What Does SNL Think of Straight Adult Men?

The sketch show’s latest parody of emotionally distant men had a surprising amount of heart.

Bowen Yang and Travis Kelce in "Straight Male Friend" on "SNL"
Kyle Dubiel / NBC

Super Bowl winners once went to Disney World to celebrate their victories, but Saturday Night Live has occasionally offered another option. Last night, Travis Kelce—the Kansas City Chiefs tight end and two-time Super Bowl champion—joined the likes of the quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, each of whom hosted the sketch show shortly after winning the big game. Kelce’s towering athletic presence, a rarity on the SNL stage, gave the show an opportunity to examine masculinity from various angles, including with a surprisingly emotional tenor.

In the pretaped commercial spoof “Straight Male Friend,” Bowen Yang played a gay man overwhelmed by the financial and emotional demands of his friendships with straight women. He touted the relief he’d discovered from being pals with a straight man, played with sincerity by Kelce. Yang praised this form of “low-effort, low-stakes relationship that requires no emotional commitment, no financial investment, and, other than the occasional video-game-related outburst, no drama.”

On the surface, the ad seemed to be yet another send-up of men—similar to recent sketches such as the infantilizing “Old Enough! Longterm Boyfriends!” and the acerbic “Big Penis Therapy.” But “Straight Male Friend,” which Yang co-wrote with Streeter Seidell and Alex English, captured the isolating norms that contribute to toxic masculinity with an earnestness that augmented its comedic beats. At one point, Kelce mentioned that his father “died last week,” eliciting shocked concern from Yang. But Kelce brushed off the difficult experience, later apologizing for “being a pussy” about it.

Thanks to the heartfelt, almost tender way Kelce played the straight male friend, who seemed cocooned in his own flat, affectless world, and the warmth Yang and his writing team lent the sketch, “Straight Male Friend” found a more poignant way to satirize straight men—including the social conditions that can make it difficult for them to develop and sustain meaningful friendships. Despite its parodic framing, the sketch depicted Kelce’s character’s life earnestly, making clearer the consequences of isolation and the emotional restrictions society places on men.

SNL has joked about straight men frequently of late, often deploying a mocking tone. “Old Enough! Longterm Boyfriends!” was a fake American spin-off of the hit Japanese reality show Old Enough!, which follows toddlers as they go on errands by themselves; the update chose to shadow “an equally helpless group.” In equating men with children, the sketch—which had male cast members (Mikey Day, Kenan Thompson) playing their adult men as wide-eyed and helpless—took on a surreal, exaggerated quality. Similarly, last year’s commercial spoof “Man Park” advertised recreational facilities akin to dog parks for straight men in need of male friends; in it, girlfriends and wives watched, relieved, as their partners bounded around like canines. As the narrator put it, “It’s not their fault masculinity makes intimacy so hard.”

Yet another recent sketch, “Big Penis Therapy,” incisively tackled the harm that men’s unaddressed issues can cause. A woman (Amy Schumer) convinced her “toxic as a mug” partner, Glenn (Andrew Dismukes), to go to therapy by explaining that it is for men with big penises. Making emotional vulnerability more palatable for Glenn had an outcome that was both juvenile and effective: Although many of Glenn’s male co-workers mocked him for going to therapy at first, they eventually grew envious when he showed off the toy badge he’d earned after six months. If therapy won’t unilaterally solve the problem of angry young men, the sketch suggests, it’s at least a start—but getting more men to take advantage of that resource remains a substantial hurdle. (According to a CDC survey, women in the U.S. are more likely than men to seek treatment for mental-health issues.) “Straight Male Friend” insinuated as much, closing with a tagline that explained that these types of men can be found everywhere … except in therapy. The slippage between what felt satirical and what simply felt true gave SNL’s newest sketch on the topic a different edge.

One misstep last night underscored the straightforward but effective approach that “Straight Male Friend” took. “Garrett From Hinge” used a wildly unfocused premise to explore another kind of straight man—an angry one. Yang played a Hinge user who’d been ditched at the last minute and left looking like a “sucka.” He tracked down the woman he was supposed to meet up with (Heidi Gardner) and the man she ditched him for (Kelce), broke into her apartment, and demanded answers. In turns that felt more and more bizarre, Garrett repeatedly excused himself to the bathroom, where he told himself that he wasn’t going to kill them. The sketch reached for a point about cringe men and Garrett’s potential for violence, but it felt vague and underdeveloped. If “Straight Male Friend” was a sort of preview of what men need, “Garrett From Hinge” uncomfortably revealed the dark turn things can take when they don’t get it. Although both sketches caricatured the same issue, Yang showed an important possibility with the former: the deeper humor that results from infusing a comedic perspective with a bit of heart.