Since its premiere in the fall of 1975, Saturday Night Live has been known for its high highs and its low lows, its golden ages and its dud seasons. Having never made a living making people laugh on an NBC show, we have to humbly ask: Why isn’t SNL always really, really good?
But seriously folks, what we do feel qualified to say is that the recent exodus of talent in advance of season 48— Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Pete Davidson, Chris Redd, Kyle Mooney, Melissa Villasenor, Alex Moffat, and others—offers the show the chance to take some risks and figure out what it’s best positioned to do now.
So, in anticipation of the SNL season premiere on October 1, Lorne Michaels, if you’re reading, here are our suggestions.
1. Have less hollow political impersonations and glorified transcripts of current events
Biden Spider-Man Cold Open - SNL
Note how I say less and not none, because James Austin Johnson is a gifted impressionist who deserves fresh, surprising material. An on-point impersonation can only do so much without strong writing behind it. Some SNL cold opens are decent, making us crack a smile. But others are just plain cringe. Few—very few—are inspired. We blame Sarah Palin (as we do for so many things) for making comedians think truth is funnier than fiction. It’s not.
2. Have more political surrealism and general weirdness
Weekend Update: Goober the Clown on Abortion - SNL
The best political sketches are rarely about capital-P Politics. Take Cecily Strong: Her Jeanine Pirro is singularly weird, as is her furious HR manager, a woman driven to drinking Purell as she educates a generation of #MeToo creeps. These recurring characters capture the chaos of our cultural and political moment without leaning on hokey, time-sensitive punchlines.
And psst: Don’t sleep on Strong’s hilarious but haunting Abortion Clown segment, the laugh-to-keep-from-crying Post-COVID Game Show, and this clunky but on-point Medieval Roe v. Wade sketch, basically the Last Duel in six economical minutes (and a cold open to boot!).
3. Consider trying out a new “Weekend Update” host
Weekend Update: Field Correspondent Sarah Sherman Gives an SNL Studio Tour - SNL
“Weekend Update” in many ways sets the tone for the show, and Colin Jost/Michael Che are the longest running duo to do it ever. And doesn’t it kind of feel like it’s been a while? They clearly enjoy each other’s company, but those two would probably have just as much fun without us there.
This segment from “correspondent” Sarah Sherman, who is playing it like a Today Show host on uppers, feels like an audition. We’d call her back to see more.
4. Give newbies the time to shine
Weekend Update: The Iceberg on the Sinking of the Titanic - SNL
There are lots of reasons why a new featured player or cast member might not make an impression. It helps to be a writer, to be tight with one of the writers on staff, or to be a white guy, as Nick Marx and others have noted. (This last point underwrites into the adorable Melissa Villasenor’s “unsurprising” departure from the show after receiving so little screen time.)
But if you’re good enough to get on SNL, you’re probably good enough to kill on SNL, no? Might a Big Sibling program be in order? After all, you might have a Bowen Yang on your hands! Give great talent the proper vehicle … like Yang’s breakout as an iceberg trying to, um, break through.
5. Keep the Please Don’t Destroy sketches coming
Please Don’t Destroy - Good Variant - SNL
Please Don’t Destroy is Gen-Z’s response to the Lonely Island, which is to say, “three [more] sad virgins” filming fast-paced, off-ball sketches, often with celebs (Rami Malek, Lizzo, Zoe Kravitz, and others). While it’s hard to pick a favorite, it’s tough to beat “Good Variant,” which tapes “hope” to one hand and “irony” to the other. It’s a true comedy-forty-hands, and we trust it’ll give you a real buzz.