November 15, 2009

What's so funny?

So, did anyone watch last night's Saturday Night Live?  If you did, then you'll know why I'm asking the title question.

Last night was one of those rare SNLs that just totally sucked rocks.  It doesn't happen very often - sure, there are not-so-great hosts but the cast usually can work around that and pull something fun out of it.  But last night?  Sheesh.  January Jones was the host and she was so humorless even Kristin Wiig didn't seem as funny as she usually is.

I'm going to go on a tear here, but I think the powers that be at SNL should really examine their host choices very carefully before scheduling them.  I know, I know - the whole deal is probably fraught with agents, network execs, producers, advertisers, etc. and that it's not just Lorne Michaels making the decisions.  But after 30 seasons of producing (no, not 35 years - you may recall Dick Ebersole produced SNL from 1980-1985) you'd think the guy would have SOME clout! 

Let's take, for example, January Jones.  Those of you who are loyal "Mad Men" followers know January as the icy and sad Betty Draper, Don's (Jon Hamm) long-suffering wife.  And on that show, she's perfect.  All she really has to do week after week is wear gorgeous clothes and threaten to leave Don.  But last night, we saw a side of January that we shouldn't have - her total lack of a sense of humor.  At one point, while the camera was pointed right on her you could hear her say to one of the camera operators, "WHICH camera?!?", which let the audience know right away she probably wasn't in a comedy troupe or ensemble cast before.  She also didn't show any real emotions at all, nor did she react to any of the cast members' lines.  Hey, I'm no Shakespearean actor, but I at least know to anticipate lines and try to react accordingly!  It was all a mess.  Something tells me she'll never get asked to host a second time.  Now Jon Hamm, on the other hand - I'd bet he'll be back.  He was fantastic.  And funny!

I'm going to ask an impossible question now, because it's so subjective, but what constitutes "funny"?  Obviously SNL, that most venerable of US comedy shows, has a winning formula - you don't last 35 seasons (and it's not done yet) without doing something right.  But what is it about it? 

Is it the cast?  There have definitely been better casts than others (my uncles and brothers say it's the original cast; I really liked the Mike Myers/Dana Carvey/Phil Hartman/Chris Farley years).  I think this current cast is fantastic; others say it's stale and they should completely start over.  I own the first season of SNL on DVD; it's amazing how some of the skits hold up, but others I don't either "get" (because I was seven when it first aired) or it's just not relevant or funny anymore. I do think they actually got away with MORE back then than they can now; you just can't call someone the "N-word" or use blatant drug references anymore.  Not that this is a bad thing.

Is it the news?  I love "Weekend Update" and it's regularly one of my favorite parts of the show.  The current host, Seth Meyers, is also the head writer (most of the time, the host of WU is the head writer, like Tina Fey).  I think he's very funny, with impeccable timing.  Others will most certainly disagree; maybe Norm McDonald, or Colin what's-his-name or Chevy Chase is their fave.  It all depends on one's taste and style.

Call me an optimist, but I've never given up on SNL.  I'm sure I will tune in, week after week, until it finally stops airing in 2030.  Next week WILL be better - right?  Right?   :)

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