'Saturday Night Live' - Elton John Recap
by Dr. Ryan Vaughan, PhD (no, seriously), posted Apr 3rd 2011 10:30AM
I'll be honest, I was not aware that Elton John was still alive. But since dead people don't host late night television variety shows -- they do go to parties in sunglasses and Hawaiian shirts -- we were treated to a night of music and reverie.
It's always interesting when someone like Sir Elton hosts. He is certainly a musical and pop-cultural icon, but is he funny? If anyone saw his 2001 Grammy performance with Eminem, you know he has the potential to be hilarious. In the end, though, it shouldn't matter who the host is. It's the job of the writers and performers to pinpoint the host's comedic strengths and weaknesses, and to exploit them to the fullest. The best athletes make their teammates better. The best teachers make their students better. The best writers should make Elton John better.
Cold Open: 'The Lawrence Welk Show' is a reference that is so dated, anyone who recognizes it must feel a little bit ashamed. 'Saturday Night Live,' as it should, doesn't shy away from these kinds of sketches out of fear that no one will get it because the reference is so arcane. Rather, they make the joke less reliant on the understanding of the reference, and more about the characters themselves - a more universal humor. Elton John played a "confirmed bachelor" modeled after Liberace, bringing his best cheesy lounge crooner act.
Monologue: Elton John is a performer, above all else, and I suppose standing in front of lots of people by yourself and being asked to entertain them is the same whether you're sitting behind a piano or standing behind a microphone. This isn't always the case, but he was comfortable and funny and British, taking plenty of shots at himself. I was surprised to learn that he had only been on once before, in 1982, and the joke about 'SNL' being the safest of the things he tried once in the '80s had the show off to a great start.
ESPN Classic: It's either a comment on how big Tom Hanks and Carmelo Anthony are as stars, or on how underrated Will Forte was as a cast member, because I don't think the audience even knew he ever left the show. I was giddy to have him back in one of his best roles - the the clueless ESPN commentator, Greg Stink ("He's not always right, but he's never quite wrong.") This sketch was always one I looked forward to, hinging on double entendre and wordplay usually surrounding feminine hygiene products (tonight was KY Jelly), and having Tom Hanks as Steve Stink and Melo in drag took it to another level. Not to mention the writer's field day coming up with possible slogans for KY: "When you're seeing sparks where your penis parks."
The Knights of the Realm: This was the next in the long line of impression fests this season, something that can either be so good or so bad. It all depends on the quality of the impressions as opposed to the skeleton of the sketch they're performing in. This one was flimsy at best, but Tom Hanks's Michael Caine was so good it didn't matter what anyone else did, again, not caring that no one under the age of 40 knows who Michael Caine is. The rest of the sketch was decent - Elton John as himself, Andy Samberg as Bono, Bill Hader as Richard Branson, Taran Killam as Ian McKellan, and Fred Armisen as Ringo Starr - even after EJ botched a punchline, because of how Sting brought an end to the whole ordeal.
SNL Digital Short: Laser Cats is one of those things that you immediately file under "So Bad, It's Good." What makes it even funnier every time I see it - there are five others in the series - is the fact that it's all done on purpose. They're very good at trying to be bad. Tom Hanks was brought in as the pitch man for Lorne Michaels, acting like he hated every second while the sketch airs anyway. So meta.
Weekend Update: Qadaffi (Armisen) came out to wag a not so subtle finger at American foreign policy. The show loves to take these opportunities to raise questions about politics and inject some perspective. Through a veil of dated '90s references, Qadaffi worked around to suggesting that the only reason the United States was involved in Libya was for their oil interests. They even poked at the tragedies in Japan, however lightly.
Barry Lewis is the zookeeper who lost and subsequently found the cobra at The Bronx Zoo. Kenan Thompson was Barry Lewis, who recently came to the realization that "Whatever you do, don't let the poisonous cobra get loose." He proceeded to lose the snake again, in the studio, only to find it and verbally abuse it while pummeling it onto PETA's most wanted list.
Nicholas Cage (Samberg) - Seth Meyers and Jake Gyllenhaal played straight-men to Andy Samberg's Nichols Cage, who was understandably livid over being left out of the new movie, 'Source Code.' Samberg's Cage sneaks up on you, and really made me realize how much of a schlep Cage has become, noting that the two key components to a Cage movie are time travel and screaming.
The Queen and Prince Phillip: We've seen this sketch once already this season, and it's a testament to the concept in general. The Queen (Armisen) and Prince Phillip revert to cockney bastards once Prince William leaves the room, and Elton John was left with the task of dealing with their unsolicited belligerence. It's a good sketch, and I would be remiss if I didn't, once again, compare it to the old Phil Hartman, Reagan sketch where the mild-mannered president plays nice with the public and turns into a tyrant when the cameras are off. It was worth it to hear The Queen say, "You know when I sing "A Candle in the Wind, I light my farts."
The Silver Screen: Dale Eberheart (Killam) and Eric Sandrews (Elton John) gave the writers a chance to come up with some playful, creepy, stereotypical gay banter, and they took the ball(s) and ran with it. Their interplay had just the right amount of saccharin and disregard for personal space to make it funny.
Bruce the Gay Cowboy: I was impressed by Elton John's performance, but this took the cake and ate it all in one sitting. Elton John was Bruce, the wild west cowboy with a flamboyant side. With his trusty unicorn and his turquoise vest and chaps, he spread the news of his alternative lifestyle to the ignorant townspeople, dazzling them with his grizzled sassy ways. Elton John finished the night strong with a perfect cowboy drawl and a quick-witted ad lib when his hat fell off unexpectedly.
Musical Guest: Should quit his day job.
Next week: Host Helen Mirren with Musical Guest Foo Fighters, 11:30PM ET on NBC
Dr. Vaughan teaches English/Media/Humor courses at Binghamton University in upstate New York, and his hip hurts. You can also check out his blog at drvtv.wordpress.com or www.facebook.com/pages/Ryan-Vaughan/21931402981