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Deep SNL Thoughts: Nate Bargatze? Great host. Mikey Day? Not so great Joe Biden.
The standup comedian delivered a bounce-back episode while the show shook up who plays the president.
After the first dud of an episode in a long time last week, Saturday Night Live got back on track with Nate Bargatze hosting this week. Two major things we need to talk about: Nate Bargatze is a very good SNL host. And Mikey Day is a not very good Joe Biden.
As I’ve mentioned since he was announced as an SNL host, Bargatze wouldn’t be in this position in a world where the actors weren’t on strike. And that’s unfortunate, since Bargatze — who I would consider a successful but not A-list standup comedian — effortlessly slipped into his role as host this episode. His timing was great, his line readings were natural and he looked like he belonged in the SNL cast. I shouldn’t be surprised, as some of the best SNL hosts are standup comedians. (Unless you’re Dave Chappelle, then you don’t participate in most of the sketches that aren’t just retreads of characters from your TV show.)
While Bargatze is a one-and-done moment for SNL (unless they bring him back to host in the future, which I’d welcome), Mikey Day assuming the mantle of Joe Biden is something that will have an effect on the show for not only this season but possibly years to come.
Let’s take a few steps back. A long time ago (1991!), Kevin Nealon played Biden in one sketch. Biden didn’t become a major SNL role until he was running for president in 2007 and became Barack Obama’s vice president, which then saw Jason Sudeikis deliver what is still the show’s iconic version of Biden. Sudeikis played Biden until he left SNL, occasionally reappearing as him in the years after.
SNL then went through a few temporary Bidens. Woody Harrelson played Biden when hosted the show in 2019 and returned twice more to keep doing so. John Mulaney played Biden when he hosted that year too.
Here’s where we reach one of the biggest blunders of SNL’s celebrity cameo era: Jim Carrey as Joe Biden. As Lorne Michaels gave away major SNL roles to established actors — Donald Trump to Alec Baldwin, Kamala Harris to Maya Rudolph — he brought in Carrey to play Biden through the rest of the 2020 election. Carrey’s portrayal of Biden was a disaster, and it often looked like the actor had no idea who Joe Biden was.
In the aftermath of Carrey’s departure, Alex Moffat briefly assumed the role of Biden, playing him until SNL found its best Biden since Sudeikis: James Austin Johnson.
The only problem with Johnson is that he’s also SNL’s Donald Trump — and he’s the best Donald Trump the show has ever had, a mimicry on the same level as Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush. Michaels and SNL must understand that having Johnson play Biden and Trump as the duo heads toward an inevitable electoral rematch would be an impossible task. Sure Baldwin played Trump and Bill O’Reilly in the same sketch once, but neither of those portrayals were good and that would be an unsustainable plan.
So unfortunately it appears that we’ve seen the last of Johnson as Biden. Mikey Day is a fantastic SNL castmember, but his Biden isn’t great …
Multiple parts of Day’s Biden confused me. Does Joe Biden love Halloween? Is this an established fact? A lot of choices in this portrayal remind me of Carrey’s Biden. I appreciate that Day might be trying to craft a character beyond a caricature, but this isn’t working.
Can’t put my finger on it … I spent most of this sketch trying to place what Day’s Biden feels like. The closest I could get is Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush crossed with the Delicious Dish ladies.
“No one knows his last name. It’s normal.” The cold open gave us the show’s first portrayal of new House Speaker Mike Johnson, with Michael Longfellow playing the Louisiana congressman. Devon Walker appeared as Johnson’s “adult Black son … also named Michael.” The last name part? This is true.
An SNL gap: Based on the research over at the Saturday Night Live Wiki, former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was never portrayed on SNL. Nancy Pelosi, though, was played by Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Chloe Fineman.
Papa Pumpkin? Guys, I’m so confused how Christopher Walken wound up in this sketch. Was he around and asked to be in the episode? Was the role written for him? Why was the role written for him?
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Nate Bargatze’s monologue was a version of his standup routine, which is a pretty normal thing for a standup comedian to do when they host SNL. The interesting part is that it went on 9 minutes and 35 seconds.
That’s long for an SNL monologue. But was it historically long?
The past two monologue’s this season clocked in at 6 minutes and 52 seconds for Pete Davidson (a standup comedian himself) and 4 minutes and 53 seconds for Bad Bunny.
OK, I thought, maybe Davidson just didn’t want to do a long routine. How do other standup comedians compare to Bargatze’s monologue?
Bill Burr: 7 minutes and 28 seconds
Louis CK: 7 minutes and 3 seconds, 9 minutes and 28 seconds, 9 minutes and 46 seconds
Amy Schumer: 8 minutes and 37 seconds, 8 minutes and 28 seconds and 6 minutes and 17 seconds
John Mulaney: 7 minutes and 38 seconds, 7 minutes and 42 seconds, 8 minutes and 22 seconds, 9 minutes and 37 seconds, 7 minutes and 4 seconds
OK, so Louis CK and Mulaney both cracked the 9-minute mark. And it turns out Bargatze’s monologue was brief compared to two other comedians.
Dave Chappelle doesn’t host SNL. SNL hosts Dave Chappelle. So it’s no surprise that his three monologues clocked in at 11 minutes and 37 seconds, 16 minutes and 36 seconds, and 15 minutes and 22 seconds.
I had a distant memory of Dane Cook delivering an especially long monologue when he hosted SNL back in 2005, but it doesn’t appear that his monologue is available on YouTube. I did wind up finding a listing for it on Apple TV, which advertised it as being 26 minutes long. Twenty-six minutes! That’s almost a third of an episode of SNL.
Wanna share Popculturology’s thoughts on Nate Bargatze and SNL?
SKETCH OF THE WEEK
Trick-or-Treat with Fran Drescher
I don’t know if this truly was the standout sketch of the week, but I loved seeing Sarah Sherman as Fran Drescher. Sherman has quickly become one of my favorite SNL castmembers over the past few seasons, and it was great seeing her have a few moments to shine this episode.
“Adorable scabs”: If you don’t want to cross the picket line this Halloween, SAG-AFTRA approved costumes include the Book Version of Harry Potter, Zoheth, Son of Ishi who Beget Ben Zoheth and Hoda Kotb.
A message for the studios: Sherman took a moment during this sketch to explain the SAG-AFTRA strike in terms of the biggest house on the block that doesn’t want to give out Halloween candy but still has “record numbers of Kit Kat bars.” “All us actors are saying is break me off a piece of that Kit Kat bar,” Sherman’s Drescher said.
This sketch was one of the reasons I found Bargatze to be such a great host. His demeanor was perfect to play a white chef who not only somehow won a soul food face off but is then showered with honors like a Howard University letterman jacket.
A Stab at Love would be a successful Hallmark movie, right? Hallmark audiences love these romantic comedies. A dash of what’s made the murder podcast genre a booming market would only propel a Hallmark movie to the next level.
Starring Gasheley Greigert and Bren Chloebog: I had to fight autocorrect to keep those two “almost human-sounding” names intact.
Once again, Bargatze’s cadence is what sold this sketch. The timing, the pauses, the refusal to answer Kenan Thompson’s characters question of “and the slaves, sir, what of them?”
“Choose our own systems of weights and measures”: This is one of those SNL sketches that could run in any episode of any season. Do they have an evergreen file or was this brainstormed during the writing sessions for Bargatze’s episode?
With James Austin Johnson no longer playing Joe Biden, we didn’t get to see him until later this episode when he was alongside Andrew Dismukes and Bargatze singing about hanging out at a lake beach.
“A big snapping turtle just bit me on my dong”: Look, I don’t trust the ocean. We evolved to live on land for a reason. I don’t trust lakes even more. You don’t know what’s in them and you can never see the bottom.
Dave Grohl is serious about cornhole: The Foo Fighters lead singer had a few roles sprinkled throughout this episode.
Weekend Update: Colin’s Agent J.J. Gordon on the Actors Strike
Sarah Sherman mercilessly making fun of Colin Jost has already become a classic Weekend Update genre. (Like Leslie Jones doing the same before her.) This sketch found a new way to keep that joke going, with Sherman playing J.J. Gordon, Jost’s agent with awful opportunities.
“I’m not doing dinosaur porn for free”: Projects that Sherman’s Johnson pitched to Jost included Not All Heroes Are Sandwiches: The Jared Fogle Story, the porn version of Jurassic Park, a live-action Pocahontas reboot titled John Smith’s Revenge, being the spokesperson for Jersey Mike (a guy running a kill shelter, not the fantastic sub shop) and Jost the Two Us: My Summer With Epstein.
Just one guest: This was the second week in a row with just one guest during Weekend Update. With Bargatze’s monologue being a bit on the longer side, I’d imagine things had to get trimmed elsewhere in the show.
I could not have guessed where this sketch was going to go when it began. With Chloe Fineman as pregnant woman going into labor on a plane, I thought we were in store for a sketch focused on that. Nope. Turns out it was time for a debate over whether lawyer or engineer is the “second best job” after doctor.
“I guess pilot is pretty easy. But not as easy as teacher.” My sister is a former teacher and her husband is pilot. I should send them this sketch …
Please Don’t Destroy: Dawg Food
After seeing multiple Please Don’t Destroy segments not air during SNL and instead get posted on YouTube under the “cut for time” banner last season, the trio is already three for three this season. They were even featured in the credits again.
I’m not sure what changed (a Peacock movie to promote?), but Lorne Michaels has elevated Please Don’t Destroy to their highest level of prominence during their SNL tenure. At least they’re repaying him by eating dog food. Sorry, Dawg Food.
💬 💬 💬 Comments, questions or recommendations? Let me know!
GUEST STAR WATCH
Christopher Walken (“Cold Open,” Foo Fighters introduction)
Padma Lakshmi (“Chef Showdown”)
WHO’S HOSTING NEXT?
Timothée Chalamet hosts SNL on Nov. 11 with boygenius as the musical guest.
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