November 16, 2013



When the musical guest on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE is also the host (and isn’t Justin Timberlake), it’s usually a smart strategic idea to minimize the host’s comedy duties for the week.  But Lady Gaga, in her dual roles tonight, suggested such a knack for sketch comedy that one could easily have mistaken her for a member of the regular cast, and allowing for the fact that she also had to perform 2 musical numbers in the course of the night’s 90 minutes, the show could well have let her do more.

Gaga has a particular flair for Gilda Radner-esque committed physical silliness. In the Waking Up With Kimye sketch, really a vehicle for Jay Pharoah’s Kanye West and Nasim Pedrad’s Kim Kardashian (here co-hosting a morning talk show), Gaga played a mortified Apple Store employee who became an unwitting guest (she thought she was only there to fix Kim’s MacBook Air after Kim, mistaking the logo for a real apple, dipped it in caramel).  Hunched over and miserable, she was subjected to Kanye’s abuse and a “Kim Wore It Better” fashion show, and completely held her own with the two SNL stars.

Gaga was also just about perfect in a late-show sketch where she and John Milhiser were the parents of a grade school student dancing in a talent show, energetically doing the moves themselves in the audience.  It was a one-gag piece that, incredibly for SNL, didn’t extend any farther than the joke was worth, and she and Milhiser got every giggle out of it.

She also showed up in a Spotlightz piece about a kids acting school where the students play very adult scenes.  The featured player was Vanessa Bayer, who did another variation on her supremely clueless performer bit (here playing a Mark Zuckerberg scene from The Social Network), but Gaga got a shot at the PG version of a Denzel Washington speech from Training Day, and Forrest’s dying mother in Forrest Gump.  And in the 12:55 sketch (actually 12:50, since there was a taped bit after it), she was weirdly affecting as an old, has-been version of herself in a sketch set in 2063, as she tried to impress her apartment building super (Kenan Thompson) with who she used to be–when she did “Bad Romance,” he thought she was having a stroke, and he didn’t know what to make of her attempt to suggest her meat dress with some cold cuts.  (He knew all about “Empress Beyonce,” though.)  That sketch even had a grace note for its ending, as she turned on a mechanical prop of disembodied hands to give her some “Applause.”

“Applause” also figured into the monologue, which had Gaga singing new lyrics about how she had no problem with manipulating the live audience for phony applause (“Can I hear it from the ladies?”) and segueing into “New York, New York.”  It wasn’t all that funny, but possibly the closest we’ll get to a “Lady Gaga Sings The Best of Kander & Ebb'” musical.  Her other appearances were briefer:  a meta joke in a hit (Thompson as Rick Ross doing “Cups,” and Aidy Bryant just silently standing in place as Adele) and miss (Cecily Strong and Bobby Moynihan as Lana Del Rey and Nathan Lane doing “It Wasn’t Me”) sketch about bad cover versions of hit songs–her “cover” of Madonna’s “Express Yourself” was to sing “Born This Way”–and what appeared to be an attempt to imitate Marisa Tomei in a terrible sketch about a crazy co-op board.

The cold open, as usual, wasted an in-the-news premise; it was clever to try and meld the Toronto crack mayor scandal to 60 Minutes being duped by its Benghazi interviewee, but as played, it was just Bobby Moynihan playing a fat choleric guy with a Canadian accent.  Jon Stewart has been wiping the floor with everyone on the Toronto story, and this wasn’t in his league.

The rest of the night’s high points were supplied by Update and some of the pre-taped segments.  Update is now as good as it’s been in years–not only are Seth Meyers and Cecily Strong meshing as hosts, but it’s hard to remember the last two-guest piece that was completely original, without any reused franchise characters.  Unusually, one of tonight’s desk pieces was mostly pre-taped, as “Mr. Serious” (Thompson) went out and around Rockefeller Center to furiously tell people that it’s too early to be celebrating Christmas.  It was repetitive (he yells at the guys putting up the Rock Center Christmas tree, then at ice skaters), but cut fast enough that it never quite got tedious.  Update was owned, though, by Taran Killam, playing a critic furious because (this part is true) a newspaper recently retracted a 150-year old bad review it had run of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  Killam played that review’s writer, who as it turned out had also given thumbs down to the “I Have A Dream” speech, Patrick Henry’s oration, and of course the Sermon On the Mount.  Killam was so hilarious as he viciously swiped at every classic discourse in history that one can only hope Lorne Michaels doesn’t run the character into the ground too quickly.

The pre-tape group contributed a very well-executed fake commercial for a Paxil so strong that President Obama could use it to deal with his second-term blues, and an effectively odd and bittersweet piece about Blockbuster employees dealing with the demise of their store.  (And am I the only one who think that the “Rose Zone” idea of a channel that just shows the awful highlights of cable reality shows should be put into production immediately?)

Jennifer Lawrence apparently being otherwise engaged, next week’s show will be hosted by her Hunger Games co-star Josh Hutchence just in time for the new movie’s sure-to-be-blockbuster opening, with musical guests Haim.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."