Hey, comedy fan: watch the video above. It’s comedy, and it’s good. And somehow it’s from Saturday Night Live.
I’m not going to go deep on SNL’s failures again. Just go read my colleague Seth Simons’s review of last night’s episode, or, really, any review from Paste this season, to see how and why the venerable sketch comedy show is so lacking. Let’s just say that there are a lot of problems and many (perhaps all) can be attributed to the well-past-retirement-age legend that still runs the show.
Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett’s formally experimental strand of postmodern comedy might not wow the viral-mad sites that embed every Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump sketch every Sunday morning, but in their years on the show they’ve both proven that they can juggle the accessible material the show is built on with their own smart brand of absurdity. “The Race” is the latest example of how skilled these two (and their writing and directing partners) are. Its parody of film tropes might seem tightly focused on the ‘80s and ‘90s, but training montages and milquetoast film heroes standing up to bullies aren’t concepts exclusive to those two decades. There’s a universality to this subject matter that should resonate with anybody who’s watched enough movies. On top of that is the universality of the scene’s surrealism—you don’t need to recognize any metacommentary to understand why Saoirse Ronan’s motivational love interest being revealed as a ghost is funny. You don’t have to recognize Mac from Mac & Me to laugh at a deformed alien puppet appearing for just a line or two.
SNL tends to distance itself from this kind of comedy. Sure, it’ll air Bennett and Mooney’s absurdist flights of fancy, but usually in the final slot on the show, right before 1 AM. In a way that disrespects both the material and the show’s audience—anybody tuning in to a comedy show should be able to enjoy and laugh with something like “The Race,” or their intentionally incompetent parodies of old sitcoms, or the recurring videos about Mooney’s love affair with Leslie Jones, or whatever bits of inspired weirdness the two might cook up. They have been the most consistently talented and successful members of SNL’s cast since they first signed up in 2013, and if SNL wants to remain relevant within the comedy world—and with its own audience—the whole show needs to start looking more like their work, and less like a 72-year-old man’s idea of political satire.
After all, if institutions don’t risk change every so often, they’ll eventually collapse. Saturday Night Live isn’t close to dying any time soon, but it’s currently muddling through another one of its regular fallow periods. A change in direction and leadership is what this show needs, and Mooney and Bennett are better suited for that task than anybody else.
And if they don’t want the job, just give it to SNL writer Julio Torres.