One of the premier myths within pop culture is the idea of cancel culture. The term refers to the “practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures…after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive,” according to Dictionary.com, but if cancel culture was real, we wouldn’t be sitting through Bill Burr hosting the second episode of this season of SNL. Whether it’s with his show F is for Family or his standup, Burr is an annoying, loud contrarian that often punches downward. So, of course, his monologue included some screaming about cancel culture.
Burr took the stage and jumped into jokes about COVID-19. “If you’re that dumb, and you want to kill your own family members, by all means [don’t wear a mask],” said Burr, with his forceful dude-bro energy and smug grin. It was a solid way to start, but his opening quickly got derailed. After worrying that he’ll get canceled for joking about Rick Moranis getting punched in the face, Burr aimed his jokes towards LGBTQ+ Pride Month celebrations, saying that a month is too long of a celebration for a group of people who were never enslaved. The best part of the monologue was a succession of jokes about white women, most of which landed. The amount of astute observations about white women centering themselves in movements against oppression almost made up for his edgy zingers, even if the hot takes were garbage.
The topic of cancel culture didn’t end there. A sketch about an Italian mobster coming home from jail and not being politically correct was one of the most easily cut-able sketches of the evening. Burr starred as Don Pauly, the returning gangster, and dropped lines about “frickin’ Mexicans controlling the neighborhood,” while his fellow mobsters corrected his un-PC behavior. Even with the groan worthy topic, the sketch doesn’t even seem to enjoy itself. Pete Davidson, Kyle Mooney, and Beck Bennet attempted to have fun with their characters, but the occasionally solid line here fizzled and died.
Davidson’s best appearance of the night came on Weekend Update, where Update host Colin Jost asked Davidson about J.K Rowling’s transphobic comments over the summer. Davidson used his time to crack jokes about covering up tattoos and Winnie the Pooh possibly having sex with Piglet. In terms of where this topic could have gone, he handled it with skill and humor. The best part was when Davidson broke character for a second to note, with a huge grin, that saying he looked like Dobby from Harry Potter “wasn’t very nice.” In fact, Weekend Update had a genuinely somewhat absurd energy last night. Kate McKinnon’s featured appearance as Dr. Wayne Weknowdis devolved into McKinnon cracking up, before Jost asked her “Kate…Kate, are you okay?” in one of the funniest moments of the night.
That weird energy was brought to the political Cold Open, which started with a standard SNL lampoon of the VP debate. Maya Rudolph did her exhausting Kamala Harris schtick decently, while Beck Bennet mumbled about being Mike Pence. While the start of the open featured Rudolph repeating Harris’ best debate lines (“Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking”) without much of a joke in sight, the sketch took a turn for the weird when they inevitably had to mention the fly that landed on Pence’s head. Jim Carrey made a brief appearance as Joe Biden sitting at home watching, before deciding that he had to do something about Pence’s interruptions. He took an AMTRAK teleportation device to the debate, but there was a fly stuck in the teleporter, and before we knew it, Biden was the fly on Pence’s head. Using footage from David Cronenberg’s The Fly, it made for an odd and kind of fun set piece where Carrey is going full Jeff Goldblum. To wrap it up, Keenan Thompson appeared on Pence’s head as Herman Cain, reincarnated as a fly. It didn’t really work, but it’s slightly more interesting than your average SNL political lampoon.
Stepping in as a short notice replacement for country star Morgan Wallen, Jack White let loose a thrilling performance of White Stripes classic “Ball and Biscuit” and solo cut “Lazzaretto.” The former, which was preceded by a snippet of the White/Beyoncé collaboration “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” was healthily explosive and filled with excellent guitar work from White. With a great performance from drummer Daru Jones and bassist Dominic Davis, “Lazzaretto” was the highlight. White dropped in a bit of an Eddie Van Halen solo towards the end as a tribute to the recently deceased Van Halen guitarist, while still keeping the structure of one of his best solo songs. It was the highlight of the evening.
In the end, this felt like a steady Saturday Night Live episode with standard average sketches and forced political bits, but a lack of good jokes. Even the “best” sketch, an ad for Sam Adams pumpkin beer, felt recycled from one of SNL’s best, the Casey Affleck Dunkin’ Donuts ad. Plus, Affleck nails the Bostonian feel way more than Bill Burr ever could. There’s nothing new or interesting happening here, but this episode was fine as background noise.
I’m less than hopeful about next week, considering the host/musical guest duo of Issa Rae and musical guest Justin Bieber feeling unexciting at best. We’ll have to see, but hopefully it’s better than this week’s mediocrity.
Find me on Twitter at @selfseriousness.
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