Was there something in the air this week in the halls of Studio 8H? Did the whole Saturday Night Live cast need to get something out of their system? Almost every sketch in last night’s episode felt like an exercise in controlled chaos. Most involved at least one performer breaking, and a wild Jason Momoa even appeared. The result was a fever dream of an installment that seemed to have been made up entirely of 10-to-one sketches—the kinds of odd or unusual bits that tend to be slotted in near the end of the broadcast.
Strangely, it worked, largely thanks to Chance the Rapper, who as both host and musical guest seemed to have infected the cast with an off-kilter, wholesome goofiness. The artist—there not only to promote The Big Day, his latest album, which dropped in July, but also to advocate for his hometown’s striking Chicago Teachers Union—starred in every sketch outside of the cold open and “Weekend Update.” Even in a night that included the SNL veterans Alec Baldwin, Fred Armisen, and Darrell Hammond, Chance commanded the episode while showing off his comedic range. Happy to dial it back as the straight man or to ham it up as the eccentric weirdo, Chance clearly relished being on the SNL stage. In fact, the more he ended up breaking character or visibly holding back giggles, the more the cast responded to his energy.
And boy, did they break often. After “Weekend Update,” the sketches descended into chaos. Aidy Bryant joined Chance in cracking up during “Choir Fashion,” a hilariously specific breakdown of the frumpy attire teenagers are forced to wear in show choir. Chance’s laughing at Kenan Thompson’s tormented cries of “the mooooon” in the sketch “Dance Rehearsal” nearly broke new cast member Bowen Yang.
Most spectacularly, “Love at First Sight,” a tricky sketch involving harnesses that lifted Chance and cast members Cecily Strong and Beck Bennett into the air, led to fits of giggles from the actors during a sequence in which they ad-libbed while apparently waiting for a harness to be attached to Bennett. Normally, such a scenario would’ve been awkward, but the sketch had already become more about the bizarre maneuvering than about the premise. Earlier in the scene, Chance and Strong had encountered a mishap when they flew in the wrong direction. Rather than let the error get in the way, the duo leaned into it, playing up the ridiculousness of the sketch’s technical ambition. It reminded me of 2018’s “Girlfriends Game Night,” in which the host, Bill Hader, attempted to operate a motorized wheelchair without moving a muscle, only to push Melissa Villaseñor across the set—a move that drew more laughs than any of the jokes. Obviously, messing up on live TV shouldn’t be the goal of SNL, but when it happens to an adaptable host, a mistake can turn a faltering sketch into something memorable.
That said, a game host doesn’t always yield a successful episode. Luckily for Chance, the collection of sketches that made it to air shared a similar sensibility; most of them were remarkably dark in their humor, lending the episode a thematic cohesiveness. (The Halloween peg helped, too.) Aside from the opening pair of sketches—the first a spotlight for Chance’s now-recurring character, the embattled sports announcer Lazlo Holmes, and the second about a courtroom presided over by Chance’s impatient Judge Barry—nearly every subsequent sketch involved a dose of gallows humor. A digital short advertising after-school snacks had a bloody twist. A Halloween-themed sketch in which ghosts recounted their deaths featured Chance as a spirit who died because of a literally shocking fetish. A trailer for a film called Space Mistakes poked fun at how easily people perish in movies about astronauts.
But if the nutty energy heightened the absurdity of most of the sketches, it also unfortunately helped to cover up some off-color jokes. The Judge Barry sketch saw Chance’s character deem a male exotic dancer—Yang in a long wig and a crop top—immediately guilty before asking for a case involving “normal people.” Chance’s amused reaction to Yang’s outfit drew more audience laughs, and then the actor Jason Momoa dropped in and flubbed a line in an admittedly funny way (“certified paraplegic—legal”), so the moment passed. Later, during a “Weekend Update” segment, Michael Che clumsily compared Kanye West’s changing style to Caitlyn Jenner’s transition. The audience groaned, and Che’s co-host, Colin Jost, barely tried to save it, but the next several sketches worked to distract from the misstep.
In some ways, the episode’s blunders underscored what a difference an enthusiastic, flexible, and charismatic host can make on SNL. Chance, in his second time hosting—he first appeared as a musical guest in 2015, then officially hosted in 2017—cemented himself as a performer comfortable with live sketch comedy. His goofiness could’ve been off-putting; instead, it brought some life into even the most dead-on-arrival sketches. As much as the show likes using cameos to mine applause, booking such appearances is easy for the institution compared with finding celebrities who can regularly score as many laughs as the cast. After this weekend, SNL would be wise to keep Chance in its hosting rotation.