Woody Harrelson Takes on COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates and Conspiracies in ‘SNL’ Monologue

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Woody Harrelson used his historic, five-timer monologue while hosting Saturday Night Live to question COVID-19 mandates and joke about conspiracy theories.

While appearing as host of the Feb. 25 episode, the Champions star kicked off NBC variety show’s return with a winding joke that took on COVID-19 mandates and conspiracy theories. The joke began with Harrelson recounting how his last time hosting was right before the global pandemic kicked off a series of lockdown measures, along with corresponding vaccine and mask mandates to prevent the virus’ spread.

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“The last time I did SNL was around Thanksgiving 2019, three years ago, and you will not believe what happened after the show,” he recalled. “The next day was a Sunday as it always is the day after I do Saturday Night Live. It’s like a pattern I noticed. Anyways, I went walking in the greatest part of this city, Central Park — laid against the tree and started to read the craziest script.”

Harrelson then went on to wind in and out of a very long series of jokes about his past and present substance use, from weed to alcohol, adding at one point that he starts “smoking around noon and get[s] progressively dumber as the day unfolds.” That was alongside self-descriptions like “anarchist Marxist, ethical hedonist, non-discriminatory empath, epistemological deconstructionist Texan.”

It all seems to help set up the idea that the politically “purple” actor might be a little unconventional before the Hunger Games actor delivered the back half of the joke that seemingly mentioned those lockdown measures and mandates.

“So the movie goes like this,” he began. “The biggest drug cartels in the world get together and buy up all the media and all the politicians and force all the people in the world to stay locked in their home. And people can only come out if they take the cartel’s drugs and keep taking them over and over.”

“I threw the script away. I mean, who was going to believe that crazy idea?” he added. “Being forced to do drugs? I do that voluntarily all day.”

The monologue, which appeared to compare vaccine makers to drug cartels, resulted in the actor trending on social media as users questioned — and in other cases, like Elon Musk, supported — the joke’s anti-mandate implications. The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to reps for Harrelson and Saturday Night Live for comment.

In a 2022 Vanity Fair interview, while promoting his movie Triangle of Sadness, the actor said on-set COVID-19 protocols like masks, goggles and face shields — and those hired to enforce them — were a “hassle,” “absurd” and “made it difficult” for him to work, “as one who doesn’t believe in the germ theory.”

He went on to espouse that using masks would result in breathing in higher rates of carbon monoxide, that U.S. states “that didn’t do the protocols fared better by far than the states that did” economically and that he had not gotten COVID-19 — or sick in seven years — because he is “internally clean.” (Masks trapping dangerous levels of CO2 has been debunked, while some though not all reports have indicated states with more stringent restrictions “had better health and economic outcomes.”)

In an interview with The New York Times published on Friday, Harrelson expanded on this, directly criticizing ongoing pandemic set protocols that require production crew to mask, test and vaccinate three years after the start of the pandemic while discussing the modern-day challenges of doing indie films like Champions.

“I don’t think that anybody should have the right to demand that you’re forced to do the testing, forced to wear the mask and forced to get vaccinated three years on,” he said, noting that he was angry in part for crew members. “I don’t have to wear the mask. Why should they? Why should they have to be vaccinated? How’s that not up to the individual?”

He also shared that as an actor he can “get out of wearing a mask” and “test less” because he’s not in the same position as the crew. Harrelson added that it’s ultimately “the anarchist part of me” that’s behind his rejection of required public health measures. “That’s not a free country,” he explained. “It’s three years. Stop.”

At present, COVID protocols require certain amounts of testing and mask-wearing, depending on the hospital admission rate for COVID in the area where the shooting is occurring. Vaccine mandates on set can only occur for Zone A — which includes performers and crew members in closest proximity to them — and are up to producers, whether they want to require vaccines or not.

In January, SAG-AFTRA also released the results of a survey among members around employers’ ability to mandate vaccine requirements on their productions. The results showed that a “supermajority” of 67.1 percent of surveyed members approved of employer-required COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of access to sets, with 26.1 percent disapproving and 6.8 percent having no opinion.

Harrelson has questioned the science around COVID-19 all the way back to the early days of national lockdowns. In a since-deleted April 2020 Instagram post in which he admits in the photo caption that he hasn’t “fully vetted” what he’s posting, Harrelson was among a few Hollywood names publicly sharing the COVID conspiracy theory that linked 5G to the virus.

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