Physical comedy at its highest level is very difficult to pull off: Believe it or not, there is a fine line between Dick Van Dyke’s pratfalls and Steve-O from Jackass snorting wasabi up his nose. Each is funny, to be sure, but let’s agree that the gamut of sophistication runs a long way.
Enter Melissa McCarthy, who hosted Saturday Night Live for the first time on October 1st, 2011. McCarthy, known initially for her work on the CBS sitcom Mike & Molly, and then on a grander scale as Maya Rudolph’s loud and obnoxious future sister-in-law in the film Bridesmaids, literally and brilliantly threw herself into her work at SNL, earning an Emmy nomination for (most notably) repeatedly throwing herself down a set of stairs during a sketch.
So how, in a return to Studio 8H last night, along with musical guests, the French rock band Phoenix, would McCarthy follow up her falling? Was it possible to come off as heady without cracking her noggin?
The answer arrived as soon as McCarthy opened the stage door to make her entrance. After announcer Don Pardo’s introduction and with the band playing SNL’s theme music, McCarthy oh-so carefully and deliberately inched down the stairs in giant-heeled shoes. She only made it to the last step as the band finished playing, so she begged for another couple of measures of music. Teetering on top of two bright red cartoon versions of high heels, McCarthy did something never done before: assaulted a band member. She shocked longtime SNL saxophonist Lenny Pickett by shoving him off his chair and using it as a walker, inching toward the front of the stage, all the while breathlessly throwing in monologue jokes.
And just like that, the tone was set, removing any physical expectation, and allowing McCarthy to settle in for one hell of a showcase.
The most topical sketch of the night took on the firing of Rutgers University’s men's basketball coach Mike Rice, who was caught on video berating and beating up his student athletes during practices. In a laugh-out-loud portrayal, McCarthy played a women's basketball coach at Middle Delaware State, Shelia Kelly, who could be seen on video throwing toasters and chasing her kids down with a golf cart. But more than the physical humor involved, McCarthy won for playing within the space, like when she threatens Jay Pharoah, her assistant coach . . . during his live interview . . . from behind the interviewer . . . and outside a window.
Another great piece was the send-up of the popular NBC show, The Voice, where McCarthy was a terrible, yet terribly self-aware, singing contestant. As she auditioned in front of the judges – Bill Hader as Adam Levine, Jay Pharoah as Usher, Kate McKinnon as Shakira, and Jason Sudeikis as Blake Shelton – McCarthy couldn’t figure out why in the world any of the judges would want to take a chance on her. In the end, she felt the best choice was to work with a judge who’s not even on the show anymore: Cee Lo.
Weekend Update featured a rare three-guest lineup, with appearances by Jacob (Vanessa Bayer), a recent Bar Mitzvah, who stopped by to share with Seth Meyers the story of Passover, by way of his hacky and very-scripted speech; Charles Barkley (Kenan Thompson) who commented on the NCAA tourney; and the always-amazing Drunk Uncle (Bobby Moynihan), who lamented a laundry list of what’s wrong with today’s society, even though he was there to talk specifically about tax season, alongside his buddy Peter Drunklage (Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage).
Best of all though, was Melissa McCarthy using her comedic brilliance to get her scene partner Jason Sudeikis to nearly break in a sketch about applying for a bank loan. Playing around, McCarthy offered Sudeikis a pen when he already had one in his hand; surprised, Sudeikis almost laughed. McCarthy, picking up on that, kept it up, feeding Sudeikis pens until it came to a head. Absolutely hilarious. And while small moments like that may not win her an Emmy nomination, it sure will win her a third hosting gig at SNL.
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