SNL #35.16 with Zach Galifianakis, Vampire Weekend

I know my hopes were up, your hopes were up, comedy nerds everywhere held their collective breaths last night to see what would happen when Zach Galifianakis hosted SNL. It wasn't his first time hanging out there — he'd been there as a writer for a fleeting moment many years ago — and there was a sense on many people's parts (his included) that his sense of humor was, to borrow a phrase from the show's early years, too "wild and crazy" for the show. And yet. There he was. So let us recap.

Last night, I gave a first impression during the show that everything that included Galifianakis was amazing and awesome, and that all of the "skitches" without him were not quite so much. So how about that cold open? The C-SPAN presidential address from Barack Obama (Fred Armisen) on health-care reform, and repeating the mistakes of the Clintons, with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (Kristen Wiig) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Will Forte) was so cold, you could hear the studio creaking when Armisen paused for what he had been told would be laughter. Watching the actual health-care debate might actually be funnier than this. Nope.

Alas, once the credits rolled, we got our first glimpse of Galifianakis. From the first words: "Stop clapping!" To his thanks for "being back hosting Saturday Night Live again," to the rapid-fire jokes. Yes. If you're a big fan, you may have heard one or two of these lines before. But have you ever seen him say any of this on live network television? No. No you hadn't. I could tell he was even a little bit nervous about it all, but damn did he pull it off. Loved, loved how he turned the audience immediately by saying how he lives in Brooklyn, but hates it, and without saying Williamsburg, accurately described the skinny hipsters and mocked them with his subway calls. "Hey, everybody, here comes the choo-choo!" The way he does this, and then announces he will "go to the piano and talk about myself," followed by "I don't really know what I'm doing here." It's just so great. Even greater is how he sells some of his more dangerous punchlines by looking up from the piano and staring directly into the camera. Then barking at the SNL house band. And the Hoobastank line. It was one of those times you could watch SNL and the Live part really came alive.

And then. The kissing family. If there's one thing I hate, it's a recurring sketch in which we don't know how to spell the main character's name. Is it Vogelcheck? Voglechek? Who cares. Even the show doesn't know, because they just call it Kissing Family. Bobby Moynihan's character brings Jenny Slate to a funeral for his great-grandfather, and then the kissing begins. Armisen, Wiig, Hader. Kenan Thompson wanders into the wrong room, but kisses nonetheless. Galifianakis plays a priest or something, and watching him kiss faster than Armisen can deliver lines is funny in a weird live-TV way. Abby Elliott shows up in the same wrong room, so Hader can connect tongues with her dog. I guess that's unusual. When the crowd goes whoa as Armisen approaches the coffin, um, really, SNL crowd? But why does Will Forte's character come back to life, exactly? Someone online mentioned that the SNL writer for this sketch is 12 years old, or the audience is for it, and both may be correct. And then I realize how much I loved SNL when I was that age.

Speaking of humor that appeals to people hitting puberty, how would you like a hotel room with a bidet? Wiig and Galifianakis are being shown their room by the bellhop/porter (Andy Samberg), and they have many questions about the bidet. Many questions.

Instead of an SNL Digital Short, the screen reads simply: "Zach Drops By The Set." And we get to see Galifianakis in the background of NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, Showtime at the Apollo, the Dr. Oz Show (tapes in 30 Rock), 30 Rock, Madison's 11th birthday, Law & Order, an old SNL with Robin Williams.

Which weaves into the fourth hour of Today, which as much as I love Jenny Slate, it's just not the same as when Michaela Watkins had to put up with Wiig as Kathie Lee. It reminds me of when SNL trotted out different presidential impersonators for Bush from week to week after Will Ferrell left. This time, they've introduced their own version of Sara Haines (Abby Elliott) to do what she does, reading comments from fans on the Internet. But then there's a callback to Zach Drops By The Set. Which makes it all OK, at least for a second.

What comes next? Vampire Weekend. Or Hoobastank. No. Vampire Weekend, with "Cousins."

Weekend Update comes next. They saved the better political jokes for Update, it seems.

But who were the guests? How about Kenan as Mo'Nique? He looked Precious, didn't he/she?

And we also had Forte on with another song, this one's for the ladies. Did you see what he did there?Because he cares about herstory.

Um. OK. Now you've made me forget who was hosting this week. Can we get a reminder, please? What Up WIth That? Oh, right. What Up With That, the BET spoof of a show, and I don't know if I'd caught this before, but Forte introduced Thompson as "De'Andre Cole" with is just one syllable away from Deon Cole, who was the stand-up comedian who appeared on Conan O'Brien's short-lived Tonight Show and got promoted to regular writer. Maybe I'm just being delirious. Moving onto another fun fact. Paul Rudd is making a cameo, as is New York Times critic Frank Rich, whose son, Simon, has been writing for SNL for several years even though he's still barely in his mid-20s. But that's not why anyone loves this sketch. Fans generally enjoy the fact that they throw all sorts of random onto the stage at once, that it showcases Thompson, that Jason Sudeikis dances non-stop for the second half of every sketch, or even that Hader is snubbed every time as Lindsay Buckingham. This time, we also got Galifianakis playing the flute. And that was reason enough to tune in. Oh, and "Baby Jessica" in the well (Elliott).

What else. How about a spoof on CNN's "The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer (Sudeikis) calling himself boring, and mumbling. And asking viewers to do their jobs for them. Which is what TV news is all about these days. And Wiig as Gloria Borger, reading random viewer comments, as if that's news, too. This is all true, which is the sad kind of funny, and the only thing that can make up for it isn't Jack Cafferty (Hader), although we get that. The only thing it's missing is some Galfianakis. Oh, they have that? Great. Nasim Pedrad does a good job, though, trying to be Christiane Amanpour on loc
ation in the parking lot.

Time for more Vampire Weekend. This song is called "Giving Up The Gun."

If you like fun facts, here are some more. Five minutes to one is when SNL takes risks. And so did our host, as Galifianakis shaved his beard — leaving a short handlebar mustache, though! — and put on his Carolina accent to host "Pageant Talk!" as Gene Shimp with co-host, his pageant-winning daughter Wanda Gayle (Slate). Wiig, off to the side with a dangling cigarette and Cheetos (or are those Jax?), plays Gene's "wife" Lydia. Did I mention Galifianakis shaved his beard?!?! Some of you comedy nerds may be mad that he did this but didn't try to play his brother, Seth. Are you seeing the forest for the trees? Realize how crazy enough it is to shave a beard during a live TV show and not mention it whatsoever. Also, I know (and some of
you know) that Galifianakis is good friends with Slate, so it's comforting to see that he used whatever juice he had to get some airtime with her at the end. Oh, and watching Galifianakis mouth along with Slate's lines is some juicy funny bonus laughing-out-loudness. I have no idea why this isn't online. UPDATED! It's online now.

OK. We did it. Like I said in a live premonition, Galifianakis made some lackluster material not lack for luster, turned other turds into gold, and generally was a joy to watch on the live TV. Scenes without him were missing a certain something. What will the show do when someone else, like, say, Jude Law, hosts next? Oh, brother.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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2 thoughts on “SNL #35.16 with Zach Galifianakis, Vampire Weekend

  1. His punchline camera-stares were rock-steady and awesome for his monologue. The last sketch was the only one I caught last night during the airing and agreed – enjoyably edgier and swifter than the earlier sketches.
    It was just nice to have a comedian hosting it, doubly-so that it was someone solid like Zach.

  2. Just watched it on Hulu, and during the thank-yous he’s got a beard. Either it’s fake or they went to the dress rehearsal feed – why are they so afraid of that last sketch?

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