An Unexpected Entire Episode
That Could Never Be Made Today
I always seem to not only forget Ben Stiller’s history with SNL whenever he comes back to host the show, but I also tend to forget that he was ever known more for sketch in general. This is an excellent sign for a one-season featured Not Ready For Prime Time Player. I would much rather be forgotten for an entire phase of my career because the later career phases are successful enough to eclipse any eras from the past. That’s not even to say that I feel Ben was bad at sketch, it’s just that the rest of his career is so grand.
If anything, I feel that Ben Stiller’s history with sketch is the main reason why he was so successful when he transitions over to make feature-length films. Though I would say that his earlier work was a hybrid of sketch and traditional narrative, like Kentucky Fried Movie, Amazon Women On The Moon, or Brain Candy, I always appreciated the way he would sneak off from the main storyline to fit in a quick sketch-like joke. These mini-moments would make the entire piece seem even funnier as a whole. The more recent work of his that I’ve seen is more subtle with the blending of his influences that got him to where he is, but it still shows up in his work.
That fact that he still at least seems to have the same respect for the sketch comedy medium is why I was excited to see him in the lineup of hosts. Though not in the same exact style, just like with Zach Galifianakis, I feel like Ben Stiller can be more willing to take risks to make subtle/impromptu changes to get on the cusp content to work. Keep in mind, Permanent Midnight is the only dramatic role of his that I’ve seen with Tropic Of Thunder being the most recent film that I’m familiar with from his work. I do want to see more of his more current work, but I have to get over my hang up with the entertainment industry first in order to actually enjoy the experience and not just go through the motions while being somewhere else in my head.
Hopefully, tonight won’t be one of those lost in thought viewings from the passing of time ruining all of the fun. We’ll see how things go, as it is now time for me to hit play and start to share my real-time viewing experience. As per usual, the talking head political sketch to start out the night barely held my attention at all. Again, I’m finding I find it more fun when they target Republican’s though, which the other day I guessed was because the barbs felt more critical and not just said with a wink and a nod.
Now I’m beginning to realize that this might be more because I never sided with the Republicans, and probably never will, in the first place. When it comes to the Democratic-based content, I end up stuck in my head as I see that I really haven’t changed my beliefs, I just seeing more of the formerly suppressed flaws that I used to act like I never saw.
As a fan of Willy Wonka, I was a fan of Ben Stiller’s opening monolog. I also thought it was fun because of thanks to Jewish comedians like I’m aware of the many Jewish clichés brought up throughout the routine. I’m willing to bet that, knowing the references I would have thought this was much funnier back then, but now I’m so hung up on playing, “Is it offensive?” I’m not sure how to feel about anything that resorts to stereotypes and clichés as the primary source of humor anymore. As always, I don’t say this as a complaint but as an explanation as to why I may be enjoying these more recent episodes than I may have back in the day.
The same thing goes for the fake ad that followed where Jason Sudeikis went down on himself. It’s another sketch that I’m sure I would have laughed at just a little over four years ago before my midlife meltdown when I still felt as long as it elicits laughter it’s fine. Now I’m left wondering if the merit of the humor involved in this type of shock value based bits warrants the laughter that I used to generously share. That said, despite my conflicted thoughts on each viewing, I don’t think that I will ever get offended enough by anything from SNL to turn me away from the show. I’m just pointing out the changes to my own little world.
As I said during the debut of the Fox And Friends parody, it’s a fine enough satire, but it’s grown to seem extremely cliché tapping into the typical go-to Fox News jabs that have just become old over the years. I thought it was also interesting where the sketch was highlighting how it was such a big deal that Hank Williams Jr openly compared the President to Hitler, which is now a common statement that’s made on a daily basis without any concern about whether or not it’s actually fair to say.
The second installment of the Lincoln Financial Group was another one that had me on the fence due to modern sentiment because it made light of both fat shaming and suicide. It also bummed me out because aside from the dark twist where he, I felt bad for the future fat Hader and didn’t really feel like laughing at him.
I also wasn’t really laughing at The Best Of Both Worlds talk show sketch with “Hugh Jackman” as the host because I wasn’t all that impressed by this series’ debut. However, it did get me laughing when the real Hugh Jackman joined the scene as Daniel Ratcliffe to question Andy Samberg’s impersonation choices, especially since they never blatantly revealed that it was the real Hugh in the Ratcliffe role. At first, I was typing so I was only half paying attention which led me to think that Ratcliffe was being played by Paul Brittain, making it even funnier when I realized the truth which allowed me to really get the joke the way it was meant to be told.
The SNL Digital Short where Andy Samberg and Ben Stiller have a deep-v shirt-off was hilarious because it reminded me of the Zoolander dance-off, only with more cock and balls and fewer dance moves. Though it was funny, the humor comes from Ben’s sexual exposing of himself while in an innocent store at the mall and would probably be seen as harassment if it were made today. Jason Sudeikis as Hank Williams Jr.’s version of All My Rowdy friends was a fun/quick transition out of the sketch into commercials because I always thought that song was a funny joke in the first place.
Foster The People was a pleasant group to switch things up because they were the first musical guests, including groups that I know rather well, in quite a while, to play a song that I not only heard of but actually enjoy, even if they’re a group that I knew from the song but never by their name. I’m now very intrigued to see if I’m familiar with their second song. It was also nice that tonight’s Weekend Update was the best that it’s been in a while, well, the joining of Stefon and Zoolander was hilarious, the rest was pretty typical with references lost to time.
I haven’t been all that impressed with the rest of tonight’s showing because of just how much of it doesn’t passed the time test that I just mentioned to end the paragraph up above. Sexy Shana also fails this test in general because the entire premise of this series is, pretty much, making light of sexual harassment at work. Even with Kristen Wiig’s character being a willing participant. I would think, this would now be considered inappropriate. To keep the time-stamped offensive ball rolling the third of the Lincoln Financial Group left me with the same questions when it comes to older jokes filtered through modern taste with Ben Stiller making out with a transgender version of himself especially the way he just groped himself without even attempting to ask.
Hell, even the next sketch that references Columbus Day could now be considered a questionable segment depending on who you ask. That is if you want to dig deep to see that there wasn’t a single acceptable sketch from the entire night. I think that the Bruce Springsteen sketch was the only segment of the night that wasn’t offensive, but even then it was still mean-spirited making fun of both The Boss and Little Stevie for their rambling ways.
I wasn’t familiar with the second Foster The People song, but I did enjoy it even if I wouldn’t actively seek it out. This led us to the final sketch of the night that was a fake trailer for the movie with Ben Stiller as the steroid pushing drug dealer, that wasn’t too big of an offender unless you want to reach and say that it body shaming male athletes, but really I’m intentionally grasping it at this point. This is, however, an example of how I now can work myself into a certain mood where I want to seek out what might be considered wrong over enjoying what I’m watching like hunting for hidden items on the back of a Highlights magazine while waiting in the dentist office.
I might go as far as to say that I was more surprised by tonight’s finding than I have been throughout this entire challenge. I don’t think I realized just how mean toward the individual Ben Stiller’s humor actually is. Of any of the more modern hosts, this episode had more jokes based on ethnicity, sex, body shapes, and every other stereotype you can think of. Not that he’s a monster, it’s just kind of eye-opening to see through these new eyes to see what it must have looked like when I used to use many of these same techniques in an effort to share some humor.
I get how in most cases that the person providing the poor behavior is almost always also portrayed as the most flawed character in the scene. Whether these characters are the bully, who gets it in the end, or the naive character like me, desperately blinded by to potential attention that they don’t even know that they’re doing wrong, they’re still spreading their toxic behavior out onto the world. I used to feel like I knew what the line was and now episode like this gets me wondering if I was wrong in my approach toward humor even if I still genuinely believe that a person can joke about anything as long as they have a good heart.
I wish I could say that despite all of these questions about humor that I still found tonight’s viewing to be pretty fun but since I didn’t seem to get a break from questioning what’s now right and what’s now wrong, tonight’s viewing was a first in a while that felt like a chore to get through. That said, I do see how this could have been hilarious back when it originally aired.
Oh well, I guess my questions toward comedy will continue, but for now, it’s time for me to switch gears and dig deeper into the details of each sketch, as I give you...
The Wicker Breakdown:
This week's show started with parody C-SPAN coverage of a Mitt Romney Press Conference where Jason Sudeikis as Mitt desperately attempted to keep the press’s interest in his bid for the Republican Presidential nomination. To add insult to injury, the media turns out to be too saddened by Bobby Moynihan as Chris Christie’s announcement that he decided not to run to pay Mitt any attention. Of course, with this being the opening sketch, it eventually led to the announcement of, “Live from New York...”
Ben Stiller then officially opened the show with a monolog about how he was starving due to the fact that he was fasting for Yom Kippur. Andy Samberg then approached as a Jewish Willy Wonka to temp our host with a magnificent array of Jewish comfort foods.
We then got a fake ad for Lincoln Financial Group where Jason Sudeikis played a financial investor who meets with his future self. At first, it seemed like our pitchman traveled through time to prove a point only the meeting of the two versions of Sudeikis quickly turned into a make-out session between the both of them.
We then got another parody of Fox And Friends where once again Tarn Killam, Vanessa Bayer, and Bobby Moynihan portrayed the Fox New morning team. This time, they continued to make random political statements during an interview with a rowdy Hank Williams Jr., as played by Jason Sudeikis with Ben Stiller at his side as his media consultant to defend the fact that the country singer compared the President to Hitler.
We then got the second installment of Lincoln Financial Group where this time Bill Hader played a time-traveling financial investor/pitchman who was utterly disgusted with his future self because he’s gotten so fat and gross that he contemplated suicide over making out with himself.
The Best Of Both Worlds returned for another installment of the talk show sketch where Andy Samberg as Hugh Jackman interviews fellow celebrities who like to take on polar opposite roles, like how the real Hugh will star in a sensitive musical then jump right back into being an action star the second the final song is over. For this installment Abby Elliott played Nancy Grace, Ben Stiller portrayed Mandy Patinkin, and Bill Hader played Clint Eastwood. There was one more surprise visit from the real Hugh Jackman who played Daniel Ratcliffe question all of the quirks that Andy was getting wrong as part of his impersonation. Once again, the sketch ended with the killing of Bobby Moynihan as an assistant named Richie who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We then got another SNL Digital Short called V-Neck where Andy Samberg is shopping for clothes when he notices Ben Still as a sleaze-ball in a deep v-neck shirt which leads the two into a Zoolander style deep v-neck shirt-off where they each pushed the extremes as to just how deep their v-necks could go. It ended with Ben in a shirt with a v-neck so low that it exposed his penis and balls, leading him to get arrested on the spot.
Jason Sudeikis then returned as Hank Williams Jr. to sing All My Rowdy Friends with the band for a quick transition into the next set of commercials.
Foster The People then took to the stage to perform Pumped Up Kicks.
Once again, Seth Meyers gave us the news. This week, Kirsten Wiig dropped by as a party planner to promote her services only when put on the spot all that she could manage to come up with to sell herself were nothing but plans for pancake-themed events. Bill Hader also returned as Stefon to share more hip New York travel tips with the help of Ben Stiller as Zoolander. (Clip 2) (Clip 3)
Sexy Shana was another character to return this time to get all of the guys hot and bothered while at an office Halloween party only to instantly turn them all off with the worlds that came out of her mouth and her bizarre attempts to come across as sexy as she looked.
This was followed by round three of the Lincoln Financial Group ads where this time Ben Stiller was the time traveling financial investor/pitchman who ended up making out with a transgender version of himself in the process of promoting an investment plan.
Foster The People then took to the stage with Kenny G to perform Houdini.
We then got a fake trailer for a movie called Tinyballs where Taran Killam played a baseball coach who attempted to improve his teams’ performance by agreeing to, drug dealer, Ben Stiller’s offer to pump them all full of steroids.
Finally, Ben Stiller closed the show by thanking the audience and saying his goodnights.
Tonight’s episode left me questioning my taste throughout every single segment of the night, but at least three sketches were fun enough to mention in my effort to find my favorite moments of the night. First, I loved Stefon Meets Zoolander because I love both characters and wish they would team up to do a spin-off film. Next, I really liked this week’s SNL Digital Short: Deep V-Neck Shirt-Off because it too reminded me of Zoolander, specifically the walk-off scene. Finally, I was a fan of Tinyballs because there was one shot of Paul Brittain with massive arms that, for some random reason, really got me to crack up.