With SNL’s 40th anniversary celebration looming this February (even though the real anniversary is in October but this works to accommodate Sweeps), there’s a lot of SNL coverage, including a new feature in The Hollywood Reporter featuring the people who have hosted at least five times, including Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin, Candice Bergen, Drew Barrymore—the only two women to host 5+ times in forty years, but no, this show totally doesn’t have a diversity problem— and Pipsqueak Timberlake. Also Ben Affleck, who I did not realize was a frequent host. When I think “SNL”, I do not think “Ben Affleck”.
Unlike Timberlake, who has actually made an impact as an SNL host. Pipsqueak talks about the chance to be self-deprecating, and he is never more likeable than when he’s hosting SNL, which is largely due to his willingness to laugh at himself. It’s not a trait he displays anywhere else. I wish someone would ask him why it’s okay on SNL but not at any other time.
Alec Baldwin, too, has benefitted from his association with the show, not only because of 30 Rock but also because it’s easy to forget that he’s a raging asshole when you see him in stuff like this. But Tom Hanks’s quote threw me: “…how many times has something happened in the news during the week, and you thought, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to see what SNL is going to do with this.’” Never. I’ve never thought that. SNL is not and never has been that show.
Which is not to say that SNL can’t be topical. Of course it can, especially on “Weekend Update”, and the cold open is usually topical. But how many cold opens do you remember off the top of your head? How many Weekend Update jokes can you recite? When you think of SNL, do you think of topical humor, or do you think of the parody commercials, the absurd sketches, and the characters that recur over years? Sure, some of the performers have done well with topical impressions—Will Ferrell and President Bush, Tina Fey and Sarah Palin, Phil Hartman and anyone. But the heart of the show is not political lampoons or topical rehashing. Baldwin actually nails it: “Its roots are vaudeville: jokes and music, followed by more jokes and music.”
SNL is a breeding ground. It’s where raw talent goes to be sharpened and refined. Only now, in the 21st century where comedians have alternatives like YouTube channels, are we getting a generation of comedians who won’t come through the SNL grinder. And since it’s a crucible, it’s messy. No era of SNL is as good as you remember it. There are always sketches that don’t work and jokes that don’t land. Lorne Michaels knows this, calling the show “uneven”. The last ten years have been rough for SNL. The moments of true brilliance are fewer and further between, and they really are losing top-notch talent to other comedy outlets, like The Daily Show. But when SNL is good, there’s still nothing else like it.
Click here to read the full The Hollywood Reporter piece.