November 2nd, 1996. That’s the last time Chris Rock hosted Saturday Night Live. That’s 18 years to the day. I don’t remember that show because I was just two weeks shy of turning 7. Why has it taken this former cast member so long to come back? Was he too busy hanging out with Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler? Who knows. What matters is that he’s here again and I’m looking forward to it. Rock’s done some pretty terrible movies but his stand up work is great. It’s been too long since we’ve seen vintage, raunchy Rock and it’d be awesome if he brought some of that back.
With him is Prince, and for his third appearance he’s pledging to give us a funk-filled 8 minute jam session midway through the broadcast. This is probably one of the most Prince things to ever happen and I expect it to be the definition of groovy.
Chris Rock opened up his night in one of the most controversial ways imaginable: making jokes about 9/11 and the Boston Marathon. Justifiably so, a lot of the Internet was pissed off. The subject matter is obviously not funny and to many the gall someone has to make jokes about them is beyond appalling. But the truth is, this was Rock at his best. He made his name through off-color and offensive humor, and his ability to fight through even when the crowd was very tepid is proof of how this is his thing. Rock isn’t afraid to hit the controversial topics and both miss terribly (9/11 sponsored by Target with 9/11 deals) and hit home runs (the real “terrorist attack” is how the Boston Marathon is 26 miles). Humor is unbelievably subjective and I don’t fault people for turning off their TV’s during this, but I was definitely on board for Rock bringing back vintage Rock. It was a confidence he almost immediately lost.
I couldn’t decide which of them to put on here, so I’ll just combine both: The Swiftamine and Bank Robbery skits were amazing. One was about how realizing you like Taylor Swift makes you dizzy and the other revolved around kind bank robbers helping their “victims” with free movies and surprise birthday parties. Both were the right combination of weird and clever to make two truly memorable segments. It obviously wasn’t a mistake that Bennett was the lead in both of them. He really does his best when the skit is pre-recorded. You should definitely check these two skits out online if you missed them.
Prince, man. He freaking brought it. Only he can get an unprecedented extended single performance and absolutely tear it up. It was funky, it was rocking, and it was awesome. My only complaint is that we couldn’t get more of this. There was definitely a skit that should have been left on the cutting room floor (more on that later) and replaced with another Prince funk session.
It’s not often that SNL gets a skit that’s so weak in concept it’s a mystery as to how it even got on the show, but that’s what we got last night with the GoProbe, a GoPro for Colonoscopies. Now I’ve laughed at my fair share of butt jokes. I’d be lying if I said that my humor wasn’t amateurish at times. Who’s isn’t, really. But when the lynchpin of your joke is a camera being shoved up your butt, clearly more work needs to be done. Can you imagine being a fly on the wall when this came up in a brainstorming session. “Hey, what if we did a skit about butt cameras?” “GENIUS!” Yeah, not so much.
The Weekend Update clearly needs some work. Pete Davidson came on as their Resident Young Person, a recurring character who I love every time, and Jay Pharoah and Kenan Thompson came in with spot-on Katt Williams and Suge Knight impersonations, but both Colin Jost and Michael Che tanked. Actually, it was more Che. Che flubbed a few lines and looked like he didn’t get a chance to properly prepare. Jost however was almost a complete no show. He only got a handful of jokes and didn’t interview a single guest. When the Update closed out and Che delivered the classic, “For Weekend Update I’m…”, Jost actually moved his body to get into the shot in a, “I’m here too!” kind of move. And the truth is, I didn’t even miss Jost that much.
The absolute worst bit of the night though was at the very end, and this is the one that should have been taken out for another Prince session. I’ll just call it Arguing Couple because it literally had no structure. Leslie Jones and Rock spent the entire time arguing about whatever. That’s it. No structure to base it on or any inherent goal. It was just…there. It’s clear that Jones even missed a line too because there was a solid 5 or so seconds of silence, which felt like a lifetime. And what’s with all the Uber jokes throughout the broadcast? Did they pay for product mentions? Perhaps that’s why this was here. To mentioned Uber a lot.
This could be because Rock was leading the show, but last night’s episode pushed the envelope a lot and the crowd was clearly not into it. The monologue really set the tone with its jokes about 9/11 and the Boston Marathon. Last night touched upon a lot of iffy subjects with varying levels of success. The How’s He Doing segment used the love African-American’s have for President Obama to make a few jokes about race and ISIS came onto Shark Tank to talk about getting funding. I thought How’s He Doing was great, and it really showed how the SNL has diversified itself recently, but the skit about Shark Tank failed its delivery too much to be a stand out. It’s clear the writers want to make fun of ISIS and still have to find out how.
Ultimately the night wasn’t that special. Rock’s performances in the skits were ultimately subpar. He looked rigid and pretty uncomfortable. Compared to Jim Carrey, a man who freely throws himself into whatever to great effect, Rock was definitely lacking. Most of the night felt lacking too. Any highlights were surrounded by plenty of missed jokes, dulling their impact. Perhaps if the writers weren’t so focused on being edgy during the night, they could have paid more attention to the humor. Hopefully next week’s break will give the show enough time to craft a truly awesome episode when Woody Harrelson hosts with Kendrick Lamar on the 15th.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.