As usual, Tina Fey puts things in perspective. Not only does she add a new hashtag to the world (“sheetcaking” should be trending pretty soon—and, yup, there it is), her guest appearance on tonight’s Weekend Update: Summer Edition provides context for how best to enjoy these SNL pre-season warmups. Showing up in her rumpled University of Virginia sweatshirt, UVA alum Fey addressed the recent Nazi and white supremacist violence there—and the bullshit false equivalency of one Donald John Trump surrounding it—and delivered a rapid-fire barrage of solid, mean, furiously ass-kicking jokes while jamming oversized mouthfuls of an American flag sheet cake into her still-talking mouth.
It’s a funny bit that has the benefit of being character-driven (coming from an outraged person intimately familiar with the people of Charlottesville), expertly constructed (co-anchor Michael Che plunges his bare hand into the cake in perfect timing to Fey’s fact about the number of armed white supremacist militias in this country), and hilariously gross. (Fey was not kidding around with that cake, nor about the grilled cheese sandwich backup comfort food she started dipping into the frosting halfway through her rant.) As Che and Colin Jost—ruined cake between them—said during tonight’s signoff, “Obviously, this is a tough week to do comedy.” But they did, with Fey’s help, and that of a few other returning SNL alums and good old Kenan Thompson, and, like Fey’s bravura guest shot showed, sometimes a go-for-broke belly-laugh isn’t a bad way to power through.
The episode started off with the traditional Jost and Che one-liner joke-off, which hit consistently. The dynamic this week—you know, the week where Nazis killed and injured people and the president openly made excuses for them—saw Che intermittently acting on the verge of simply throwing up his hands. It worked to underscore the difficult-to-believe awfulness of what’s going on in America, and Che made it work for his jokes beautifully. “Ugh, I don’t wanna do this,” is how he introduced a joke about “old-timey threats making comebacks,” before speculating that, in addition to Confederates and Nazis, we’re due for Vikings and polio to fuck things up next. Che infused the material with a knowing energy that only served to bump it up. And it was pretty solid to begin with. His joke echoing the now depressingly cliché sentiment that “my grandfather didn’t fight Nazis in WWII so that…” snaps hard with his punchline about his grandfather not serving in WWII because “he was in jail for whistling at a white lady.”
Jost, too, went hard at jokes about that whole “the president defends actual Nazis” thing by deadpanning that Trump only doesn’t believe in his abysmal poll numbers because “everywhere he goes, people are always waving to him.” Cue picture of the “very fine people” Trump extolled at the Virginia rally throwing up Nazi salutes. The crowd gasped, Jost stared them down, and he got the laugh. Solid. If there’s a major complaint about the anchor jokes again this week it’s that, with so many horrifying/ridiculous political targets to go after, there’s always time for innocuous gags. They weren’t bad—both Che and Jost have become quite adept at delivering snappy punchlines—but the momentum they’d built up dissipated a bit.
That should have been true when Kenan showed up as his starry-eyed Neil deGrasse Tyson, enthused beyond all scientific propriety at the prospect of next week’s solar eclipse. Kenan’s been on Saturday Night Live since 2003, and has become a slyly joyous performer, his infectious commitment outpacing the fact that he’s not the natural impressionist that last week’s guest, Bill Hader is. Here, his Tyson, making Jost uncomfortable with his elaborately naughty eclipse-worshipping plans (“Naked!,” Tyson repeats with glee to the confused Jost) is a bundle of sunshine, the scientist excitedly taking time off from “pointing out the unrealistic parts of the new Planet Of The Apes movie” to strip down, surround himself with sun-powered things (like, hilariously, “1000 raisins”), and calling out a nerdy “ravage me” to the mother sun.
Funny, too, was a doubles act from former SNL all-stars, Update anchors, and current NBC late-night tag-team hosts Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers. Addressing the reddit-level ahistorical illogic of Trump defending a Robert E. Lee statue by invoking those of fellow slave-owners George Washington (Fallon) and Thomas Jefferson (Meyers) is a fool’s errand, so Update went broad with it. Washington kept deliberately missing Che’s point while pumping up his achievements versus Lee’s (“Him bad, me the founding father—I’m out!”) before trying to deflect attention onto Meyers’ Jefferson, who indignantly burst out to huge applause. The conceit of the two bro-ing out (“You gonna throw me under the carriage like that?”) yet made room for some hearty slaps at Trump’s Confederate-cuddling bullshit. “We prefer generals who win wars,” tossed Trump’s infamous attack on Senator John McCain’s torture as a POW back in Trump’s face, while the summation that neither founding father cares about statues of themselves because “Our legacy is the country that we risked our lives to create” follows through satisfyingly. (And Fallon managed to keep from giggling at how adorable he is, which is something to be thankful for.)
But it was Fey who nailed the episode shut, with the former Update anchor and SNL head writer coming hard after Trump’s comments, the planned white supremacist rallies planned for this weekend (the term “chinless turds” should also find a home on Twitter), “yard sale Barbie” and Nazi apologist Ann Coulter, and Paul Ryan’s spineless response to Trump’s bigotry (“It’s ‘Racism is bad’ @realDonaldTrump, you pussy!”). All while, as mentioned, shoveling therapeutic cake down her gullet. It’s a fine, cathartic bit, full of laughs both broad and subtle (urging people to boycott those hate-rallies, Fey tells people to treat them like “the opening of a thoughtful movie with two female leads”), and one that gives this second extended Weekend Update a much more satisfying flavor.
- Che on the administration’s response to the opioid epidemic: “It combines all the destruction of crack with the horrors of it happening to white people.”
- Kenan’s asides while Jost is debating his eclipse plan include the expertly underplayed “I’m smarter than you.”
- Fey, referring to her scar, explains to Che that she always enters on Jost’s side of the set because that’s her good side, adding, “This week, I think it’s important to be clear about that.”
- Fey, on her love for her alma mater: “I graduated a virgin and I still liked it. That’s how good the architecture is.”
- “And who drove the car into that crowd? Hillary’s emails?”
- “As Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘Who’s that light-skinned girl over by the butter churn?”