In his first hosting gig on Saturday Night Live, Justin Bieber didn't address the Grammy snub that allowed him to be at New York's Rockefeller Center instead of L.A.'s Staples Center this weekend.
But he was plenty willing to make light of two other controversies that have dogged him in the last couple of months: that, post-Selena, he's supposedly turned into a pothead and a womanizer. His attitude, if we can take the evening's comedy sketches as any indication? Guilty as charged on having been ganja-crazy as well as girl-crazy, and sorry about the former, if not the latter.
The pot reference arrived during a "Miley Cyrus Show" sketch in which Bieber played a Miley super-fan guesting with Cyrus (Vanessa Bayer), now showing off her punky blonde mullet, as was dad Billy Ray (Jason Sudeikis). The Bieb got to refer to himself in the third person as a "douche" who "looks like a lesbian." "I heard he still has his baby teeth," said Bieber of Bieber, bewigged and squinting like a younger James Franco.
In a tumble of words that came out so quick, they might not even all have been on the cue cards, he added: "I also heard he got busted for smoking weed and he’s really sorry about it and that people make mistakes and he’s never gonna do it again."
That's one way to address the elephant in the smoke-filled room. (There were no sizzurp jokes, however.)
As for the gossip reports that Bieber has not been terribly shy around the ladies in the wake of his split with Selena Gomez, he didn't exactly do anything to downplay the idea of himself as a very sensually aware grown-up with a taped Valentine's Day come-on that had him rolling around on a luscious red bed and inviting gals to share some "sexy time" with him. The catch was that any sexual shenanigans would have to take place in the presence of his consigliere, an apparently mentally disabled dude named Taco (Bobby Moynihan, in heart pajamas).
Third wheels aside, the sketch established that willing women can still count on Bieber for champagne (illegal at his age, but what the hey), roses, satin sheets, naughty dice that turn up an instruction to "fondle butt," photos of the inside of his pants, and ultrasound gel that will have to suffice for massage oil. At this point, a lot of moms were regretting the decision to let the 10-year-olds stay up past 12.
Neither of these self-referential sketches was riotously funny, though you could faintly hear them inspiring hysteria among the fan-filled live audience, whose reactionary audio track obviously had to be turned way, way down by the SNL sound mixers lest the whole show sound like Beatlemania. (It was sheer coincidence, surely, that Bieber's SNL appearance coincided with the 49th anniversary of the Beatles' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.)
Another couple of bits wasted the opportunity to satirize Bieber's fame. The opening monologue had him using his appearance as an excuse to celebrate Valentine's Day and Black History Month all at once—which could have been the perfect chance to spoof how Bieber mostly seems to want to hang out with a hip-hop crowd and fit in in the R&B world. But there wasn't any particularly knowing humor in having the Bieb tell female audience members that "Maya Angelou invented the peanut," or in a comedic kicker that had him ending up with Whoopi Goldberg as his date.
There was a slight dig at Bieber's identity as an urban homey in a subsequent skit that had a jocular security chief (Sudeikis) passive-aggressively taking him down a notch or two. But the sketch went south as he was introduced to a troupe of doubles designed to take the heat off him in public—i.e., nearly the entire cast adorned in bangs-heavy Bieber wigs. If anything, it was reminiscent of the early SNL days when most of the cast was made to dress up in bee costumes, except then the idea was that it was purposely witless.
Fortunately, Bieber was better served by some of the skits in the back half of the show that didn't directly trade off his fame but allowed him to be just another cog in the cast's wheel.
By far the best was a spoof of the classic Grease musical number "Tell Me More," here titled "Say More Stuff," with gender-separated groups of '50s greaser dudes and dolls offering different accounts of Bieber's romantic prowess. Only when the gals speak up does it become clear that Bieber's cigarette-wielding tough guy was disappointed that the "sweater puppies" in his girlfriend's shirt were not actual puppies. In the end he confesses to only being 11 (but, as at the end of Some Like It Hot, nobody's perfect, right?). When SNL gets these kinds of musical spoofs right, they get them really right, and the episode suddenly hit its stride.
That winning streak continued with a bit that had Bieber playing a modest Southern boyfriend who has the misfortune of having to meet his college girlfriend's book-learnin'-avoidant brother. SNL viewers tend to either love or hate the sketches that have one of the cast members screaming in the others' faces for four minutes (a comedy subgenre that last saw Bill Hader throwing one of the great hissy fits of all time at Adam Levine two weeks ago). This time it was Taran Killam's turn to rant, and he killed it as the quintessential angry slacker, towering over a suddenly minuscule-seeming Bieber and feeling him up as he chortled with malevolent glee. Bieber actually played intimidated and put-upon pretty well, until he finally started to crack up midway through—understandable, in the spit-inflected face of Killam, who's increasingly looking like an SNL MVP.
Does Bieber have skills as a comic performer? His "Funny or Die" bits already established that he can have some deadpan fun with his image, looking a little blank in a way that suggests a knowing playfulness and not necessarily just... blankness. He's better at being reactive to the more skilled SNL players than taking the comedic lead, as with an abstinence-themed skit that required him to go nerdy and say lines like "Don't go pokin' till 'I do' is spoken." (The few remaining moms still hoping Bieber might actually be a purity advocate had some more 'splainin' to do.) But casting directors eager to get him to accept a feature-film lead won't be dissuaded by what they saw here.
As expected, Bieber laid off his usual awards-show lip-synching for the show's two musical interludes, which might have been mandated by the fact that he was promoting an acoustic album even if we weren't still riding the wake of Beyonce-gate. Check out his two stripped-down numbers here: