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Saturday Night Live recap: Keegan-Michael Key returns to his sketch comedy roots in hosting debut

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Hello, Conehead nation! Welcome to the penultimate episode of Saturday Night Live season 46! Tonight's host is -— to put it mildly — extremely capable and promising. Keegan-Michael Key is, of course, no stranger to sketch comedy. His credits include Key & Peele, Madtv, and, ahem, the upcoming Schmigadoon!, co-starring Cecily Strong.

We are joined tonight by former SNL cast member Ellen Cleghorne, who recently appeared on That Damn Michael Che, which is now streaming on HBO Max. She shares: "I met Michael on set my first day. He's so tall, which is refreshing for me. He reminded me of family. He's really smart and funny and in the midst of a deadly pandemic, that was pretty much hard to do. He asked me if there were any changes to the script that I wanted to make. Mind blown emoji."

Rosalind O'Connor/NBC Olivia Rodrigo, Keegan-Michael Key, and Kate McKinnon on 'Saturday Night Live'

In terms of tonight's show, she says, "I'm a fan of Keegan-Michael Key. Who isn't? He's an American treasure. We —my family, not the voices in my head, well, maybe a few of them — we call him Key & Peele. Then someone will ask, 'Which one?' And we will say, 'Barack Obama.' And we will laugh. He's a high-quality performer. He never disappoints. My favorite character of his is Obama's alternate persona."

The biggest topic this week was the announcement by the CDC that, once vaccinated, Americans no longer need to wear masks in public. Let's see if our overlords at Studio 8H decide to mine that decision for satire. Here we go!

Cold Open

Anthony Fauci (Kate McKinnon) is back! "It's ya boy!" she exclaims. To clear up confusion about the correct mask behavior, she enlists the CDC Players. Their first scene is Man Walks Into a Bar. Beck Bennett and Aidy Bryant perform a funny, on-the-nose PSA-style sketch about entering a bar. Canned goofiness.

Meanwhile, Bowen Yang orders a scotch on the rocks during a flight. "Want to bang?" he asks his flight attendant (Ego Nwodim). They have great chemistry.

Cecily Strong and Alex Moffat are rioters at the Capitol. This gets a huge reaction. And Lauren Holt is a "hot dog store" owner welcoming in Punkie Johnson. Chloe Fineman hates the bottom of Andrew Dismukes' face; he suggests she place the mask across her eyes. (Kyle Mooney kind of ruins this one.)

And Pete Davidson jokes about masturbating in public — Melissa Villaseñor deters him. Then Chris Redd is a creepy adult at a school. And so on. It ends with a joke about Israel.

I believe we can credit Colin Jost and Gary Richardson for this bit of madness. Good energy, and a well-executed group "Live From New York!" I have a good feeling about tonight.

Monologue

"Masks are coming off!" Key announces. He has been a superfan of SNL since growing up near 8 Mile Road in Detroit. He is honored to be here. He breaks into a song, which sounds like Steve Martin's "Not Gonna Phone It in Tonight" from the early '90s. Pete Davidson offers him a tattoo. He gets into a number of show tropes, before Cecily Strong (naturally) joins him for a quick song.

Steven Castillo (!) as an audience member asks about winning an Oscar for Get Out. Ouch. And Kenan Thompson clarifying his name is different from Keegan is funny — like Uma/Oprah from the 1995 Oscars. Not going to lie, I can't forget about Key's role in Don't Think Twice.

Ellen Cleghorne first fell in love with Key "in a commercial he did during the sports playoffs many years ago." She adds, "I loved Key & Peele and quietly brooded when I learned they were canceled. I know I was upset because I threw myself into watching British sitcoms and/or Duck Dynasty. Not in protest, but rather just to drown my feelings and avoid triggers. I didn't want to see Black men being funny. You don't have to worry about seeing Black people on Duck Dynasty or on BBC-TV comedies. Luther isn't a comedy." Her favorite Key & Peele sketch is "I Said Bitch."

Prom Show

Bowen Yang and Heidi Gardner are hosting a show from their high school prom. This prom is brought to you by water bottles, strapless bras, and hand stuff. "Hippie or crazy religious?" Yang asks Chloe Fineman. Aidy Bryant and Mikey Day are two dorks who bang. That is hilarious — and noted.

The Last Dance: Extended Scene

This is a follow-up on the already classic Michael Jordan documentary. Key portrays His Airness. Heidi Gardner is John, the security guard playing quarters with him, in a spoof on one of the show's best scenes. "Just an amazing competitor," says Alex Moffat as Phil Jackson.

I love seeing Kenan's Charles Barkley. I think this is the tenth time we have seen Kenan play Barkley over the years, dating back to 2007.

The Muppet Show

OMG, this is an amazing recreation. Melissa Villaseñor is doing a spot-on Lily Tomlin. Statler and Waldorf are heckling the show per usual. Suddenly, Kenan and Keegan appear as security. "You are more than welcome to leave!" hollers Keegan. He keeps calling Kermit "Kramer." Things get violent, as Kenan lays into their "filthy asses." This ends with a savage, dark joke about assaulting disabled veterans.

Hats off to Steven Castillo, Gary Richardson, and Dan Bulla for penning this. This is classic and a great showcase for all involved. I hope this encourages more people to rediscover the original Muppet Show, now streaming on Disney+.

The Muppets are operated by the Monkey Boys, who are based out of Philadelphia. Beck Bennett, Mikey Day, and Kyle Mooney provided the voices.

Gemma & DJ Balls

Poor Kenan, his wife left him on his birthday. His friends are consoling him at TGI Fridays. They've hired him a band, who keep referencing their deep love. If nothing else, this allows Key and Cecily Strong to demonstrate their onscreen energy as DJ Balls and "Gemma," who is British. (Reminder: They have a new show on Apple!)

Good to see Gemma again — this is one of Cecily's recurring characters from a minute ago! Otherwise: Eh?

Olivia Rodrigo — "Drivers License"

Here we go, one of the TikTok generation's great anthems. Bit of a Lana Del Rey vibe to me, personally. But it is an undeniable bop.

It is remarkable, as much as things change, things stay the same. Rodrigo is the latest in a long line of pop performers to blow up after cutting their teeth with Disney. Think Britney, think Xtina. Time is a flat circle.

Ellen Cleghorne says she'd "love to do a parody" of the music video. She adds that Olivia "has a beautiful voice and she's young. She makes me glad I grew up in Brooklyn where you don't learn to drive until you're at least 30. Poor people don't have that problem of driving by their ex's house at 16. This is what we mean by, 'in all things give thanks.' Mo' money, mo' problems. If you can't buy gas, you can't have boy problems."

Weekend Update

Colin Jost and Michael Che kick things off with some great jabs at the CDC's messaging, and the various reactions from politicians. You can sense the energy from the crowd.

They also go into Liz Cheney losing her leadership spot this week. Kate McKinnon appears as Cheney. She was supposed to be an example of every Republican woman: "blonde, mean." Her allies include "Nancy Reagan's… ghost" and Jared from Subway. "Conservatives are leaving me high and dry!" she finally concedes. "Do you know who my father is?!"

Andrew Dismukes comes on and begins talking about his photo-less Wikipedia page, and his home state of Texas. His Frasier joke crushes. He pays tribute to his "Old Ma Ma," his great grandmother. She had cable when he was growing up — he watched Brink! with her, and honors the rich tapestry of Disney Channel Original Movies. Some refer to these as DCOMs, if I am not mistaken. I am a fan of how specific this is!

The controversial thoroughbred trainer Bob Baffert (Beck Bennett) also pops up to defend why Medina Spirit, who was a 12-to-1 favorite at the recent Kentucky Derby, had betamethasone — an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid sometimes used to relieve joint pain — in a blood sample. Kentucky horse racing rules don't allow that.

I asked Ellen about her experience with Che on his HBO show. She says, "I loved working for Michael Che and playing his mother. My favorite part was the game show scene. Che was giving out roses like the Bachelor, yet another show I've never watched but I get the trite premise. It was the best day of my life since I have an artistic crush on Che. He's the perfect comic — fearless, funny, and unapologetic. Working with him I finally understood what 'lightning in a bottle' meant. I can't wait for season 2 and hope they have me back."'

Gershwin Tribute

Woof. Mikey Day is a stage manager feeding lines to two living Broadway legends (Cecily Strong and Kate McKinnon). They welcome Key on stage for a song. "Line!" he yells at Day. This is tedious, complete with a random Kenan reaction shot. Is this the third time Cecily and Key have sung together in a sketch tonight? Little much, no?

Olivia Rodrigo — "Good 4 U"

Okay, this is ripping Paramore, right? "Misery Business" stans, reveal yourselves. I mean, good for her. Having lived through the height of emo pop punk in the mid-2000s, this is not for me.

High School Graduation

A high school principal (Alex Moffat) is introducing a list of recent graduates. He asks the families to hold their applause, but Kenan Thompson, Chris Redd, Punkie Johnson, Ego Nwodim, and Key refuse to play along. They cannot contain their enthusiasm while sitting in the crowd.

Then Aidy Bryant, Andrew Dismukes, and Beck Bennett are the hillbillies who also join in. Mikey Day laments he wasn't able to cheer for his child, so Ego demands she get a do-over. Cute.

Final Thoughts

—"This was better than the dream!" Keegan-Michael Key definitely delivered! What did you think?! Vote here or weigh in below!

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—Thank you again to Ellen Cleghorne! Check out her scenes with Che on HBO Max!-Do you like comedy? Watching things on YouTube? Spotify? Check out this podcast retrospective on the history of the MTV Movie & TV Awards, which are airing later this weekend hosted by Leslie Jones. I hosted it courtesy of SNL Stats, we do a deep dive on the Best Comedic Performance category, which features many former SNL cast members. Subscribe and follow!

—Do you like comedy? Watching things on YouTube? Spotify? Check out this podcast retrospective on the history of the MTV Movie & TV Awards, which are airing later this weekend hosted by Leslie Jones. I hosted it courtesy of SNL Stats. We do a deep dive on the Best Comedic Performance category, which features many former SNL cast members. Subscribe and follow!

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