Brow Beat

Michael Keaton Plays Julian Assange in Saturday Night Live’s Newest Celebrity Impression Format: Famous People in Prison!

Michael Keaton, as Julian Assange, brags to Kate McKinnon's Lori Loughlin, Pete Davidson's Michael Avenatti, and inmates played by Kyle Mooney, Chris Redd, and Kenan Thompson in a still from SNL.
What do you mean these aren’t the Star Wars auditions?

Saturday Night Live hires so many talented impressionists that any sketch premise that allows the cast to assemble a collection of faux famous people—celebrity game shows, movie screen tests, Ariana Grande holding a microphone—is almost guaranteed to become a recurring segment. So it is good news for both SNL and civil society in general that this week, the most obvious way for the show to fill a room with celebrities was to set the cold open in prison. Until quite recently, it would have been difficult to imagine circumstances that would put Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti, Full House star Lori Loughlin, and rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine in the same place at the same time. But in the last few months, Loughlin was criminally charged for her involvement in a college admissions cheating scandal, Assange got evicted from London’s Ecuadorian Embassy and now faces extradition, Tekashi 6ix9ine pled guilty to federal racketeering charges, and Avenatti was indicted for what can only be described as a crime spree. It’s a new era for celebrity accountability, which means it’s also a new era for Saturday Night Live celebrity impression sketches:

It is a rare treat these days to see Kate McKinnon do an impression without extensive makeup, and Pete Davidson, who rarely gets much to do in sketches, pulls off an entire monologue without breaking. But the star is undoubtedly Michael Keaton as a gum-chewing Assange, strutting around the holding cell boasting about being the “King of Chaos” and the “Scourge of the Cleaning Staff at the Ecuadorian Embassy.” The only thing more fun than playing a Bond villain is playing an incompetent Bond villain, and Keaton is having the time of his life. Most of all, it’s fun to see a group of SNL celebrity impressions bouncing off each other without anyone having to play Jeopardy! It’s going to be complicated to weigh the evils that come from mass incarceration against the benefits we might reap from finally making some famous people follow some of the laws, but one thing is clear: Imprisoning as many rich and powerful people as possible will only make Saturday Night Live funnier. Let’s get to it!