SNL: Surviving without Wiig and Samberg

Written by Karma Chesnut on . Posted in TV

Saturday Night Live lost two prominent cast members in 2012 when Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg both left to pursue other projects. Before these two joined the cast (Wiig in 2006 and Samberg in 2005), the show was in a downward spiral. I certainly didn’t watch SNL and no one I knew did either.  It wasn’t just that  the sketches weren’t funny, they were borderline tedious. Then Wiig and Samberg came on the show, breathing new life into the sketches. These two were fresh and, more importantly, funny. So when Wiig and Samberg both left the show within two months of each other, my first thought was, “Well, I guess I won’t be watching SNL anymore.” Yet here we are almost a year later and I am pleased to say that SNL is still just as hilarious.

When I say that Wiig and Samberg saved SNL, please believe that I honestly mean it. Lets start with Wiig. Tina Fey first introduced the world of comedy to the idea that women are funnier than men in drag, an idea for which we as an audience are very grateful. Wiig further proves that Fey is right. Having seen Wiig’s work on SNL (her Drew Barrymore impression will leave you crying with happiness) as well as her movie Bridesmaids, which she also co-wrote, I am convinced that she is one of the funniest women currently in show business. Her fresh style and laugh-at-herself attitude brought a level of light-hearted fun to SNL that had been missing on the show since the days of Will Ferrel.

Then there is Samberg. A YouTube star before he joined the cast of SNL, he and his fellow Lonely Island members joined forces with SNL in 2005 and almost immediately began drawing audiences through their ingenious Digital Shorts. Who hasn’t seen “Lazy Sunday”, “I’m on a Boat”, or “D*ck in a Box”? No one. Samberg became an internet phenomenon seemingly overnight and put SNL on the radar of the YouTube/internet generation, a demographic that had regarded SNL as outdated and uninspired up until that point (myself included).

So it seems reasonable to assume that SNL would not survive without these two comedy giants. But, so far, this season’s episodes have proven my pessimistic prediction completely wrong.  So what happened? Did the remaining SNL cast and writers finally get their act together and figure out how to make good sketch comedy on their own?

There are three main reasons I believe can be attributed to SNL’s continued success: 1) The show not only kept some of their stronger cast members, but brought on new promising talent as well.  Currently, the funniest person on SNL would have to be Bill Hader. The man is a chameleon and can do some amazingly hilarious things with his voice. Watch Hader as Stefon on “Weekend Update” if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

But I predict we will see some stars emerge from the new cast members as well. The two to watch are Jay Pharoah (he does an amazing impression of Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Jay-Z, Barack Obama, Eddie Murphy…pretty much any black guy) and Cecily Strong (another potential strong woman in comedy).

2) “Weekend Update with Seth Meyer” will forever be the most anticipated part of SNL. Need I say more? As long as there are current events that we can poke fun at, SNL will be good to go.

3) The hosts this season have been awesome!  Seriously, some of them have been surprisingly good. I’ll admit that Jeremy Renner was pretty disappointing, but one who really impressed me was Jennifer Lawrence. I did not expect the serious, brooding star of The Hunger Games to be so refreshingly hilarious. The “Brenda the Waitress” sketch was especially laugh-out-loud funny. Then, only a few episodes later, SNL gave us the gift that was Christoph Waltz. If you haven’t already seen it, stop what you’re doing right now and Google search “DJesus Uncrossed.” It’s sacrilegious, I know, but you’ll thank me in the long run. And how can I talk  about SNL hosts without mentioning Justin Timberlake. Last week marked his fifth time hosting, and SNL pulled out all of the stops to commemorate this occasion. Everyone and their dog made an appearance on this show-stopping episode.

Saturday Night Live is just an all around well-done show. Yes, Wiig and Samberg will be whole-heartily missed, but the show goes on. It has survived the coming and going of amazingly talented as well as not-as-talented cast members. It has survived scrutiny and extremely negative reviews. It has survived upswings and downswings. It has survived for 38 seasons. My guess is it will continue to survive awhile longer.

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Karma writes about Culture, Movies, and TV for Rhombus Magazine. A native of Seattle, fan of all things nerdy and graduate of Anthropology from Brigham Young University. She can be found on twitter @KarmaMarieC.
  • Colton J Chesnut

    I hadn’t seen a lot of SNL when Kristen Wiig was still there, maybe I haven’t seen a lot of SNL period now that I think about it. So I pulled up some clips with her on Hulu, pretty funny stuff http://www.hulu.com/playlist/258