On Saturday, Steve Martin stopped saying "hamburger" in a Pepe Le Pew accent for a solid 90 minutes and hosted Saturday Night Live. It was a landmark occasion: the fifteenth episode of SNL hosted by Steve Martin, and also a very special 100% laugh-free episode.
Even in the most interminable of SNL episodes, there's usually at least one sketch or Weekend Update joke that does what the show as a whole is supposed to do: Be funny. This weekend's show, however, had absolutely nothing except the tinny echo of uncomfortable silence. Watching it was like sinking in quicksand that couldn't even be bothered to smother you in a timely fashion. A MacGruber sketch that turned out to be a Pepsi commercial and an ancient, go-to Angelina Jolie joke were the only things that even tried to graze the funny bar, before falling to the ground and flopping like dying fish along with the rest of the show.
Then Steve Martin played a song from his new banjo album that no one could stop him from playing because he's Steve Martin.
The natural progression of thought when confronted with something like "Late for School" is:
1. "What the hell is this?"
2. "Is this a joke?"
3. "This is not a joke. Maybe Steve Martin wrote a kids album of banjo songs?"
4. "But why didn't he say it was a kids album?"
Well, as it turns out, it's not a kids album. It's an album for SNL stagehands who don't want to lose their jobs. From the NY Times:
On the main stage of NBC’s Studio 8H in Manhattan, wielding a Gibson Florentine from the 1920s and accompanied by a quintet of bluegrass musicians, Mr. Martin was plucking, strumming and, yes, singing his way through an original song called “Late for School,” about a young delinquent racing to beat the tardy bell. The hoedown brought the room to a halt, and when it was over even the surliest stagehands couldn’t help but stand and applaud.
I believe that hearing Steve Martin shout-sing lines like, "I'll be in the English grammar slammer" or "Waved to Sal, he's Filipino" brought the whole room to a halt, but I doubt anyone was applauding out of genuine enjoyment. I'm sure that as the song winded down, the surly stagehands were left, shocked and slackjawed, watching the stage, and so rather than risk making things more awkward, they slowly, carefully, and with absolutely no feeling except worry, began to clap.