Saturday Night Live has taken some criticism this season for its celebrity-cameo-heavy cold opens, which peaked earlier this month when the show united Alec Baldwin, Jimmy Fallon, Scarlett Johansson, Martin Short, Ben Stiller, and Stormy Daniels for a not-very-funny game of telephone. For this week’s season finale, SNL limited itself to Baldwin, Stiller, and Robert De Niro in the cold open—a 50% reduction in celebrities!—but responded to critics during host Tina Fey’s monologue. Or rather, celebrities Jerry Seinfeld, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Rock, Robert De Niro, Fred Armisen, Donald Glover, Tracy Morgan, and Anne Hathaway responded, asking Fey about the show’s casting decisions in an audience question segment.
Seinfeld kicked things off, asking, “Do you think the show has too many celebrity cameos these days? Because I’m worried the cast isn’t getting a chance to grow.” Benedict Cumberbatch and Chris Rock both seemed to be angling to replace Kenan Thompson, while Fred Armisen, after lamenting that returning cast members take camera time from the current cast, launched into a lengthy and tedious explanation of his juice regime. The highlight is an exasperated Fey telling Seinfeld that if he wants to be cast as a Trump administration crony, “There’s a sign-up sheet in the hall.” It’s a pretty light premise to hang an SNL segment on, so it makes sense that Fey closes with something less meta, or at least meta in a different direction: bantering with her 30 Rock co-star Tracy Morgan.
There’s a long tradition on Saturday Night Live of framing sketches around the cast’s celebrity impressions, so it’s interesting to see the structure inverted. There’s an even longer tradition of artists saying, “You don’t like this thing? Well, here’s a lot of it, but this time as a knowing joke!” Both traditions sometimes produce great work.