SNL #36.17 RECAP: Host Zach Galifianakis, musical guest Jessie J.

Wasn't anywhere near a TV when Saturday Night Live brought Zach Galifianakis back to host for his second time on the March 12, 2011, episode, so I'm just catching up with it now in full. Well, then, let's get started!


The cold open is not overtly political, playing off of that week's "Selection Sunday" for the NCAA men's basketball tournament on CBS, with Kenan Thompson as Greg Gumbel and Jason Sudeikis playing Jim Nantz. But wait. They've taken basketball's March Madness and combined it with the world's "Actual Madness." Good call. Interestingly, when they reveal the brackets, they substitute Fred Armisen's face for Libya's Gaddafi, but keep the real faces for Egypt's Mubarak and the others in North Africa. I guess it's so as not to confuse the dummies watching on TV when they cut to Armisen as Gaddafi on set, being interviewed by Nasim Pedrad as CBS sports correspondent Tracy Wolfson. The D.C. bracket gets in both politicians and TV anchors, then cuts to Andy Samberg as Dick Vitale. Um, OK. You know that everybody who has ever watched college hoops has a Dick Vitale impersonation (and in the past few years, developed a Gus Johnson voice, TOO!!!!). The Hollywood bracket fits in all of the wacked-out celebs. Kristen Wiig keeps delivering Melissa Leo's Oscar speech. And Bill Hader is back as Charlie Sheen broadcasting live online. They fit a lot in the first five minutes, didn't they? Hoping these leaves room for plenty of absurdist stuff with Galifianakis.


For his second stint as host, Galifianakis already seems a little bit more comfortable at the top of his monologue as he took in the audience cheers and applause. What's so great about Zach, among many things, is knowing that he writes his own monologues. And that he's willing to take risks with it on live network television. He took at least three here. Can you spot them? Yes. Yes you can. And that was before he broke out into lip-sync song.

In great moments in odd timing, the first TV ad break during SNL on this night begins with AFLAC, otherwise known as the company that fired Gilbert Gottfried as its talking-duck spokesduck because he made jokes at the expense of Japan's ongoing catastrophe in the wake of earthquakes, a tsunami and nuclear meltdowns. Was this his last ad for them?


Oh, geez. They're going to spoof CBS The View clone, The Talk. Parodying a parody is tricky enough, but how about one that includes in its cast an Asian woman and a black woman, considering SNL has neither among its cast? Wiig steps in as Julie Chen-bot. Abby Elliott fills Leah Remini's shoes to defend them against The View. Hmmm. Also a joke at Chen-bot's expense courtesy of Les Moonves. Pedrad as Sharon Osbourne gets the first laugh of the sketch. And Vanessa Bayer is Sara Gilbert. Holly Robinson Peete: Not pictured. Hmmm. Already bored with this. At least Galifianakis shows up to help Pedrad make something out of this otherwise nothing. Yes. I feel like this sketch also should be called "The Trick." Oh, wait. Hader just walked on as Steven Tyler. And a random appearance by Thompson as Whoopi Goldberg. Nope. Still tricked.


Maybe this will help brighten your mood? It's "The Original Kings of Catchphrase Comedy Tour," with Thompson, Galifianakis, Bobby Moynihan and Paul Brittain as stand-up comedians with the simplest of gimmicks and nicknames. Take that, hacks. But wait. There's more. Taran Killam shows up as Barry the Plumbing Gentleman (wonder who that could be in the hat and cut-off plaid shirt?), Armisen as Mike "Insert Joke Here" Henry with a guitar, Samberg as Chip "So Yeah I'm Single" Fenney, in a rare sight it's head writer/Weekend Update anchor Seth Meyers in an actual sketch as Boston Powers, Jay Pharoah is Dr. Velociraptor, Bayer is Addi "News Flash" Sweeney, Sudeikis is White Bernie Mac, and Elliott is Fur Coat Rhonda. Always piques my interest when SNL takes on the art of comedy. Hits outpaced the misses.


After a break, we're back to another "Scared Straight" setpiece, which has been a staple of recent seasons, most notably as Thompson's convicted felon attempts and usually succeeds to get in Hader's face enough times to make him crack up. Per usual, Sudeikis plays the local cop, and Samberg and Moynihan join Hader as troubled teens, with the week's guest host filling in as Thompson's accomplice — which in this case, means Galifianakis gets rolled in as a Hannibal Lecter "crazy guy." Instant laughs without saying a word. But Galifianakis speaks as "Larry Bernstein," a former accountant who started eating people. Also, the "Home Alone" references. "You leading off with that?" Sudeikis' character even asks.


Ooh. An SNL Digital Short: Zach looks for a new assistant. He's hiring kids! Get into show business early! Kids say the darnedest things when confronted with Galifianakis.

Confession: I don't know who Jessie J. is. After her first song, I still don't.


Weekend Update's jokes are two weeks old at this point, so how can I analyze them effectively? Or is this an analysis of how well topical jokes hold up two weeks later? Nope. But it's sure easier than watching Byron Allen's 2007 monologue jokes night after night in 2011 thanks to repeats of Comics Unleashed.


As beleaguered Broadway Spider-Man musical director Julie Taymor, Wiig is effectively defensive, often changing the topic to her more successful adaptation of The Lion King.


Samberg returns to the Update desk as Liam, the teen-ager who just woke up, to comment on oil prices and other events. Kids these days. And their obsession with Katy Perry.


OK. Now this sketch with Galifianakis and Wiig as parents trying to explain what happened to the family dog, Noodles, to kids played by Pedrad, Moynihan and Elliott…so lovingly dark, simple and absurd. Pedrad seemingly plays the smart daughter, but as the parents' stories unravel, all the kids join in the interrogation. So I guess NBC is OK with a music video about dicks in boxes, but a sketch about a dog that died via autoerotic asphyxiaton is too much? Or was it the singing of a standard song at the end that did this sketch in for online sharing?


We haven't seen much of Armisen tonight, but here he is co-hosting a Canadian entertainment tabloid TV show in Winnipeg alongside Wiig, with Galifianakis as a correspondent. You see, the Canadians are too polite to dish the real dirt about celebs. And they talk funny. Hader plays the fashion expert. The targets are fairly easy. Galifianakis holds his notes long enough, though, for some payoff there.

Jessie J. sang a second song. Still don't really know who she is, but she looks pretty enough and sounds pleasant enough and didn't lip-sync. So there's that. Hey, look! There's part of a camel.


They waited 'til almost the end to parody the corn syrup industry with this fake ad, featuring Pedrad and Wiig. Fun twist, which isn't a twist if you can look at pictures above text.


Who wants to see a scene set at the Titanic sinking, with Galifianakis playing a man who smuggled aboard a lifeboat with the women? What if I were to tell you he was playing a very specific man aboard the Titanic? Weird sketch with a weirder ending. But it's late in the show, so that explains that?


Much better is what happened at the very end of the show, when Galifianakis joined the full cast onstage for the good-nights sporting a mohawk. First time he hosted, he shaved his beard. This time he went for the Mr. T. look, and in the video above, you can watch how it all went down during the final commercial break, with a cameo by Lorne Michaels.

Galifianakis really carried the show tonight, but that's as it should have been. I don't know what to expect when Elton John does double duty next as host and musical guest, but I'm fairly certain that the rest of the cast will get more screen time because of it. See you then!

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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