It’s (Steve) Martin and Martin (Short), Bringing Some Holiday Cheer and Chummy Laughs to SNL

Comedy Reviews Saturday Night Live
It’s (Steve) Martin and Martin (Short), Bringing Some Holiday Cheer and Chummy Laughs to SNL

And Your Host…

Or, hosts. As in two of Saturday Night Live’s most beloved performers teaming up for a pre-Christmas episode Christmas episode full of good cheer, song, and schtick. So, so much schtick. I’m not complaining—if you’re going to have two venerable comedy legends take their chummy doubles act to the SNL stage, you really can’t do wrong with Steve Martin and Martin Short. Taking the stage to expected extended applause for their shared monologue, co-hosts Martin (16 times) and Short (4 times, but who’s counting?) continued their long-standing comedy partnership, reading out each others’ preemptive eulogies and doing the sort of elbow-in-the-ribs joshing that might seem old hat if not for their shared history of groundbreaking comedy.

And that’s fine. The two can still get weird when they want to, and their show biz trouper’s one-upmanship is designed to evoke goodwill from fans who’ve come all this way with them. “I hope we can do this forever,” Martin tells his friend, and while it’s tempting to think that they have indeed been doing this sort of cranked-back soft shoe forever, there’s enough left of the knowing, put-on vibe still resonating through gags that wouldn’t feel that out of place at a Dean Martin roast. Short, imagining looking into Martin’s open casket, says it recalls that classic Saturday Night Live sketch, “Dick in a Box.” Ba-dum-bum. Martin, returning the favor, bemoans the fact that while Short died too soon, it wasn’t soon enough to stop him making The Santa Clause 3. Rim shot. Martin’s gag about Short’s last words (“Tesla autopilot, engage”) was more like it, and his reminiscence about a photo of him, Belushi, Aykroyd, and Mick Jagger all hanging out backstage (“Right after this was taken, we tested positive for everything”) had more of a jolt to it. But, hell, I’m just being picky. Steve Martin and Martin Short co-hosting Saturday Night Live is the sort of feel-good experience they’ve earned, and we need. I had fun.

The Best And The Rest

The Best: With the Please Don’t Destroy guys back in their little writer’s room where they belong, I have to give it up for this week’s short film, an energetically silly take on the old “Oh, I didn’t see you there” gag. After John asks the guys if they remember his old girlfriend, Ben and Martin unwisely launch into a litany of the women’s many, many faults, only for John to reveal that they’ve just gotten back together. So far the set up. But the sketch becomes a series of expertly edited reveals wherein every single person Ben and Martin mention in their sweaty attempts to dig out from under their blunder suddenly appears in the office, including John’s ex, another ex the two guys hastily pretend they were calling “a sloppy pile of sewer runoff,” the first ex’s entire family on a Zoom call, a disappointed Steve Martin and Michael Che, and a stenographer all too ready to read back all their insults verbatim. Oh, and Ben, appearing on the couch along with everyone else once Martin throws him under the bus. The PDD guys are crafting an identity as the bottom-rung SNL writers whose daily routine is punctuated by escalating absurdity, and this might be their tightest piece yet. Extra points for Steve Martin’s invitation (to everyone except Martin) to his place (“You can all take one thing home with you”), and for the stinger where Sarah Sherman’s actual father (playing the irate father of the ex played by Sherman) making good on his threat to beat Martin with an extendable baton.

The Worst: In his one sketch without Martin tonight, Short donned some Chuck Woolery-esque 90’s duds to play Mink Carmichael, talk show relationship expert and guy possessed of a truly alarming penis, according to Cecily Strong’s audience member and former date. Now, I love Martin Short. I truly think he’s a remarkable and unique performer and I’ve loved him ever since the SCTV days. Martin Short is also an indefatigable trouper, something that can quickly turn exhausting if not reined in by a solid premise or, you know, maybe some direction. Here, Short got to yell (“Slam it!” is his call for Heidi Gardner’s wine-swilling DJ, Jen Fonger-Bhang, to play his theme music), do a funny dance, and basically ham it up like no one else can. The jokes about 90’s fashion (so, so many flat planes of solid colors) and retrograde maleness aren’t especially sharp, and the turn that the joke is really at the expense of Short’s host and his gradually revealed weird wiener (I may choose not to think too much about Strong’s question, “Do you want me to close it?”) at least gives Cecily a funny character to play with. But here’s the thing—an all Martin Short sketch comedy show would look a lot like this. Loud, brassy, hammy, and frequently a little self-indulgent.

The Rest: Things got Christmassy real fast tonight, with much of the cast joining in for the timely 2022 carol, “Blocking It Out for Christmas.” It’s nice to see this cast get to work together as themselves, an exercise in ensemble building that’s long overdue. And the joke, that December is the time to just say ‘screw it’ and blot out all thought and worry until we sober up in January, is an energizing premise that allows Cecily, Kenan, Bowen, Ego, and Sherman to show off their pipes as they smile through the pain of having to see your extended family for the holidays (including Sherman’s uncle who hugs way too long and Bowen’s grandmother who whispers “You’re living in sin”), and wondering why Hitler’s a thing again and, as Kenan notes, all his new fans seem to be Black. SCOTUS, POTUS, White Lotus—it’s all just too much, and if the only thing to look forward to is all of this repressed terror and stress literally exploding come January, well, at least everyone will have memories of watching TikTok on the toilet until their ass falls in. The political cold open will probably come back next week, but, for now, let’s all just enjoy SNL cast members getting to hold the stage. Honestly, the topical references they drop here are just about as funny as any from a more traditional cold open—and these ones come in song form!

Same goes for “The Holiday Train,” which doesn’t quite pay off as big as it should, but which again gives Cecily, Kenan, Martin and Short a chance to croon out a silly-sweet ditty, this time about the latter trio’s obsession with seeing snow for the first time. The gradual reveal (from James Austin Johnson’s impeccably crisp conductor) that Short, Martin, and Strong are actually bears who’ve made a wish to be human for one night is hinted at throughout the song, but the sketch is restrained enough that their quick change into bear suits lands with a nice loopy chuckle. The Mad Men-era train set and wardrobe perfectly suits Cecily’s smiling musical assertion that she just can’t wait to wash her hands, hair, and ass with snow. She just has the right vibe to sing a line like that, what can I say.

Man, they’re gonna run out of Christmas material before next week’s actual holiday episode. Anyway, I love a good old subversively gross Christmas sketch, so the Christmas Carol pre-tape, with Short’s Scrooge accidentally maiming everyone in town with his post-visitation largesse, scratched that particular itch. Martin Short hamming it up as Ebenezer Scrooge is about as happy as a Martin Short can get, and, after a long, nearly word-for-word preamble, the gag that Scrooge’s on-high coin tosses to then urchins below result in blindings, beheadings, and Tiny Tim being knocked into a manhole pays off again and again in sprays of red-on-white carnage. Shock value gross-out comedy is something every holiday episode needs to cut through the treacle, and Martin’s visiting Ghost of Christmas Present’s horrified advice (“lawyer up”) and Scrooge’s repeated, disastrous attempt to fix things with showers of more and more hard, shiny coins all combine into one cataclysmic travesty of generosity gone gorily wrong. (While I think the payoff is actually kind of clever, the product integration of a certain mega-corporation’s coin-free internet payment service will get no more mentions from me.)

And then more Christmas, as mall Santa Martin and his irascible elf Sprinkles/Pringles (Short) go for belly laughs again, via Short’s constant, pointy-shoed yelling. It’s not bad—Short’s frazzled elf switches off from simply yelling at present-wishing kids (“Then get a job!”) and protectively scolding everyone for putting so much on his boss’ plate. (“He cannot operate on this level!,” Sprinkles shouts after one elaborate list of demands.) That Santa and Sprinkles eventually settle on speed as the key to making and delivering everything from razor scooters to Taylor Swift tickets is abrupt, although Bowen Yang gets the biggest laugh by simply underplaying his feigned ignorance of what these jolly old dope fiends are hinting at.

Weekend Update update

Crisp and clever, Jost and Che’s topical stuff tonight scratched my itch for the two to actually apply their considerable talents to digging a little deeper than simply making themselves look too cool to care. Update jokes don’t have to be screeds, but they need a flick of the knife, and both got in some fairly deep cuts. Che went after Herschel Walker twice, tackling the failed and incompetent Republican’s abortion/ family values hypocrisy with assassin’s ease. (“I don’t think this is the last you’ll hear from Herschel Walker—you know, unless he’s your biological father.”) Jost ably mocked the latest example of nominally Democratic senator Kyrsten Sinema’s contrarian fuckery, explaining Sinema’s rationale for switching her party affiliation to Independent as, “Pay attention to me!”

Update jokes about politics and current events don’t have to be a Ted talk. Picking out some salient events and finding an original way to take them on is surprisingly potent every time. SCOTUS justice Samuel Alito, in apparently preparing to once again gut anti-discrimination laws against the LGBTQ community, makes a spurious, trolling analogy to a Black Santa confronted by kids dressed in Klan outfits? Jost: “He’d like an answer before he takes his grandkids to the mall next week.” Solid slam, taking in Alito’s conservatism, the current SCOTUS’ fundamentalist activism, and an actual case exposing both. Boom. Nike drops Kyrie Irving over the NBA star’s ongoing anti-semitism? Che: “Kyrie says he’s so depressed, he might just jump off the edge of the world.” Another multilayered winner, keeping Irving’s bullshit in the public eye while reminding everyone that Kyrie Irving, in addition to his anti-Jewish conspiracy nonsense, also thinks the world is flat. Economical and effective. And, finally addressing that whole “twice-impeached former president calling for the Constitution to be ‘terminated’” thing from a few weeks ago, Che’s joke doubling down on Herschel Walker’s fondness for abetting terminations functions as a two-fer. Outstanding. See, This is all I wanted.

The correspondent pieces were both solid, with Chloe Fineman getting a suitable showcase for her impressionist skills as part of a couple whose new relationship book involves her 20-year-married wife employing celebrity mimicry to spice things up in the bedroom. Fineman trotted out her Drew Barrymore, Meryl Streep, and that Russian woman from Inventing Anna, all while hubby Mikey Day ratchets up the heat with appropriate references. (“Ruin my credit score!,” begs Day of the dominatrix that is his wife’s version of fraudster Anna Delvey.) Everyone involved just seems to be having fun (something Mikey Day needs a lot more of), with the pivot to the time-honored Update sport of Jost-bashing kicking in once Fineman switches into her ScarJo impression. (“I’m married to Colin but I need a real man,” Fineman’s Johansson pants, with Jost calling for the hook.) Also, I’m assuming that the joke is that Day’s husband is bad at impressions and not that Mikey Day is bad at impressions.

Ego Nwodim got a nice spotlight turn as the most harried and wily Christmas shopper in town, Ego delivering the sort of fleshed-out character piece she’s done so well in places like Comedy Bang! Bang! Confessing proudly that she’s the one responsible for the holiday shambles that is every Ross Dress for Less, and touting her tours in “Nordstrom Iraq,” Ego’s veteran bargain hunter hints at her character’s darker side, explaining that an ostentatiously displayed fake neck brace and some attitude is all it takes to make the manager of a JC Penney start catering to your every shouted whim. (I don’t know the origin of “JC Penney’s got nuggets!,” but I can only pray it stems from some sort of truth.) With the holiday shopping season barreling straight at us once more, Nwodim’s beleaguered, “I know too much. I’ve seen too much” makes a whole lot of sense, somehow.

“We are… two wild and crazy guys!”—Recurring Sketch Report

Well, the streak had to end sometime. The first recurring sketch in a good while was “Science Room,” a premise and set dusted off whenever nobody has a better idea in the room, seemingly. It’s not a bad sketch—Mikey Day and Cecily Strong’s peerlessly dim child participants in the titular science show for kids are consistently finding new ways to make guileless ignorance funny. (It’s really one of Day’s best characters.) The trouble comes in finding new ways to have the hosts’ (playing hosts) increasing bewilderment-turned-anger build in original ways, something that the sketch generally doesn’t do as well. Here, Martin and Short’s hosts follow the template, their initial confusion at being saddled with perhaps the dumbest kids in class mounting into fury until an enraged Short attempts to throttle the classroom skeleton, and finally Day. The kids get most of the big laughs this time, though. I especially liked Day’s Christmas wish (“To find out what happened to my brother”), and Strong’s braces-sporting girl once more revealing way too much about her home life. (“Your sister however is very very right,” Short says in an aside, referencing Strong’s sister’s assessment of size not mattering.) There aren’t that many great recurring sketches coming out of the current cast, and I suppose this is near the top of the heap, for what it’s worth. Still, I was more entertained by Martin’s Alka-Seltzer snowstorm experiment. That was cool.

“And remember: It’s not what you know, but what you think you know.”—Political Comedy Report

With no politics cold open, James Austin Johnson was left to play an old-timey train conductor. It wasn’t a big role, but I maintain that JAJ has the potential to be this cast’s all-purpose Phil Hartman or Darrell Hammond type. Plus, you always need someone to play an old-timey conductor.

Not Ready For Prime Time Power Rankings

This is a tough one, what with Martin and Short sucking up so much oxygen tonight. But Cecily got to anchor two whole musical numbers, plus have fun making fun of a jerk’s malformed ding-dong, so that’s enough to put her on top. Still, Fineman had the perfect showcase for her skills on Update, and Sarah Sherman was all over the place tonight, too. Kenan was Kenan—he’s gonna get his.

Tough night for the new kids. Devon Walker delivered food. Michael Longfellow was not in evidence, although he did have a funny bit in a promo spot with his comic idols earlier in the week. And Marcello Hernandez and Molly Kearney did get bloodily dispatched by Ebenezer Scrooge, so that’s something.

I’m encouraged that the ball has been passed pretty evenly all season. Last year’s ridiculously overstuffed cast starved out everyone but the biggest stars (and whichever of Lorne’s celebrity pals felt like stealing a role or two), leaving the show feeling fractured and underpopulated, even with 21 people to work with. There’s still a need for this cast to start claiming the territory as their own, but I like the team spirit anyway.

“What The Hell Is That Thing?”—10-To-One Report

Here’s where I should get cranky about Martin and Short wheeling out a Father of the Bride sketch in the ten-to-on spot, but I just can’t muster the critical curmudgeonliness to do it. The joke that the post-menopausal bride is now on her eighth engagement and that Martin’s George Banks has gone broke putting together seven previous “Nancy Meyers-style weddings” isn’t a bad place to start, but it’s the voice-overs that did it for me. When Short’s flamboyant wedding planner, Franck (pronounced, as ever “Fronk”) swans in to gabble unintelligibly, the announcer notes he’s “doing an accent that I think is still okay—let’s say it’s okay.” And the joke that the little-used young son in both films was played by Kieran Culkin is slammed home when the grown and very real Kieran Culkin comes in to say his few lines, with the narrator exclaiming, “Did you forget Kieran Culkin was in this movie? So did we. And so did he. But now he’s on Succession, so good for him.” Doing a spoof of a couple of the hosts’ movies from 30 years ago sounds like a groaner of a conceit for the sacred (to me) last spot of the night, but this one skates by with just enough clever weirdness.

Parting Shots

I suppose evoking Chevy Chase’s name isn’t anything this 66 percent of the Three Amigos are interested in at this point.

When Short’s Franck jokes about Gardner’s daughter’s boobs, he uses two of the exact jokes Robin Williams famously made on the same topic. (Lumps in oatmeal, push them together to make one good one, etc.) Let’s call it an homage?

As seen on Update once more, Chloe Fineman’s a hell of an impressionist, but she barely got to do her Diane Keaton, suggesting that it might not be her best one.

Speaking of Father of the Bride’s bride, I recently saw Kimberly Williams-Paisley on an episode of Somebody Feed Phil, where I learned that she looks great, is married to Brad Paisley, and does very good work combatting food deserts in Nashville by opening a free grocery store. Way to go.

Next week, we close out 2022 with host and sometime-Elvis Austin Butler, and fill-in musical guest Lizzo. (Announced band Yeah Yeah Yeahs had to pull out at the last minute, as drummer Nick Zinner is battling a nasty case of pneumonia.)

Dennis Perkins is an entertainment writer who lives in Maine with his wife, the writer Emily L. Stephens, and their cat, (Special Agent Dale) Cooper. His work has appeared in places like The A.V. Club, Ultimate Classic Rock, and the Portland (Maine) Press Herald. You can find him on Twitter, where he will anger you with opinions, and Instagram, where you will be won back over by pictures of Special Agent Dale Cooper.

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