Saturday Night Live recap: Chris Rock hosts season 46 in-studio premiere
Fellow Coneheads, rise! I hope everyone enjoyed their Saturday Night Live-less summer break! The conch shell at Studio 8H has been sounded, the 30 Rock bat signal’s in the sky, so you know what that means: season 46 is finally here! SNL in Review is back!
We remain in unchartered territory, as our favorite late-night sketch show returns to New York City following an unprecedented conclusion to season 45, which saw three “At Home” episodes due to the pandemic. It’s been six months, and the nation remains in upheaval: social unrest, a pending presidential election, and more deaths related to COVID-19. To be sure, there’s a lot of ground to cover.
There are few entertainers better suited to meet this moment than tonight’s host, Chris Rock. Over the course of his 35-year career, Rock has been one of comedy’s preeminent social commentators: a writer, director, talk show host, as well as a brilliant stand-up, who first gained national exposure in the cauldron of SNL. He previously hosted in season 22 and season 40, in addition to a number of cameos over the years (including last year, with his mentor Eddie Murphy.) It will be exciting to watch him rise to the occasion.
I am joined tonight by Siobhan Fallon Hogan, who was a cast member on SNL with Rock during season 17. “I love Chris. He is not only a great comic but has proven to be a great actor,” she says, referring to his new role on Fargo. “It is very brave and risky to make that crossover, or as the new phrase goes genre hop — there is a new phrase for everything.” She speaks from experience, having shifted from comedy to drama herself; right now she’s venturing on a new endeavor, as the writer/producer for a new movie, Rushed, co-starring Robert Patrick.
To the surprise of many, SNL46 not only retained all of its cast members (many of whom seemed intent on pursuing greener pastures...and perhaps still are) but added three more performers: Punkie Johnson, Andrew Dismukes, and Lauren Holt. Until this season, Fallon Hogan’s cast was among the largest in the show’s history. Her advice to Johnson, Dismukes, and Holt, as they try to establish themselves in a large pond? “New cast members have to look at the big picture and realize, ‘Wow, I am lucky to be here and part of history with Lorne Michaels at the helm, who has been running a hit show [since] before they were born. That’s a weird concept in itself.”
She adds: “The whining attitude — or ‘Poor me, I never get on’ or ‘I only had one line’ — the right attitude is the more the merrier. You are part of an extremely talented comedy ensemble ... just being on the show opens so many doors; some cast members get on more than others but life is more than how much screen time you get. Look at Chris, it’s about longevity and making the most of every job. Be good to fellow ensemble members, it’s a long road. Be good to each other — you are in a club that’s hard to get into. Keep a stiff upper lip and fake it til you make it.”
“It isn’t fun to get cut from a sketch... but it’s a lot more fun than your unemployed actor friends are having who didn’t get the break you got, so enjoy it, learn and appreciate being part of SNL.” Well said!
I am also joined tonight by the legendary filmmaker, Tom Schiller, who was a writer on SNL for many years, including during Rock’s tenure. Schiller remembers that Rock “used to make fun of my enjoyment of Chris Farley's acting and frequent use of him in my films.”
This season will have an (extremely) limited live audience, adding another layer to things. Historically, giving the show parameters and barriers to overcome has often (if not always) allowed for creative, loose comedy. One might argue that the shortcoming of recent seasons has been its (seemingly) unlimited resources, and praise, leading to insulation and overexposure. Will this be the same? Let’s find out!
Andddddddddd, “Tuesday feels like 100 days ago,” the show acknowledges, but if you had the presidential debate on your bingo card for the cold open — you win! Beck Bennett comes on with a solid Chris Wallace.
I’ll be honest, tagging Trump (as Alec Baldwin does) while he is at Walter Reed verges on bad taste. The small audience may have the inadvertent issue of making the laughs seem… small? I’m not mad about it — keep things intimate! Less clapter, fine by me.
And it’s Fire Marshall Bill! I mean, Jim Carrey as Joe Biden. Not sure this sounds like Biden, but Carrey is just so likable and charismatic. But it’s Jim Carrey, not even close to Biden — at least Jason Sudeikis approached a version of the vice president. “Don’t let your inner Whitey Bulger come out,” he assures himself. “Will you just shut up man,” gets a good applause line — rally cry for the next month? Biden is at odds with himself, trying to stay calm by any means necessary. He even enlists Harry Styles, a nice cameo. (Trump’s meditation? A quick cameo from Cecily Strong, who is not in New York.)
A recalibrated and humanized Kamala Harris (Maya Rudolph) shows up to referee the shenanigans. “America needs a WAP: Woman-As-President.” “I’ll settle for HVPIC: Hot Vice President in Charge.” The sketch ends with Carrey-as-Biden literally muting Trump, putting him on pause. “Let's bask in the Trumplessness.” Karma and science is a little incendiary, but also appealing to our better angels.
FWIW, Robert Smigel — a former SNL cast member who overlapped with Fallon Hogan and Rock — recently debuted Let’s Be Real on FOX, an election-themed political satire with puppets. It’s bipartisan in its sharp, no-holds-barred digs at the current political landscape, and lands a lot of truth-y blows about both candidates. Just saying.
One aside: It’s so exciting to be back at 8H. This is the first time the show has gone live from New York, so to speak, since the Daniel Craig episode way back on March 7. Nearly seven months ago!
After a long opening credit sequence — in which most of the cast wear masks — Rock gets to work. He dives right into Trump with COVID-19, and the weirdness of the show right now. “I haven’t had so much stuff up my nose, since I shared an office with Chris Farley,” he jokes, commenting on the medical precautions at 8H. The first row of the audience tonight are first responders. He’s walking a line joking about Coachella and canceled plans, given 200,000 people are dead.
He calls on a renegotiation of our relationship with the government. “Joe Biden should be the last president ever … we need a new system.” This is a pretty effective indictment of President Trump, comparing him to a very bad cook with a four-year deal. Not sure his female boxing metaphor lands. The country does not have kings, but we have dukes and duchesses, he argues. His comments on Sean Hannity versus Anderson Cooper is pretty funny. He ends with a James Baldwin quote, which gets the biggest applause of the monologue. Well done, given everything.
Schiller says Rock has a “kind of a twinkly, boyish delivery which makes any naughty subject matter he talked about in his stand up seem innocent.”
As a cast member, Fallon Hogan adds, Rock was “more than a team player — if he likes you and thinks you're real and not a phony — he will stick up for you and support you.” During their time together at 8H, Rock was “fun, funny, no weirdness, no arrogance, a confident and supportive, great guy.”
Also, for comparison, SNL has helpfully tweeted out Rock’s original 1996 monologue. This is a comic at the near-prime of his powers; think Eddie Murphy in the late '80s.
Action 9 News
At a Pittsburgh superspreading event, SNL goes for easy laughs. How many times have we seen this? People are trying to change their names inside a federal building, and local news reporter, Dylan (Mikey Day) is on the scene… and it’s Lord and Lady Douchebag all over again.
“Irma Gerd!” says newcomer Lauren Holt. I’m honestly shocked they’ve returned to this premise, matching one of their standard gimmicks with such a serious real-life effort. Pete Davidson is back to smile and giggle, which is fun. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” And the audience seems to love it. So it plays. I wish the show would cultivate recurring characters in new situations, as opposed to new "characters" plugged into an easy-bake Groundlings template.
"Bottom of Your Face"
Chris Redd leads a rap about dating in the era of COVID-19. He is joined by Pete Davidson, Ego Nwodim, Megan Thee Stallion, and Kenan Thompson. It’s amusing mostly, they riff on significant others hiding unflattering features behind a mask. Standard fare, for what it is.
Then we get Chris Rock in “No Sex in the Champagne Room” mode! Or is that more Kanye West’s “Blame Game.” Either way, his is the highlight, clearly. And great to see one of the Bad Boys of SNL back in a short film on the show, joining the heirs to that brand of comedy.
Schiller — who directed so many classic SNL short films as well as Nothing Lasts Forever — adds: “What always struck me was his buoyant enthusiasm. He was always game to play any character. One of my Schiller's Reels was about office workers who, when their building was closed for the night, performed their own variety show using the building's surveillance cameras. He played an elderly bad ventriloquist elevator operator. I liked his voice, which seemed boyish and positive as was his energy.”
SNL goes PEN15! AOL and Blink-182 posters on the wall. Chris Rock plays a ghost from the future, visiting Zach (Kyle Mooney).
Beck Bennett plays his older self, still playing video games. Zach only cares about the improved video game graphics. Great to see a Mooney showcase happening this early in the show!
“My Mom Married Kenan Thompson — coming to Peacock!” is a funny way to close out the sketch. In fact, I have been watching a lot of the recent Peacock SNLs this week — the show used to rely a lot more on winking, behind-the-scenes bits, letting cast members play themselves backstage. They should embrace that again!
Drew Barrymore Show promo
Chloe Fineman plays off herself with spot-on impressions of Drew Barrymore, Nicole Kidman, and Reese Witherspoon. I love these kinds of bits for Fineman, as they capture the DIY, playing-imagination-vibe of her Instagrams. “She’s too emotionally supportive… at least someone is enjoying 2020… just watch it!”
And here’s Punkie Johnson as a guest! My favorite moment — besides Chloe crushing it solo — is Alex Moffat as a still-sausage loving Tom Green. Nice.
Megan Thee Stallion — “Savage”
Beyonce vocals drop in, but this is all Megan. “Savage” was released in early March as part of her EP Suga, becoming one of the pandemic’s first great hits.
“We need to protect our Black women,” she implores at the end of the track. The deaths of Black Americans can no longer become hashtags, she argues, demanding real change.
Jost and Che are back — “Say what you will about 2020, but it’s got moves.” Che jokes about Trump hosting SNL, then being visited by three ghosts. He then calls out the elephant in the room about there being nothing funny about Trump getting COVID-19. He argues, perhaps not morally, but joke-wise, there’s a lot funny about it, like Bill Murray trying not to not-die in Groundhog Day. “I wish him a lengthy recovery.”
And Chen Biao (Bowen Yang) is back to discuss the TikTok deal, doing a TikTok dance to “Savage.” This should be Bailey commenting in all honesty — she is Gen Z and feels like she’d be obsessed with the app. This is Chen Biao’s fourth appearance on the show; he previously appeared on the Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Scarlett Johansson, and JJ Watt episodes last season. He concludes with another TikTok - “Girl, don’t do it…” “I did it…” (The show needs to embrace this kind of stuff more. No more game show and community access show riffs, it’s 2020!)
Jost claims Mitch McConnell passively watches injured puppies cross highways, and our frustration over his SCOTUS power grab sexually excites him. Nice. Him joking about joining the BET board? Eh.
Carrie Krum, Travel Expert is back! She first appeared twice in season 44 (Jason Momoa, Emma Stone), then last season during the Adam Driver episode. “Michael!” she squeals describing virtual learning. The segment concludes with Kate McKinnon appearing as RBG, a classy moment. RIP.
Chris Rock is holding a draft for wives, girlfriends, and side pieces trying to be let into the NBA bubble. Ego Nwodim is Candace, a nursing student. Chloe Fineman is Sweetie, and Lauren Holt is Kate, an ass-sential worker. Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon, and Maya Rudolph also want in. Punkie Johnson is TJ, who keeps ordering Buffalo Wild Wings. Heidi Gardner is a Disney World employee, Goofy. So, uh, a nice showcase for the show’s female cast
Chris Redd, Kate McKinnon, Ego Nwodim, Aidy Bryant, and Mikey Day are sidelined stunt performers. Kate and Aidy are the silly stunt actors, not the badasses. Work is work! Someone has to get bitten by dogs and do kids’ movies. This is like a Christopher Guest movie. Lots of potential. And it’s way less indulgent than a lot of the typical/recent Kate and Aidy duo comedy bits. Last season, I was not feeling those…
Megan Thee Stallion ft. Young Thug— “Don’t Stop”
As someone who frequents noted rap tastemaker forum SXN80, I know at least one online constituency will be thrilled to see Young Thug performing at 8H. (Surely rap journalists such as Paul Thompson and Alex Swhear will be happy.) He has certainly become a mainstream presence thanks to tracks like this, à la Lil Wayne last decade. This is like, the platonic ideal of a strip club song, isn’t it? I am actually distressed Megan did not perform “Girls in the Hood.” Just me though!
-After four months, this is what we got! Woof. Gotta say, Chloe Fineman wins MVP of this episode, for me. Also really dug Heidi Gardner, as always. I am curious how folks will respond to Carrey’s Biden — sound off in the comments below! Definitely warmer than their Trump….
-Thank you so much to Siobhan Fallon Hogan for her contributions tonight! Here’s a fun anecdote from her on Chris Rock: “I have only the greatest memories of working with Chris on SNL … I remember he and Adam [Sandler] wrote this sketch which I thought was hilarious but didn't end up getting on. They played two Fox executives who were auditioning young actors for a new sketch comedy show and they asked me, Chris Farley and David Spade to play the young actors auditioning and come up with our weirdest characters. I did the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz, contorting my face and singing ‘If I Was the King of the Forest!’ Then they played the executives who played it like they were curing cancer with each audition. A writer tried to give me notes in the hallway and he interrupted and said, ‘Are you giving her notes? Don't mess with her funny.’ And he said, ‘Come in, Ringy, come with me - don't let him mess with your funny!’ He called me Ringy because I had just gotten engaged and had ‘the ring’! But the bottom line was he had my back and he would support you to the end if he thought what you were doing was good.”
-Thanks again to the imitable Tom Schiller for his thoughts tonight as well!