Comedian Issa Rae hosted this week’s Saturday Night Live, and in the process provided yet more evidence that the secret to a good SNL episode is a good host. Rae was as charming and hilarious as usual, and either it was infectious or the cast and writers have finally settled into a routine despite COVID-19, because even the non–Issa Rae sketches were a marked step up from the season’s first two episodes. In fact, the show improved so much that even the cold open would qualify for a list of the episode’s funniest sketches. To prove it, here is that very list.
Dueling Town Halls Cold Open
We told you the cold open would be on this list, and now you can see we weren’t lying. Saturday Night Live kicked off its season with two disastrous cold opens, first introducing Jim Carrey’s Joe Biden impression with an incoherent look at the first presidential debate, then attempting and completely failing to land an ambitious quadruple backflip that saw Jim Carrey playing Joe Biden playing Jeff Goldblum playing the Fly. This week’s cold open was … fine! It has a central, animating idea—flipping back and forth between Biden’s and Trump’s town halls made it pretty clear which candidate is a dangerous lunatic—and nobody turned into a fly.
Two major factors are at play: Trump’s unhinged performance under Savannah Guthrie’s questioning was as deranged as Alec Baldwin’s impression of him, and Biden’s rambling but relentless attempt to connect with young Black voter Cedric Humphrey was tailor-made for Carrey’s take on Joe Biden. Shoehorning Maya Rudolph’s Kamala Harris into the sketch was a mistake, but as long as the candidates continue to converge with their caricatures, SNL’s cold opens should keep improving—and it’s not like Donald Trump is going to become less like Alec Baldwin’s version as Election Day nears.
First Date Exes
This is a sketch in which Issa Rae has to keep a straight face while asking Pete Davidson “Karate man, what do you want from me?” This is also a sketch in which Bowen Yang got made up as one of those metallic-paint street performers. If either of those prospects is what you’re looking for in a comedy sketch—and if it isn’t, why not?—you’re in for a wild ride. Sketches built around a parade of weird characters live or die based on how weird those characters are, and fortunately these characters are plenty weird.
We (well, I, really) have been suckers for sketches in which an actor in a TV commercial gets into a fight with his or her disembodied narrator since Gilda Radner and Bill Murray were pitching Creeley’s Soup, and this ad for 5-Hour Empathy is no exception. Beck Bennett, one of the cast’s great squirmers, is excellent here in the role of a liberal who is extremely interested in racial justice, up to a point.
Eric, Donald Jr., and Tiffany Trump on the 2020 Election
Alex Moffat and Mikey Day’s version of the Trump brothers is one of the few genuinely great comic inventions to come from the Trump years, and this is one of the best examples of their work. It’s not a very funny joke in the abstract to suggest that Eric Trump might try to drink a bottle of hand sanitizer, but Alex Moffat turns it into something hilarious through facial expressions alone. Meanwhile, Mikey Day’s attempts to convey confidence get funnier and funnier the worse things look for the Trump boys, so he’s in his element. Chloe Fineman’s Tiffany Trump is, at least so far, not one of the genuinely great comic inventions to come from the Trump years; she’s got the toothy smile, but the voice is more cartoon bear than forgotten Trump daughter. Wishing Fineman’s impression were better, however, means wishing she has more opportunities to refine it, which in turn means wishing Tiffany Trump remains in the spotlight, so let’s just let it be.
Aidy in America
Traditionally, Saturday Night Live sketches introduce a funny premise, then wring every last joke out of that premise, then continue wringing for another five minutes or so. “Aidy in America” avoids this temptation, which made me laugh, and that seems like more than enough exegesis for this one.
It is extremely rare for an SNL host to successfully get on Kyle Mooney’s wavelength, but Rae manages it in this sketch, which lets her pivot from the classic SNL recurring character “normal person putting up with Kyle Mooney’s nonsense” straight into an original creation, “Kyle Mooney’s Dance-Off Opponent in the ‘Funk Jam in the Future’ Thunderdome.” She absolutely nails both roles. If legendary SNL host Chance the Rapper is the dullest part of your sketch, you’re doing something right.