Discover more from Matt Levy's Comedy Stray Notes
Comedy Stray Notes May 23, 2022
On SNL's season finale, my favorite TikTok series, the most underrated movie of 2021 and SO MUCH MORE (there is a sizable amount of "more" here)
• For the 47th time, the SNL season has come to a close. I would argue that this 21-episode run was probably in the top quarter of the 47 seasons— by no means was it the best but this year will certainly be remembered as a solid, steady installment with many, many highs.
In fact, I’d give S47 an even higher ranking but the final two episodes crash landed on such shaky footing that I’ve gotta demote it just a tad.
This final episode, hosted by Natasha Lyonne (why?) was one of those duds that lowered the score card. Yes, it was a sentimental entry with fitting goodbyes to a number of tenured cast members (McKinnon, Aidy, Pete Davidson, Kyle Mooney if you missed it) but only one sketch was a true-blue, red-blooded classic by my estimation.
With that being said, here’s my season’s finale scorecard.
“PSA” ad: This may be my favorite sketch of the season. Every so often, SNL drops a fastball down the middle that’s so sharp, it shakes me to my comedy nerd core. That’s exactly what this commercial parody did here. All of these things “stupid” people do like open bags incorrectly and ask “OK, what’s going on in this movie?” are invisible habits of mine I haven’t truly identified or owned for years. To be seen and learn something new about yourself is the gold standard (even if it’s negative). Then, the twist midway through the sketch added an extra dash of potency.
“Final Encounter” Cold Open: I never quite understood the hype around this cult classic recurring bit. McKinnon’s frazzled, cool as a cucumber weirdo who had increasingly unusual sexual experiences with aliens seemed like the most obvious rule of threes gag of all time. However, this final go-round where McKinnon’s Rafferty character referred to pubes as “a hipster’s beard stuffed in an N95 mask” and then is sent off into space hit the sentimental sweet spot just right. A touching, bawdy tribute to one of the all-time greats.
Weekend Update: No “jokes written by one anchor for the other” like Jost and Che have done in years’ past but this was still another pointed, laugh-filled gag grab bag roasting white people dressing as minorities for Halloween, Arby’s and baby formula hoarders. You know, the usual.
What was special was that this episode had triple (“triples are best”) guest correspondents- a true rarity. Moffatt did his fun but standard “Guy who just bought a boat” yet again (perhaps his final episode too?), Aidy and Bowen got laughs as their breakout trendsetter characters then closed with a poignant, voice cracking tribute to Aidy’s decade on the show and finally Pete’s wisecracking, tossed off commentary that subtly showed “hey, if you don’t show up every week, you’re going to be rusty.” No real gut busters here but the sentimental sum here was greater than its parts for this old softie.
Natasha Lyonne monologue: Lyonne’s shtick wears thin after a while for me but her one-woman show-esque monologue coupled with impressions from her ex-bf Armisen and current friend Maya Rudolph had a ramshackle, confessional vibe to it reminiscent of ‘70s era hosts. Plus, points for vintage footage of a young Lyonne on “Pee Wee’s Playhouse.”
Mr. Dooley: Full disclosure, I passed out during this sketch much like Mr. Dooley himself. I was so sleepy that Anna had to explain it to me during the commercials and I fell asleep mid-explanation. When I finally caught it on Sunday, I appreciated the odd, nonsensical logic of a trio of women in a “9 to 5” knockoff trying to “Weekend At Bernie’s” their boss. Ridiculous physical bits aplenty, intentionally crude lame jokes and a button that defies explanation? It shouldn’t work but it does. Credit where it’s due here too- the passed out Lyonne not reacting to being tickled was a master stroke.
“Women’s Commercial:” The final sketch of the season. I was hoping for something a bit more in line with Kristen Wiig’s “Ruby Tuesday” goodbye from her last episode but this sendoff was fine. Funny, if a bit forgettable. Kate and Aidy shill gray pigtails for middle-aged ladies name-dropping accessories and shared boyfriends (Mooney, in one of his best moments of the season). There wasn’t any true closure here that all us fans wanted, yet, the laughs were plentiful. If only they acknowledged the situation a bit more I’d give it a higher grade.
“After High School” pretape: Everything about this “end of ‘The Sandlot’” inspired sketch should have landed hard with me. Somehow, it mostly fell totally flat. The “this person stormed the capital on January 6” and “all these other grisly things happened to my classmates” joke has been done better before when the show parodied the infamous HBO “Going Clear” documentary years ago. The dark reveal that a sinister classmate was behind most of these gruesome acts was less comedic than intended, at least for me.
*The joke about valedictorian Heidi Gardner finishing last in her class at Harvard was very, very good. So good, I have to mention it.
“‘50s baseball broadcast:” Baseball announcers are ripe for comedy. Dudes having forced conversation with each other for three hours every day on television? Potential gold there. A bit about an announcer being hopped up on methamphetamines? Yawn. In addition to going long and underusing James Austin Johnson, this was a real whiff. No idea how this made it past the table read.
“Summer Gig:” No. No. No. Goofy, joke-free sketches that glide by on characters introducing random traits have to go. This, in particular, felt as if it belonged in an episode from ten years ago. While we’re at it, let’s retire this format.
Cut for Time:
“Forgot About Lorne” music video: Pete’s final music video didn’t make the live show. A true shocker considering nothing grabs ratings like…anything he does on the show. His earnest but mocking tribute to Lorne was a bit of real fan service that was certainly superior to half of the sketches here. As icing on the cake, there’s a heckuva cameo here too making its cut for time status all the more baffling.
• Ol’ daddy-o (that’s me. I’m ol’ daddy-o), participated in not one, but two pilot readings this week. Future showrunners Caroline Memnon and Teesha Nelson/Richard Tower/Chris Beasley both generously cast me in their respective pilots “Corporate Outsider” and “BIBO” AKA “Breathe In, Breathe Out” and each brought something new to the table.
“Corporate Outsider” kicks off with a bit of Caroline’s stand up comedy before taking us inside the world of corporate law. Memnon guides us through a world I’d never experienced and made it feel familiar, funny and real. A great draft. Plus, I played six (!) characters including Ricky Ricardo during a dream sequence. I’d say I was just as good as Javier Bardem.
In the other corner, Nelson/Tower/Beasley tightly tell the story of Shelby, an unqualified startup girlboss who struggles managing her clueless staff and making a move on her office crush (played by ol’ daddy-o; that’s me in case you forgot). Anna Paone (my wife, in case you forgot) portrayed my character’s vapid, influencer fiancee as an over the top ditz who is secretly smarter than everyone in the room. Although this was just a quick reading, Anna easily gave one of my favorite performances I’ve seen her deliver here. Get yourself a girl who can constantly impress- that’s what she does for me.
• As I move further and further away from the stand up space, I find myself increasingly watching more and more stand up TikTok content. While the extended bits, crowd works and roast battles are all great, my favorite content is regularly Chanel Ali’s intoxicating nightly comedy recaps where she spells out how much she made at each gig and tells us about each and every room she performs in matter of factly. Sure, I love jokes but it’s more fun to see what a night of comedy in NYC is really like for a real seasoned vet.
• A tip of the hat to Rob Rego for turning Grove 34 from a dream into a reality. Every comic talks of opening their own club or events space but no one ever actually follows through. If you’re not familiar with the Astoria-based space, Rob walks you through what his club has to offer to the community in his new seven-minute video. In the final 90 seconds, he takes it to the next level quickly cutting together footage to create a speedy montage that showcases all of the cool stuff that’s already happened during the club’s short existence. I’ll be honest- it gave me goosebumps while watching at home. Comedy is alive and well. You just have to be there in person to get the true effect.
• Steven Rogers is the pro’s pro. Dude oozes old school pure joke writing craft while also straddling the anxious millennial lane at the same time. His style and content complemented each other particularly well when he performed on James Corden a few weeks back.
His polished set covered wide-ranging topics like his own insecurity and how he digs tough women while delivering closer-level lines like, “I make my eyes wider while I look for things in the cabinet to see more.” This set is a punchline-heavy win.
“Atlanta” season three (2022): Donald Glover’s brash, satirical, appointment viewing half-hour program did more with ten episodes than most shows do with ten seasons.
This year, the creative team played with the medium and strayed away from or lovable main characters (Earn- Donald Glover, Paper Boi- Brian Tyree Henry, Darius- LaKeith Stanfield) to try their hand at a modern “Twilight Zone” where they take aim squarely at well-meaning white viewers such as myself.
In five standalone episodes, “Atlanta” addresses racial relations and points a mirror directly at their audience putting white characters at the center of their stories. It’s an incredibly effective technique.
“Three Slaps,” the season premiere, paints a picture of a well-meaning kid who unfairly gets in trouble at school and home. When his mom willingly allows him to take up with hyper-liberal white foster parents, he finds himself and the other kids he’s staying with picking cotton. It’s a bold and shocking turn but one that snaps you right up from the comfort of your couch to really see “white saviors” doing more harm than good.
Later in the season, “The Big Payback” imagines a modern day America where descendants of slave owners are told to pay reparations for their ancestors’ past transgressions. It may be the best, most pointed half hour of television this century. An uncomfortable exercise highlighting that liberalism exists only until there’s a price tag. Justin Bartha, playing the lead, squirms as a character who just wants to enjoy his comfortable existence and ignore his family’s past until it comes knocking at his door.
Jordan Temple’s “Trini 2 De Bone” shines a light and humanizes the unspoken American tradition of hiring a maid/nanny to essentially parent your child. However, when that nanny keels over prematurely, the family learns so much more about her attending her funeral. That, by essentially raising their kid (as well as Chet Hanks- what a freaking genius choice), she missed out on spending quality time with her own sons and daughters.
Final verdict: “Atlanta” knows America has a long way to go. Heck, they show that the whole world has a long way to go too in their canonical, international episodes starring our leads that say, “Hey, racism exists everywhere in different ways.” This season is a huge step toward educating its audience. Myself definitely included. Essential entertainment.
“Zola” (2021): One of the many mildly upsetting byproducts of the pandemic is that loads of smart, independent movies were dumped onto streaming platforms like they were glorified YouTube videos without much fanfare.
Unfortunately, the quietly brilliant, stylish “Zola,” based on a now infamous 148-tweet thread, is one of those films that would have benefitted from a word of mouth theatrical run.
This sneaky picture about how two strangers “fell out” on a raucous, wild Florida road trip, bravely dares to go where most movies won’t. Our lead character, Zola (the “straight man” to the madness played by Taylour Paige), is coerced into said mini-vacation by Stephani (complicated villain/victim Riley Keough) who says they’re just “going dancing” but leaves out some key information about what the real money making mission at hand is.
Their violent pimp (Colman Domingo, going for broke with this performance in the best way possible) and naive ridealong (Nicholas Braun, somehow even more hilariously out of his element than in “Succession”) subtly demonstrate two sides of toxic masculinity where both of them need to own their women, just in different ways.
“Zola” is not a perfect film. Director Janicza Bravo gets needlessly showy in places glamorizing the girls dancing which distracts from the down to earth realism where the movie really shines, nor is there much of a true conclusion- it just kind of ends. Which I guess is to be expected from a story based on a Twitter thread.
Yet, I’d still label it as a modern masterpiece, even more proudly Floridian than “The Florida Project” with its neon lights, shady characters and slack jawed slang. If you can’t tell, I loved this bombastic piece of uniquely 21st century cinema.
Final verdict: A cult classic ahead of its time (Streaming on Showtime, you can get a free week that can be canceled before payment).
“To Dust” (2019): This has been on my list of movies to see for years but somehow just kept getting pushed down. It’d be number two and then a new release would bump it back. Unfair, I know. There’s just too much good stuff.
Anyhow, I’m glad I finally got around to catching this underseen, wry even-handed indie about modern Orthodoxy. It didn’t knock my socks off but I did like it a whole lot.
Director Shawn Snyder tells the tale of a grieving Orthodox Jewish male widow (Geza Rohrig, you might recognize him from the harrowing single take Holocaust film “Son of Saul”) who enlists a local professor (Matthew Broderick, doing the tormented sad sack shtick he perfected in “Cable Guy” and “Election“) to help him find out what happens to his wife after she is buried.
On paper, it doesn’t sound like a laugh riot, but this fish out of water, two-hander places these well-meaning but unqualified, ill equipped adventurers in so many unusual situations that I felt like I was watching an unreleased, low stakes Coen Bros. film.
The men repeatedly break religious rules going so far as killing a pig (yup) and breaking into a cemetery (a bravura final scene) just to give this poor guy closure. It’s all a bit silly but touching too; the divorced Broderick shouldn’t be helping but finds himself kindly going along with this silly plan because he can’t strand this stranger.
Final verdict: The line “Killing a pig won’t bring back your wife” sums up this dramatic comedy of errors perfectly for me. Biblically serious mixed with gallows humor (streaming on Vudu, never used this service before. It’s free with ads. Not half bad).
*Broderick’s career arc from a fun loving teen in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” to overwhelmed, put-upon adult is fascinating to me. It’s a great reinvention and true to life- recklessness at a young age can make you overly cautious in your later years. Just thought that was interesting. Carry on.
“Blood Conscious” (2021): Each week, I receive multiple “New York Times recommends” emails. Sometimes, they’re “The 50 Best Movies On Hulu” or “Genre Wednesday.”
I read all their buzzy blurbs but rarely file them away for future viewing.
However, their synopsis for this low-budget thriller caught my eye. They hooked me by pitching a movie that takes place the day AFTER a thriller.
So, I rented.
The Times was right- this movie was certainly worth the watch. Here, a brother, sister and her salesman boyfriend all travel upstate to visit their parents at an idyllic campsite. The three bicker and banter the whole ride only to discover that their parents have been offed in some kind of brutal mass act of violence.
A mysterious force haunts the campgrounds and now the siblings and salesman boyfriend have to navigate the area surrounded by potential danger. The danger or suspense isn’t what makes this impressive flick so lively though. The prickly brother-sister squabbling/coping with their new circumstances is what gives this movie edge.
Sure, the plot mechanisms on how their parents came to perish are a bit far-fetched but the drama, lived-in relationships and Boomer villains with mysterious ulterior motives are so well established that I’ll let the kooky story logic go.
On top of all that, the ending is a true wallop.
Final verdict: An 80-minute movie with a lot to say. Even more impressively, the talented director Timothy Covell pulled it off with a shoestring budget. This is a great blueprint for anyone that’s always wanted to make something small and mighty (streaming on YouTube for a measly $3.99).
• There’s a few cool things on the horizon for me. I’m going to be intentionally vague about them. Vague is always the way to be.
I tell you what they are? Boring.
Vague? OK, now you’re hooked.
I’ll see you sometime soon (that’s me setting up a vague timeline but you already know it’ll be a week from now)