Ayo Edebiri's Excellent Hosting Marred by Controversy on Frustrating 'SNL'

February 3, 2024

Photo: Mary Ellen Matthews / NBC

BY Vish KhannaPublished Feb 5, 2024


It's so frustrating that a tremendous hosting turn by the great Ayo Edebiri will also be remembered for platforming vile, hateful figures (via one cameo, one via a future host announcement), and the uncomfortable position that puts the host and cast in. With a strange flare-up the day before, when disparaging comments the beloved Emmy-winner Edebiri once made about musical guest Jennifer Lopez resurfaced, there was already some must-see tension for this episode.

Fortunately, well-written and performed sketches mostly made this a memorable episode for the right reasons. Here's everything that happened on SNL this week.

The Cold Open

Punkie Johnson and Kenan Thompson appeared as Gayle King and Charles Barkley to moderate CNN's Republican Presidential Town Hall, which featured James Austin Johnson's silly Donald Trump. Claiming he put "the panic" in "Hispanic," Trump took questions from voters, providing ridiculous answers, including an elaborate one about Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce. The actual Nikki Haley appeared to confront Trump. Having Haley on at all was repulsive, and Ayo Edebiri will catch strays for appearing in this to make light of the Republican’s recent reply to a question about the cause of the Civil War (it was slavery). Normalizing a terrible politician (with no comedic timing) is an SNL tradition and it's always a disappointing and gross drag. This was no exception. 

The Monologue

Speaking of Edebiri, she almost broke down in tears while stating that hosting SNL was a genuine dream come true. She then told some sweet jokes about her family and about her star-making turn on the TV's best show, The Bear. She also recounted her time as a stand-up comedian in NYC and read a few jokes from an SNL packet she once wrote but never submitted, which was funny. Then we "hopped on to it, nuh," and a charming monologue was done.

Why'd You Say It?

Kenan Thompson played the host of a game show where contestants are confronted with past Instagram comments they'd made. Edebiri portrayed a shell-shocked social media misfit, which was amazing, while Andrew Dismukes played someone in denial (none of the players seemed to understand the game's central conceit before agreeing to participate). Chloe Fineman's self-promoting musician was a tad deranged, while Edebiri made a clever reference to the controversy about old mean comments she'd made about the episode's musical guest, Jennifer Lopez, which resurfaced on Friday. While some on Twitter decried this nod as a capitulation that was put upon Edebiri by the show's overlords, it was actually a classic zeitgeist acknowledgement where people involved in an awkward situation tried to prove they could laugh at themselves. All told, this was successful and very funny.

Dune Popcorn Bucket

Whoa, they made a whole-ass remote music video based on all the tweets people wrote about how the special edition Dune popcorn bucket looked like something people might want to have sex with. Aside from the rampant joke-stealing (week after week these days, it's clear that the writers' room seem to believe that the "zeitgeist" is still the Twitter TL, which they brazenly "borrow" from), it's always nice to see the talented Marcello Hernández lead a sketch, so this was pretty good.

Mushroom Needles with a Junkie

College students are surprised by two of their straight-edge nerd peers, played by Mikey Day and Edebiri, who lost their minds when one of them, Zachary, played by Andrew Dismukes, admitted he micro-dosed mushrooms to mellow out from school stress. With Edebiri matching Day's trademark amped up intensity, this was raucous and amusing.

New York Morning News 

A news report shot over to a field correspondent (Bowen Yang), who, ahead of Valentine's Day, spoke to couples about their meet-cute stories. One couple after another was weird as hell. Edebiri appeared as the same woman twice, which was very funny, and then Marcello Hernández sparked something with Yang, delighting the crowd. Beyond mirroring an Instagram bit that does this same man-on-the-street meet-cute thing (more social media-inspired ideas..), this sketch was also another example of SNL casting unknown actors in roles in certain sketches this year. Not sure what's up with that, but it's seemingly deliberate. 

Jennifer Lopez

Once described as a singer whose own voice doesn’t even always appear on her own albums, Jennifer Lopez brought a 1990s MTV Music Awards vibe and Latto to SNL for "Can't Get Enough," which was rather corny but she also brought Redman on-stage, so full marks for J.Lo. Redman should be on SNL every single week.

For the R&B ballad "This Is Me…Now," the normally frenetic Lopez was stationary, barely wearing a rose-covered dress, and legitimately sung the saccharine song. (She was even dropping bars. Where was Redman for this though? Bring back Redman, J.Lo — he should be on the show every single week).

Weekend Update

Colin Jost reported on the Taylor Swift Super Bowl conspiracy and made fun of MAGA conspiracy theorists, while Michael Che made a great joke about Barack Obama's heritage. He then made one of his customary, purposefully sexist jokes just to rile up the crowd so he can give them a withering glance and slight heckle that always accompanies it. Like clockwork, this guy. Oh man, Che also made a sharp Black History Month joke, while Jost had a great bit about Suits and also Ohio, where you have to test horses for meth. Wow, that crowning joke. Some very solid material this week.

Sarah Sherman played 18-year-old CJ Rossitano, who bore a striking resemblance to Jost, who may or may not have been the guest’s long-lost (and thus deadbeat) dad. The Jost digs here were over the top. Sherman and the writers finding new ways to get her to the desk to eviscerate Jost is admirable. This was such a good idea and done well.

Trivia Quest

Huh, a second game show sketch in the same episode. An oddly lazy move that didn't work. Ego Nwodim played the host and bonded with Edebiri's Naomi, as they both went to the same college (and were both Black women). This set some real favouritism in place, with the host doling out points to Naomi for no real reason. Yeah, this was the first real weak sketch of the night.

The Elevator

In this remote, Edebiri and a few cast members were trapped in an elevator when she and Bowen Yang’s characters suggested that everyone hooking up could lead to a new model of society. Elevatortown seemed like quite the wild, wild scene.

Mr. Fantasmic

Andrew Dismukes played a hypnotist entertaining an elementary school class, but surely wasn't expecting to encounter Edebiri's remarkable character, Solomon, who accused the hypnotist of turning him bi. Edebiri dug into this like a veteran cast member who knew they'd just created a hit, recurring character. She's unstoppable, this was wonderful and Emmy-worthy.

The People's Court

Edebiri played a plaintiff accusing a defendant (Ego Nwodim) of mangling her hair appointment. As more evidence was presented, it seemed the hair stylist partially scalped all of her customers, leaving their brains exposed. A silly thing, this was good.

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