Kumail Nanjiani Helms a Standout ‘SNL’

nanjiani-snlHere it is, the first certified banger of SNL season 43! It’s almost like comedy is better when comedians do it. Who’da thought? Don’t get me wrong, part of the fun for the SNL nerd is seeing people go against their very serious brand. I can ask myself “How are the folks at Studio 8H going to craft an hour and a half of content around that guy who loves his curvy wife?” but my interest in the show will be more like sports analysis and less like actual pleasure. This episode also saw a return SNL’s political teeth. Four sketches were outright political, and even the silly game show sketch relied on our understanding that the basic medical needs of our veterans aren’t being met.

Kumail Nanjiani has proven to be a peppy sketch actor in Portlandia and when he co-hosted the Independent Spirit Awards with Kate McKinnon. (Do yourself a favor and watch the “glove lunch” sketch from that ceremony. Then watch Carol on Netflix, it’s full of yearning and shots of Cate Blanchett’s very toned back.) I’m starting to understand why Lorne casts so many standups. Years of performing in front of live audiences might actually be as useful as years of writing sketches. If an episode can make me reappraise SNL’s casting process, it has to be good.

Cold Open

My friend texted me that she would pay money to never have another Trump cold open. I’m not that far, but the bloom is definitely falling off the rose. This time Alec Baldwin was playing Trump at a truck rally, talking about talking about his new tax plan while never actually getting to the matter at hand. Trump kept calling Mike Pence at different venues, urging him to walk out of them in protest when things got a little too liberal. I enjoyed watching Beck Bennett and Aidy Bryant leave scenes in a sideways crab walk, but as a Hoosier I resent any representation of Pence that makes him an unwitting pawn. Mike Pence once wrote an op-ed saying Mulan was dangerous left wing rhetoric because it encouraged women to serve in the military, and he used the word “methinks” in it. He is his own kind of monster. Aidy Bryant’s placid, dead-eyed Karen Pence (aka Mother) was 100 percent accurate though.

Monologue

When comedians host SNL, they frequently get to do their standup as a monologue. Kumail was no exception. I like Kumail’s standup, so I liked this monologue. Jokes about Islamophobia and why you should never say “race mixing” landed well with the audience. It does mean there’s less time for sketches, which bummed me out. This was the first SNL in a long time where I thought “it’s over?” when we got to goodbyes.

Bank Breakers

I do love me a game show sketch. Nanjiani plays a super enthusiastic game show contestant who wants to win fifty grand to buy a bunch of “jackets and jeans, baby!” Unfortunately he’s competing against a woman who is trying to win enough money to pay for her daughter’s surgery. Kumail digs himself in deeper and deeper as it’s revealed that Cecily Strong’s contestant is a veteran whose house was just burgled. The immediate regret on his face is killer, as well as the uncaring momentum Mikey Day brings to his host character. He’s like capitalism personified.

Kellywise

I knew this was going to be an IT parody as soon as I saw Anderson Cooper in that yellow raincoat. Kellyanne Conway is something of a media tulpa. Enough anchors wanted a quote-spewing monster and poof! There she was. This was a powerhouse performance by Kate McKinnon, cycling through tried and true impressions like Conway and Hillary Clinton as well as her Pennywise. This version of Pennywise might already be on its way to Babadook-like gay icon status. Only time will tell.

Office Halloween Party

A boss conference calls into the office Halloween party. At first this type of conviviality and informality seems like it would be a fun work environment. But informality can be a double-edged sword, as this fun boss may have given his entire office hepatitis A. Kenan Thompson was clearly living his best life as the only guy not that worried about his new disease.

Women’s Roundtable

Last week SNL was criticized for not coming after the Harvey Weinstein story. Cornered by a paparazzi, Lorne Michaels said the reason there was no Weinstein material in Gadot’s show was a “New York thing,” which The Daily Mail latched onto. It seems to me like Michaels just said the first nonsense thing that popped into his head to make the paps go away, but who knows? In any case, the show doubled on its Weinstein content, touching on him in Update as well as in this installment of the Debette Goldry sketches. This time Kate McKinnon’s veteran actress is on a panel discussing sexual harassment in Hollywood. “Back then, we had a secret code among actresses to warn each other about creeps,” says Goldry. “The code was ‘he raped me.’ That way, if any men were listening they’d tune us right out. Easy peasy.”

Weekend Update

Update led with the Weinstein story, while also touching on the Trump cutbacks on Obamacare. Apparently Trump tweeted that Obamacare was imploding while actively demolishing it, a laughably skewed take. “Godzilla never tweeted ‘Tokyo is totally imploding right now. I alone can solve!’” I would absolutely follow an official Godzilla Twitter account, in much the same way that I follow the official Twitter accounts of several Muppets. Gonzo’s is really good!  

Last week I said I wanted Cecily Strong and Aidy Bryant’s fetish camgirls to become a recurring sketch, and this week on Update I sort of got my wish. What I’m trying to say is, Strong yelling Ivana Trump-inflected nonsense through a mouth of Ferrero Rocher might be my new fetish. I loved Strong’s confidence as Ivana and her sense that nothing could touch her because she’s already been through hell. I hope the real Ivana is that happy.

Marriott Check-In

Mikey Day’s bedraggled journalist cannot check into his room without Nanjiani’s hotel clerk trying to sell him on the hotel’s many amenities, including “Stargazer Lounge.” Nanjiani is very fun as the smarmy clerk who is completely indifferent to how awful he is. After the most realistic stage punch I’ve ever seen, he says it happens all the time. Is it #spon? The real Marriott logo is used, but Chatsworth House is not one of their hotel subspecies. Marriott is not portrayed particularly favorably in this sketch, but companies have no say in how their brands will be represented in these spots. I hope all the branded content is disclosed in the season finale credits, like they did with the celebrity call-in voices on Frasier.

Retirement Home

It’s true, old people do fuck a lot in rest homes. There are even STI outbreaks, usually not perpetrated by one old woman. I appreciated how on board this sketch was with the slutty grandma. If she wants to hump her way off this mortal coil, more power to her! Nanjiani’s doctor character acted as both the voice of reason (reminding the shocked grandkids that McKinnon’s freaky g-ma was a consenting adult and it would be weird to police her sexuality) and the joke-maker (providing graphic descriptions of that sexuality). It left Mikey Day and Heidi Gardner very little to do. Also, did Kate McKinnon wear the same old lady neck as in the Hollywood roundtable sketch, or was this a new neck?

Call Center

Nanjiani plays a customer service rep at an online shopping call center, who becomes the only confidant of Melania Trump. I loved this sketch. It was dreamlike and beautiful and haunting. But I’m not sure it was comedy. Or if it was comedy, I’m not sure what the joke was. Is it funny that Melania has a rich inner life where she protects spiders and wonders about her complicity in her husband’s bullying of the world? If the joke is that there’s no way Melania Trump secretly has the soul of a poet, that kinda sucks. If the sketch is more wish fulfillment — that it shows us a world where people have more depth than they’ve given evidence of — then I’m sad about living in this world and not in the spider-gifting Melania world. Sometimes art just makes you feel bad, and that’s kind of funny too.

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