When your sketch show beats out SNL for Outstanding Variety Sketch series at the Emmys, you’re probably going to do okay at hosting SNL. That’s just science. The only thing that might’ve prevented Amy Schumer’s success on the show is if her particular set of skills somehow didn’t translate to live TV. But, 1. That’s madness, and 2. The great lesson of 2015 seems to be that absolutely nothing can prevent Amy Schumer’s success.
Increasingly backlash-proof, Schumer has had the kind of year that would seem outlandish were it the arc of a comedian character’s journey in a Star Is Born-type movie. What naïve filmgoer would buy that this person who, just four years ago, could claim a Last Comic Standing appearance as her biggest credential, would write and star in a huge hit movie, become a feminist icon, go viral nearly every week throughout her TV show’s stellar third season, win an Emmy, land an $8M book deal, write a screenplay with new best pal Jennifer Lawrence, and release a prestigious HBO special the day after the release of a Netflix special by her comedian ex-boyfriend, whose biggest credential lately is hosting Last Comic Standing. If that all happened in a movie over the span of an Indian summer, the screenwriter would be blasted for “laying it on a little thick.” What would such a character do for a victory lap: win two Oscars while getting elected King of Outer Space and recording an album with God? For the real-life Schumer, the encore is hosting SNL for what is shaping up to be the first time of many. She seemed as psyched about getting to do it, as she was funny and a total pro at executing. Actually, that could be a description of just about everything she does these days.
On her own show, the one where her name is 2/3 of the title, the onus is on Schumer to deliver a tight half-hour that’s also often issue-oriented. Last night on SNL, we got a glimpse at the alt-universe sketch show where Schumer just does whatever. There were zany premises and kooky characters that probably wouldn’t fly on her Comedy Central series, and when anything didn’t work, a committee shared the blame. Seeing her in this light helps contextualize Inside Amy Schumer and get people hyped for season 4 in 2016.
Fox & Friends: Speaker of the House Cold Open
Last week, Kevin McCarthy withdrew from contention for the Speaker of the House post vacated by John Boehner. My guess is that some SNL writers would’ve felt remiss in not commenting on the big political news story of the week at all, but didn’t know quite how to frame it. Kate McKinnon went hard, as always, in her portrayal of Planned Parenthood-defending DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (“I will smack you upside the head with a transvaginal wand,”) but overall more effort seemed to have been put into the writing of the fake corrections for Fox & Friends than the rest of the sketch.
Amy Schumer Monologue
“Please just let her do stand-up, please just let her do stand-up” was the incantation I was chanting as Schumer strode out to the stage. I like to think that this bit of sorcery had a little to do with the fact that our host’s monologue ended up being eight minutes of pure stand-up with the vague theme of role models for women in Hollywood, spanning from the Kardashians to Hillary Clinton, with an interlude on how the hotness of Bradley Cooper leads to involuntary ankle-grabbing, but that’s just me making it about me.
Here’s where it’s finally revealed what kind of night it is going to be on SNL: an insane one. What starts off as a soft parody of all those quirky, viral-intentioned safety speeches on airlines of late quickly goes right off the rails in the best way. Vanessa Bayer and a ginger Schumer are in the middle of a Spice Girls-style announcement song when Bayer accidentally opens the exit door and gets sucked out of the airplane mid-flight. She comes back changed by her experience out there, and then things get even weirder. Not only is this sketch an apt pacesetter for what’s to come, it’s also marks a welcome return for Bayer and Schumer as a duo, after appearing together in Trainwreck.
Aidy Bryant represents the reality that keeps intruding on what’s clearly a high school-themed porno movie in progress. This premise allows SNL to mimic the minimalism of these kinds of, uh, films with committed reverence while also calling out their absurdity. (My favorite detail is the chalkboard that simply says “Big Test Tomorrow.”) Schumer shines most here when her ridiculous porn caricature, with dumbed-down dialogue and vampy affectations, has to answer to Bryant while staying in her idiom.
Last Friday, there were three college campus shootings on a single day. It’s the latest example of a terrifying problem America is becoming ever more numb to in the years since Sandy Hook. The urgent need for gun control is often on people’s minds, but it’s difficult to deal with in a funny way. (The Onion managed in spring 2014 with “‘No Way To Prevent This’, Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.”) SNL deftly takes up the challenge, though, with this digital short in which guns are depicted as the staple of American life that their staunchest defenders make them out to be. In this nightmarish exaggeration, guns are what you bring to a date or the delivery room or any other special moment. Rather than make an impassioned plea to remove guns from everyday life like the cancer they are, the shows how ridiculous, unnecessary, and abundant they really are. Good on them! Shame on us.
This is the rare episode (recently, at least) in which Michael Che and Colin Jost prove far funnier than the characters they bring on to do desk pieces. Aside from just the fact that they go long on gun control, the duo again milk their racial dynamic for all its worth, with a funny bit of post-modern back-and-forth once the camera cuts to Jost immediately after Che makes a joke involving slaves. Elsewhere, Jay Pharoah doesn’t make much of an impression as Solomon, SNL’s Travel Correspondent who did not go to Venice, and Kate McKinnon does marginally better in one of her weaker characters, Jost’s upstairs neighbor, Mrs. Santini, who reads letters to other tenants while wearing a tragic floral vest. The capper on this Weekend Update, however, had to be “The Weeknd Update,” a very brief bit that awesomely incorporated this week’s musical guest.
The spotlight is on Schumer again in this fabulously high concept sketch that plays to her prodigious strengths. Filling in for the actor who normally plays Mary Todd Lincoln at Ford’s Theater, Schumer’s character goes rogue during the assassination reenactment, making herself both a cartoonish hero and the object of John Wilkes Booth’s lust. There is zero heightening here—it’s just slight variations on the same joke three times in a row—yet the repetition works somehow. Schumer seems to really know this kind of character, the actor gassed on improv confidence following a star turn on “the BK set.”
Hands-Free Selfie Stick
Although the “Guns” sketch is the digital bit everyone will be talking about from this episode, let us not forget this short, sweet ode to the inanity of selfie sticks—a device so self-involved and silly, it might as well go right up its users’ buttholes.
City Council Meeting
Like the Fox & Friends cold open, this sketch seems a bit under-cooked and cobbled together. The setting is just an excuse for a parade of weirdos to glide through a courtroom, stating their weird cases. Kyle Mooney nails the accent and oblivious poser attitude of a Holland-based rapper in his brief appearance, and it’s nice to see that even at this late date, Kenan Thompson can still make an inventive new character just as a throwaway, but once again, the sketch belongs to Schumer. Continuing of what turns out to be a gun control theme of the night, Schumer fully commits as a Southern, bible-thumping Honey Boo Boo type who wants to bring her firearm to school. She gets as little screen time as everybody else in the sketch, but that haunting voice and the sight gag of her living-doll look are what’s most memorable about the sketch.
The night comes to a sufficiently weird close with this sketch that takes place at Vanessa Bayer’s baby shower. Everybody has that one inappropriate friend, and here that friend has brought along a wildly inappropriate acquaintance to an intimate event. That friend, of course, is Amy Schumer’s bartender, who aggressively sticks up for Cecily Strong when she thinks her purse has been stolen. Strong didn’t have much to do in this episode, but she gets at least one big stand-out moment here as she recites, mid-crying jag, the hilariously quotidian contents of that purse. Considering the usual subject matter of Inside Amy Schumer, it’s fitting that this rock-solid episode ends on such a strongly female-oriented bit that makes no concession for whether male viewers can relate.