guest is protesting for women’s rights and not against them, mildly criticizing her for vagueness before moving on.

On all sides it’s a bit of a slog to get through, with very few jokes or observations landing as remotely funny. As Tamika invites her second guest, butt model-turned-film critic Bianca, technical difficulties — both for SNL and Get Woke with Tamika — start to get in the way, with Tamika (Haddish) trying to fill time and Jones botching some of her lines a bit in the process. The sketch just never finds a rhythm, and the longer it goes the more awkward it feels. It’s only when Tamika asks her producer, through an earpiece, “We can’t end the show yet?” that there’s something for the audience to really connect with.

Best Taylor Swift Performance: “…Ready for It?”

How about that snake-wrapped microphone? Taylor Swift didn’t appear in any sketches and kept her musical spots professional and pretty much as-expected, save the bedazzling decorations on her mic and an acoustic take on one of her new hits. As for the music: Swift gave confident performances of both “…Ready for It?” and “Call It What You Want,” the second and fourth singles of her new album, Reputation, but the execution of the former had a bit more spice. Particularly, the choreography routine around her really enlivened it.

We can’t lie, however: This marked an auspicious live debut for the New Taylor.

Episode MVP: Kate McKinnon

Leslie Jones really got some time to shine this week, but unfortunately, her biggest showcase in “Tamika” amounted to a dud. That leaves MVP honors to Kate McKinnon, who once again managed a little bit of everything to comic perfection: Her absurdist take on Jeff Sessions was typically exceptional, her Clinton and Pelosi made for essential aspects of the night’s best sketch, and of course, McKinnon brought her A-game in a one-on-one with Haddish that was just weird enough to work. Never doubt the comic impact of a good cat sketch.

Up Next

Next Saturday, Chance the Rapper, a frequent musical guest on SNL, makes his hosting debut while Eminem takes on musical guest duties.

Episode Recaps

Saturday Night Live - Season 42

Saturday Night Live

The original late-night comedy sketch show from the one and only Lorne Michaels.

  • TV Show
  • 46
  • TV-14
  • Saturdays at 11:30 PM
  • Lorne Michaels
  • NBC
stream service