Saturday Night Live recap: John Mulaney opens up about sobriety in hilarious return
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Hello there, wayward Coneheads. Welcome to the latest SNL in Review. Our favorite live late-night sketch comedy show resumes amidst a great deal of upheaval and drama, in more ways than one. Macro-level? Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a military operation in Ukraine early Thursday, and a battle is now underway for control of the country with global implications. In the U.S.? President Biden recently announced his selection of Ketanji Brown Jackson for the Supreme Court. Their joint appearance with Vice President Harris could be an easy format for the cold open.
And tonight's host is newly minted five-timer John Mulaney, who has just experienced a very public rollercoaster of a year featuring divorce, a new baby, and stints in drug rehabilitation centers.
I am joined tonight by former Saturday Night Live cast member Dan Vitale. Vitale puts the tense situation in Ukraine in context of how the show has approached past moments: "When I first watched the show in '75, Nixon had just resigned. Within a year of that, memoirs and stories were already coming out. And I remember Aykroyd and Belushi reenacting the Final Days, the kneel down and pray scene. And Gerald Ford's press secretary hosted early on. So they were on it right away. But Watergate wasn't a life and death thing! They didn't have to address Vietnam directly. So I can't remember a time when there was something happening this fresh and horrific before our eyes; I don't know how you find satire in it… I would be disappointed if they tried to find humor at this stage." Indeed, except for 9/11, the show does not have a ton of precedence, given that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the greatest threat to Europe's security since World War II.
(On Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Vitale remarks: "The number one target in the sights of this psychotic madman [Putin] was a comedian." A testament to the surreal times we live in, perhaps — it's also a potential path forward for the show, in terms of its satire.) But Dan and I agree, they likely will try to address this, if only out of misguided obligation, despite the deadly seriousness of the topic.
As a stand-up who has dealt with his issues with addiction throughout his life, Vitale can only speak to his own experience. "Being on SNL, if you show up messed up, you'll be gone, so you better show up sober, but being that newly sober in such a pressured environment, it just crushed me almost immediately. I felt so raw. I ended up relapsing, which is why I didn't appear much."
In terms of Mulaney: "The pressure of showing up to prove yourself, comedians never get over that, I don't think. And to go up and host a live show, with such high expectations, when you're so raw from the experience of facing your addiction? In some ways, I admire the guy. But in others, this may not be a very good idea. He's touring, and I get it, there's a lot of money on the line. And the people showing up are fans of his, so he has to address it."
So, there's a lot of ground to cover tonight. Very fraught; it will be fascinating to see how — and if — the writers and cast meet the moment.
This is a very unexpected opening — Cecily Strong and Kate McKinnon introduce the Ukrainian Chorus of New York. Lovely.
The camera pans to candles displaying KYIV. A poignant statement of solidarity. I think they hit this out of the ballpark. There has been so much suffering and global outrage, this was the right move.
Mulaney comes out to discuss his "complicated year," to laughs. He jokes about his intervention, spending two months in rehab, and breaking up with his drug dealers. He recounts how his newborn son hated the hospital's bright lights, annoyed without making a fuss.
Vitale is, of course, really impressed with Mulaney's chops as a stand-up. What he likes about him? "There used to be an expression in writers' rooms, 'he's funniest — or smartest — guy in the room.' I remember them saying that about Conan [O'Brien]... at SNL. Like, 'really?' I never got that vibe. He might've been the silliest guy. But Mulaney strikes me as the smartest, or funniest, guy in the room. He just has that sharpness."
After his SNL stint, and return to the stage, Vitale also incorporated his recovery story into his material years later. Looking back, Vitale regrets that. "Me talking to an audience about getting sober sends a message: 'Hey, I'm sober, I know something. I can talk about this.' I wasn't really sober. It takes a long f---ing time. And even then you're a trigger away… it cheapens it a little, talking about recovery that early. If [Mulaney] is in fact recovered, he's doing himself, I think, a disservice. Because you're not really taking the time to look inward and figure out the problem here. The pills, the booze, whatever it is, that's just a symptom of the disease if you're an addict or an alcoholic."
Still, Vitale says, "The cold open was cool and the monologue is funny — I wish every comedian who has a kid didn't feel compelled to immediately do a bit on it."
Kenan Thompson is representing a maimed Melissa Villaseñor in court — she has been mauled by her neighbor's pet monkey. Judge Tango (Mulaney) — a giant ape — comes out to preside.
Obviously, this is a spiritual successor to the classic Phil Hartman character, Keyrock, known as "The Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer." I think you have to dock some points for them photocopying the premise.
Cecily Strong approaches the bench cautiously with a mask on, offering cake. "You are the alpha," she assures him.
Blue River (Dog Food commercial)
Cecily Strong and Heidi Gardner debate their different dog food selections at the grocery store. They argue over the ingredients and the cost savings. "These animals have no voice!" cries Strong into the arms of her husband (Mulaney). The crowd does not seem into this. I think it's an amusing critique of intense pet owners and their obsession with their "fur babies" quality of life.
The twist about the husband's erectile dysfunction is a vicious way to bring things to port too.
COVID Dinner Discussion
This is brilliant. A group is out to dinner when Kenan Thompson offers to pay for the table. Heidi Gardner brings up a Bloomberg article suggesting mask mandates had little to no effect on COVID. The tension is palpable — GIFs are instantly created. They tread carefully about the subject.
Kate McKinnon attempts to bring up the wisdom of vaccination mandates. Mulaney dropped his closest friend for not getting a booster shot. Reactions continue — Gardner uses Thanos' glove and vanishes. Instant classic. They should study this in American Culture classes in college 100 years from now to understand the current moment.
Shout out the KGW turtle kid cameo too.
Please Don't Destroy — Good Variant
A new variant has emerged but it is good, a newscaster (Mulaney) explains. It makes people feel "cool and confident."
Paul Rudd and Al Roker cameo — they celebrate with the guys. (Martin tests positive for anal worms, says nurse Sarah Sherman. She has great delivery.)
Pokémon are also real, and they're storming the Capitol.
PDD ends, and it turns out it's being watched from the Five-Timers Club. Rudd is joined by Steve Martin (!!) and Candice Bergen. The legends! I love the segway here from the video to the next sketch, you rarely see transitions like that anymore.
Mulaney enters for the first time. "And Tina Fey enters," he reads. She swaps out Rudd and drinks Justin Timberlake and Tracy Morgan's club soda mixed with Dan Aykroyd's "gross" vodka.
Wow, Elliott Gould shows up too — amazing. (Fey shouts out Entertainment Weekly calling her wearing glasses "disgusting") We are making a lot of history in this sketch.
"This has become 'not special,'" whines Martin as Conan O'Brien pops up. (They botch the camera cue here.) O'Brien then shouts out his appearance on the first Five-Timers sketch, back when he was a writer — after punting on his line delivery. I love how loose and silly this is — and actually self-aware. Being a "five-timer" genuinely is easier after 47 seasons than when it was introduced three decades ago.
Conan finishes with his own "Live From New York" shout-out. This was hilarious. I am blown away.
Vitale says, "The sketches so far feel kind of pushing for laughs that aren't really there. Though I got a kick out of seeing Elliot Gould — hard to believe he hosted 5 times."
LCD Soundsystem — "Thrills"
This was off their 2005 debut album. Pretty fun.
They were the musical guest back on May 6, 2017, hosted by Chris Pine — but their reappearance here, with Mulaney hosting, is special.
Vitale is not a fan: "Doubt I'll hunt down some YouTube rabbit hole. To me, they sounded synthetically hip. Oh well."
Colin Jost points out Russia's only ally against Ukraine, besides Belarus, is Tucker Carlson. Michael Che recognizes the challenge of joking about this war. I think they're doing a good job here, striking the necessary balance.
The crowd organically applauds when Che brings up Ketanji Brown Jackson's nomination to the Supreme Court. Another fun moment in this episode. Short segment tonight — no features, though apparently, Alex Moffat had a bit cut.
Vitale jokes: "How the hell did Colin Jost score Scarlett Johansson? Pete Davidson's conquests, John Mulaney and Olivia Munn, I should've worked harder on salvaging my comedy career! Ha."
34th Street Metro Newsstand
Andrew Dismukes wants a churro, replacing Pete Davidson. Mole Person (Kenan Thompson) pops up and begins singing. Here we go. "And then your butt will bleed!" he harmonizes. We get a ton of homages and a naked Alex Moffat.
This is not for me. We have seen this multiple times now (or more if you count how many theater groups have done this kind of medley over the years.) We need to just stop this series, it's run its course. Even James Murphy's appearance feels needless.
"1980!" It's a Nickelodeon retrospective with Nick Cannon (Chris Redd) — who is losing his mustache — and Marc Summers (Moffat). They show clips about the history of the creation of slime. Children of the '90s remember that green goo quite well. Sherman and Mulaney trade insults as they get shotgunned in the face. Aidy Bryant is the eccentric creator.
Kyle Mooney and Mikey Day drown in the stuff over a six-minute period.
LCD Soundsystem — "Yr City's a Sucker"
"Yr City's a Sucker" is the sixteenth track from the debut album by LCD Soundsystem, counting both discs. Talking Heads vibe here. Ha ha ha ha.
Robinson Family Reunion
We have seen the Cha Cha Slide — this time it is the Cupid Shuffle. "Push it like Lebron!" calls out the emcee (Kenan Thompson). This is cute, and I like it feels like the sequel - not just the rebooted premise, à la the subway music number. This remains a funny concept too, and Mulaney's comedic timing carries it over the goal line.
- Thank you Dan Vitale for your excellent commentary.
- Some real gems here, folks: the COVID dinner, the Five Timers sketch (with the creative PDD lead-in), the cold open. Special and lively. ELLIOTT GOULD BACK AT 8H CMON.
- What did you think? Comment below or vote here.
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The original late-night comedy sketch show from the one and only Lorne Michaels.