Brow Beat

Watch Phoebe Waller-Bridge Host a Newscast That Descends Into a Racial Grudge Match on Saturday Night Live

Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Kenan Thompson sitting behind a news desk.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Did you say Air Jordans?”

Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge hosted this week’s Saturday Night Live, and it turns out that hiring a brilliant comedian to host a comedy show can result in brilliant comedy. The show took full advantage of Waller-Bridge’s Britishness in most of her appearances, casting her as the wife of a WWII RAF pilot, a “duchess of Clerkenwell,” and a plastic surgery disaster on Love Island. That was probably wise, because Waller-Bridge’s American accent turned out to also be quite British. But despite that handicap, her best sketch of the night was set in an American newsroom. Watch this beautifully paced descent into chaos:

“Kenan Thompson trying to look innocent” is pretty much always comedy gold, so from the moment Waller-Bridge notices him cheering the news that local gas stations are being knocked over by a white perpetrator, we’re off to the races. I mean:

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Kenan Thompson, Ego Nwodim, and Alex Moffatt sit behind a news desk. Thompson is trying to look innocent and failing.

But this is an ensemble piece in the best way, as Thompson, Waller-Bridge, Ego Nwodim, Alex Moffat, and Chris Redd slowly push a dull midday newscast into an all-out racial grudge match. There’s not really a straight man, and the funny moments are pretty evenly divided among the cast, which gives the thing a very different ebb and flow than the more typical “two normal people and Kate McKinnon” structure: everybody gets a chance to be great here. Nwodim takes the most advantage of the opportunity—her reactions to Alex Moffatt are priceless—but there aren’t any weak links.

And then there’s the subject matter. Despite ostensibly being about race, this feels like a backhanded way of talking about mass shootings, with their mad rush to discover the murderer’s race, religion, and political affiliation. (A version of this sketch where a local news team had to report eight mass shootings in a row instead of “Scuffle at the Cracker Barrel” would probably not be quite as much fun.) But the sketch captures a broader and sadder dynamic too: The closest thing we get to good news some days is “bad news that someone else is to blame for.” On that cheerful note, here’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge playing a duchess who scandalized England by dating a lightly-fictionalized version of Rudy Ray Moore:

Nothing shakes off the existential angst like period-accurate aspect ratios and color timing!