Bill Hader hosted Saturday Night live this past week, and, surprisingly, ranked historically low ratings. Despite Hader’s status as an SNL favorite and his new movie, The Skeleton Twins (with fellow SNL favorite Kristen Wiig) out in theaters, even I didn’t watch it. I like Bill Hader, particularly for his bizarre portrayal of Julian Assange.
The one character that seems to resonate most with the zeitgeist is his adorably esoteric nightlife pundit, Stefon. His mannerisms- the face-covered giggle, the sleeve plucking- remind me of my nephew, and his love of surreal entertainment usually cracks me up.
Honestly, I think I’ve been to some of those parties, particularly when Vince was playing with The Absinthe Drinkers. Preponderance of guests with mechanical arms? Check. Improvised jazz theramin? Check. Woman using a live python as a hair ornament? Check. Three witches making out under a giant paper-mache tree? Check.
Two things bother me, though. Hader’s inability to keep from laughing on camera rubs me the wrong way. I don’t find it as endearing as the character. It’s wonderful to be reminded that this is live, and chaos can happen, but it just seems like whoever’s operating the teleprompter is playing a joke on the audience.
The other bothersome thing is when Stefon’s love of the freak-show element becomes the disturbing recurring gag about human machines, which inevitably turn into some kind of riff on dwarf-tossing. If it were a woman being shaken until she says “ask again later,” it’d be rapey; if it were a person of color, it’d be censored. True, Stefon’s descriptions are lavished with variance in ethnicity, gender and age, but a person being used as a machine seems less consensual and more cruel.
Peter Dinklage has appeared on SNL’s Weekend Update, as a Drunk Uncle, and he was no stranger to cruel humor. It’s surprising that SNL’s writers would continue to make the human machine joke, if the popular, award-winning and really fucking smart Dinklage is a friend of the show. What I’d really, really, really love to see, is for Stefon to get started on one of his explanations of human traffic cones/fire hydrants/boom boxes/suitcases/kites/piñatas/Magic 8 balls/whatever, and have Dinklage slowly, deliberately, roll up right next to him, just out of his line of sight.
I mean, come on, writers. If you’re going to do rough comedy, do it in an interesting way.