You don’t get to the status Kim Kardashian West occupies without knowing exactly what people think about you and using it to your advantage. So when the mogul, former reality star, and Instagram powerhouse walked out onto the Saturday Night Live stage for her hosting debut, her outfit—a skintight turtlenecked bodysuit made of fuchsia crushed velvet that covered her from the tips of her fingers to the points of her stilettos—said more about her than her monologue did. It showed everything, and nothing. The jokes and sketches that followed were all entirely in character for Kardashian West, pointed digs that would have felt sharper if her family hadn’t long since incorporated all of its controversies into its brand.
Still, she was surprisingly game, and even charming to watch. The billion-dollar Kardashian empire is built on paradoxes: the endless watchability of a family whose flat emotional timbre rarely wavers, the transfiguration of notoriety into a following that makes you (by Instagram metrics) the sixth-most-famous person on Earth. At the end of her monologue, which came off at times like a “Weekend Update” roast of her relatives, Kardashian West playfully brushed off her appearance on one of the most storied stages in American entertainment, saying that by her standards, it seemed like a “chill, intimate night” compared with 360 million people following everything she does.
If her introduction didn’t break new ground, it at least flirted with edge. She made jokes about her sex tape. (“I only had that one movie come out and no one told me it was even premiering. It must have slipped my mom’s mind.”) She jabbed at other family members one by one. (“I’m just so much more than that reference photo my sisters showed their plastic surgeons.”) She darkly drew on her father’s history with O.J. Simpson, whose presence “does leave a mark,” she joked. “Or several. Or none at all. I still don’t know.” She quipped about her marriage, and ongoing divorce, with Kanye West, “the richest Black man in America, a talented, legit genius who gave me four incredible kids. So when I divorced him, you have to know it came down to just one thing. His personality.”
And yet, as if to prove how standard all this territory was, both Kris Jenner and Khloé Kardashian made cameos throughout the night, playing themselves. (West, who’s appeared on Saturday Night Live seven times as a musical guest in the past, was notably absent.) The sketches that followed, too, stayed entirely within Kardashian’s comfort zone. There were no curveballs or veers away from type. In the best sketch of the night, “The Switch,” Kardashian West, tired of her glamorous life and craving a boring day, decided to switch bodies with the cast member Aidy Bryant, via a magical clock. Bryant, contoured and sheathed in shiny beige shapewear, promptly discovered the thrill of being hugely rich and hugely glamorous, while Kardashian West, wearing plaid, was left to sift through Bryant’s beauty products, including her medical-grade sunscreen. (“It’s like chowder,” she marveled.)
When Kardashian West wasn’t playing herself, she stuck to type. In one sketch whose star-filled cast was a testament to the host’s rolodex, she was a contestant on a Bachelorette-style reality show who couldn’t choose between suitors including the actors Chace Crawford, Jesse Williams, and John Cena; the comedian Chris Rock; the NBA player Blake Griffin; and a frizzled nobody played by Kyle Mooney. To Kardashian West’s credit, she was better than the concept. In an endearing moment, she almost broke when she offered her love token to a producer played by Amy Schumer, and Schumer accepted, “with both of my holes.” In other moments, she played a one-note Princess Jasmine to Pete Davidson’s insecure Aladdin, a “grown-ass woman” on a girl’s night who kept falling asleep in the club, and her sister, Kourtney, in a duffer of a sketch called “The People’s Kourt.”
The highlight of that setup was Chris Redd as Kanye, resplendent in a scarlet bomber jacket and whining that Kardashian West had hacked his Twitter account to praise the musical Wicked. Otherwise, the sketch was effectively a primer on what the other Kardashian-Jenners are up to. (Kourtney: dating Travis Barker; Kylie: pregnant; Kris: rapacious; Kendall: so drama-free she’s almost damaging the brand.) SNL’s satire has lately struggled to do more than point out facts and attributes of the people it’s trying to skewer. “The People’s Kourt” couldn’t find a note that wasn’t familiar.
The cold open, set at a Senate hearing on Facebook, was similarly toothless. Informing people that Ted Cruz is unlikable or that Lindsey Graham is skittish or that Cory Booker has a famous girlfriend is not revelatory in any way. That sketch also felt like a missed opportunity, given the social-media ubiquity of the evening’s host.
But to steer too far in that direction, to poke at the toxicity of the impossibly flawless image people like Kardashian West propagate online in a sketch referencing the impact Instagram has on teen girls, would have been a risk, and this was a solidly controlled environment. There were no breaks in the main character the host was there to portray, no playing against type. Even as the supposedly frumpy Bryant, Kardashian West wore her standard makeup and a sleek, styled wig, her glamour undented and her persona as steadfast as ever.