James Austin Johnson, a new cast member, played the president in the cold open. “S.N.L.” also paid tribute to Norm Macdonald, the former Weekend Update anchor, who died last month.
Published Oct. 3, 2021 Updated Oct. 4, 2021
It’s a new season at “Saturday Night Live,” which means new cast members — and, surprisingly, a new performer playing President Biden in his first episode on the show.
You may recall, “S.N.L.” did not have the easiest time finding a Biden impersonator last season: It relied on the guest star Jim Carrey to fill that role during the 2020 presidential election, but to no great effect, and Carrey announced he was leaving the show after a planned six weeks.
The mantle was then passed to cast member Alex Moffat, who appeared as Biden only intermittently during the rest of the season, prompting some criticism that “S.N.L.” was pulling its punches on the 46th president.
Enter new cast member James Austin Johnson, a comedian whose hiring as an “S.N.L.” featured player was announced this past Monday, and who was perhaps better known for viral videos in which he impersonated former president Donald J. Trump.
Most “S.N.L.” rookies can expect, at best, a single line in their debut appearances. But there was Johnson, front and center in the show’s cold open this weekend, playing President Biden as he caught up with the nation on recent events and tried to get Democrats to come to an agreement on his domestic agenda.
“What’s cooking?” Johnson asked. “What’s good? How was everybody’s summer? Mine was bad. Not Cuomo bad but definitely not Afghanistan good.”
Johnson continued, “Everyone keeps razzing me about that drone strike. But on the bright side, I went the entire summer without falling down the stairs once.”
He added, “And hey, Broadway’s back. That’s exciting, right? So is the Taliban. So, win some, lose some.”
The opening sketch also shone a spotlight on some “S.N.L.” veterans who weren’t sure if they’d return to the show this year, including Cecily Strong, who appeared as Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
“What do I want from this bill?” Strong asked. “I’ll never tell. ‘Cause I didn’t come to Congress to make friends. And so far, mission accomplished.”
Aidy Bryant, another cast member whose return to the show was uncertain, appeared as Senator Joe Manchin: “I’m a Democrat from West Virginia,” she said. “If I vote for electric cars, they’re going to kill me.”
Ego Nwodim played Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota (“Thank you, Joe, for not calling me Kamala”) and Melissa Villaseñor played New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who identified herself as “the Cruella of the Met Gala.”
Villaseñor said, “I wore a dress that said ‘Tax the Rich.’ Then spent all night partying with the rich. Oops.”
Pete Davidson was back as New York’s ex-Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, attempting to make peace within the Democratic Party: “We’re like one big Italian family,” Davidson said. “And you know what Italians like to do? Hug, and kiss and run their fingers up each other’s backs.”
And for good measure, Moffat turned up in this sketch, too — this time in his recurring role as Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. “You may remember me,” he said. “But you don’t.”
We’re not entirely sure why this segment spoofing Jeff Bezos’s summer sojourn into the near reaches of space had to be framed as a sendup of “Star Trek.” But it did give guest host Owen Wilson a good excuse to play a particularly reckless, cowboy-hatted Bezos, alongside his real life brother Luke Wilson, who appeared as Bezos’s younger brother and fellow astronaut Mark Bezos.
Mikey Day turned up to play one-time “S.N.L.” host Elon Musk and deliver this ultimatum: “Space is only big enough for one weird white billionaire. So you could say beating you is my prime objective.”
Over at the Weekend Update desk, the anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che riffed on the start of the new season and President Biden’s stalled infrastructure bill.
It is very exciting to be back. First show last season, Covid was raging everywhere. There was no vaccine. We were in the middle of an intense election. And right before we went on the air, the producers were like, ah, hey, real quick: The president might be dying. So have fun out there. It was an exciting time for the show. And, well, the big story this year? Infrastructure. I guess that’s an improvement on, like, a survival of the human race level. But it’s not great for TV. So if we could all just pretend to be excited about this next joke, I’d really appreciate it.
The infrastructure bill has been delayed indefinitely. So I guess we’ll cross that bridge when it collapses on top of us.
President Biden met with House Democrats yesterday to make a case for his Build Back Better budget plan. And no matter what you think about Biden’s plan, you’ve got to admire the confidence of a guy with a stutter naming something the Build Back Better budget plan.
The last time Davidson appeared at the Weekend Update desk in May, he seemed to be saying goodbye to “S.N.L.” entirely, telling viewers, “It’s been an honor to grow up in front of you guys, so thanks.”
But no: He was back this season and back on Weekend Update, mostly to make fun of his own attire at the Met Gala in September. (“I look like James Bond at his quinceañera.” “I look like if one of the three blind mice sold fentanyl.” “I look like Tilda Swinton on casual Friday.”)
As if to confirm that we hadn’t hallucinated his last monologue, Davidson concluded this one by shouting out, “I can’t believe I’m back!”
Weekend Update was also where “S.N.L.” paid tribute this week to Norm Macdonald, the segment’s former anchor (from 1994 to 1997), who died last month at the age of 61. Jost said that Macdonald “is the reason that I ever wanted to do Weekend Update,” then introduced a set of clips of Macdonald delivering some of his past Weekend Update jokes, including:
“At the White House this week, President Clinton officially came out against same-sex marriages. What’s more, the president said he is not too crazy about opposite-sex marriages either.”
“In a brilliant movie during closing arguments, Simpson attorney Johnnie Cochran put on the knit cap prosecutors say O.J. wore on the night of the murders. Although O.J. may have hurt his case when he suddenly blurted out, ‘Hey, hey, easy with that. That’s my lucky stabbing hat.’”
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