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After Democrats caucus chaos and Trumps Senate acquittal, SNL managed to make a memorable week forgettable

Saturday Night Live opens at Fridays New Hampshire Democratic debate. Following the Iowa caucuses results disaster and Donald Trumps Senate acquittal, the Democrats have a lot riding on this event.

Unfortunately for them, their presumed frontrunner, Joe Biden (Jason Sudeikis), just suffered a huge electoral kick in the nuts, although he promises to do what he does best and creep up from behind. Meanwhile, the current actual frontrunners, White Obama former mayor Pete Buttigieg (Colin Jost) and most popular guy on 4Chan Bernie Sanders (Larry David) are still duking it out over the Iowa results.

Struggling to keep from being totally overshadowed by all the raging male ego, Amy Klobuchar (Rachel Dratch) compares herself and fellow New York Times endorsee Elizabeth Warren (Kate McKinnon) to recent Super Bowl half-time performers Jennifer Lopez and Shakira in one of the worst jokes of the season (seriously, its so bad youd think the real Klobuchar came up with it).

Its still only the second most cringeworthy moment in the cold open, the first being the sneering chastisement of Sanderss army of internet trolls for their annoying behavior.

Its not that the show is wrong about them, its just that 1) any show that welcomed Trump on as host has no business moralizing from a centrist standpoint and 2) its just gonna cause the Bernie bros to become even more annoying.

Anyway, the sheer disgracefulness of this weeks political theater gives this otherwise boilerplate, shrug-worthy cold open an extra-foul aftertaste. Reality TV star and drag icon RuPaul hosts for the first time. Some viewers may be confused as to why hes not in drag for his monologue, but he assures us I am wearing my grandmothers panties.

He then reminisces about his early days in New York and runs down the three rules that have seen him through his various ups and downs: No 1: get the money up front. No 2: if they aint paying your bills pay them no mind. And finally: dont take life too seriously. Its all very life-affirming and inspirational, but its also distinctly lacking in laughs.

In Charades, two families one white, one black take opposing sides in the popular parlor game. The black family flagrantly disregards the rules, such as no talking and no pointing, and eventually steamrolls their competition. Its never clear whether the joke is that black people dont know how to play charades or that theyre really good at getting movie clues (this feels like the third or fourth time SNL has referenced Bad Boys for Life this season), though frankly, its never interesting or funny enough to matter.

RuPaul declares Chad, Pete Davidsons monosyllabic slacker, to be the future of drag. Hes given RuPauls patented makeover of The Tuck, The Look, and The Face, though it doesnt take in the end. Weighed down by two large chicken cutlets and a skintight dress, Chad just flops all over the place. This pre-filmed similarly sketch falls flat, although RuPaul is much more natural here than he is in a live one.

Then, in Check-Splitting, Cecily Strong and RuPaul play two sassy office temps decked out in 80s perms and blouses (its unclear if this is supposed to be a Designing Women reference, although it feels like it) who attempt to defend the honor of one of their coworkers during a pay dispute at a restaurant. All they end up doing is revealing how much of a pathetic closer she is, loudly exclaiming: Every night this woman goes home to nothing and NOTHING!. The audience is initially onboard, but the sketch keeps spinning its wheels, running out of steam long before it wraps up.

The same is true of Library, in which RuPaul visits childrens reading and teaches them how read the filth. According to RuPaul: Reading is throwing shade: a brutal insult wrapped inside a glorious wordplay. Unfortunately, any such glorious wordplay here is lost to bad timing and interminable bouts of awkward silence.

Justin Bieber is the nights musical guest. Sporting a terrible mustache and accompanied by a string trio, he performs the song Yummy.

Weekend Update kicks off with Colin Jost poking fun at the recent photograph of Trump making the rounds, in which the presidents grotesque tan lines are extra-visible. Per Jost: Its like the day at the nursing home where they let the patients put their own makeup on.

He and Michael Che trade shots at Trumps rambling acquittal speech; his confusing Kansas City, Kansas, for Kansas City, Missouri; and his penchant for slurring words all to the loud, self-satisfied applause of the audience. This material has already been driven into the ground on social media and across late night, and in light of Trumps recent victories and the Democrats recent debacles, it couldnt feel more pointless.

Series newcomer Chloe Fineman gets her first showcase by joining the hosts to discuss her favorite holiday, the Oscars. Its really just an excuse for her to do impressions some better than others of the actors Ana de Armas, Rene Zellweger, Saoirse Ronan, Timothe Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Scarlett Johansson and Laura Dern.

In a new episode of Thirsty Cops, RuPaul and Ego Nwodims horny officers take turns harassing a reckless driver. The last time the show used this setup, the Baltimore police department threw a hissy fit, but this one seems too milquetoast (and frankly, forgettable) to cause much of a stir.

The Old New York Show is a local-access program hosted by longtime drinking companions and shut-ins Madge and Dickie (Aidy Bryant and McKinnon). Theyre joined by their mutual ex-husband, Terry T (by day an unemployed shoe critic, by night an usher on Broadway where I yell at ladies to pee faster!). They all reminisce about the golden days of old New York (or, 1994), sing some quick show tunes and make prank calls/terrorist threats. Its all very scattershot, but also endearingly grungy and consistently funny.

The show obviously ran long, so rather than a closing sketch, things wrap up with Bieber (and guest rapper Quavo) performing Intentions.

Talented an overall performer as he is, RuPaul just didnt seem particularly well-suited to live sketch comedy. But the bigger issue with this episode, and with the show overall now that the primaries are well and truly upon us, is the political material.

This past week saw several major political car wrecks play out before our eyes, and yet Saturday Night Live couldnt craft one memorable sketch nor even a single memorable joke out of any of it. At this point, if the best it can do is show us an embarrassing picture of Trump that people have already been laughing at for two days, its fair to ask: what purpose is the show even serving?

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The former One Direction star talks about success at 16, dating normals and his right to rock a dress

Here he comes, one of the planets most conspicuous young men, stepping out of the London drizzle and into a dusty suburban pub. If there was an old vinyl record player in the place it would scratch quiet. Instead, the two-dozen punters turn hushed and intent, as if a unicorn has just trotted in off the street, and nobody wants to scare it off. Thats frickin Harry frickin Styles, whispers a young man at the bar, in this pub. The pop star is asked what he wants to drink and in a voice already inclined to undertones, quietly orders a cup of tea.

A former teen star who is now 25, a happier and rockier solo artist since his boyband One Direction split a few years ago, Styles has hidden himself inside a large, swamp-green parka. Hes tall, around the 6ft mark, and carries himself with a slight stoop. If Styles could only do something about his appearance from the neck up (elfin brow, wide Joker smile, a face thats recognisable across multiple continents) you sense he could drink in pubs like this anonymously enough. As it is, cover blown, he removes the parka. A woolly jumper beneath has a picture of the planet Saturn on it. Maybe theyve heard of Styles there, too.

We take a seat in the corner. On nearby tables, conversations start to sputter as people try to keep their own talk ticking along on autopilot while straining to hear what Styles says. I ask him about the sheer strangeness of this and other aspects of fame. Full stadiums, swooning admirers, an excess of opportunity and cash. Why isnt Styles an absolute ordeal of a human being by now? Keith Richards, at a comparable stage, imagined himself the pirate leader of a travelling nation-state, unbound by international law. Elton John was on vast amounts of cocaine. Meanwhile, heres Harry, known in the music industry as a bit of a freak, medically, having maintained abnormally high levels of civility in his system.

Boots, waistcoat and trousers, Gucci. Pearls, National Theatre costume hire. Necklace and rings, Styless own. Main image: top, waistcoat and trousers, Harris Reed. Photograph: Samuel Bradley/The Guardian

Styles tilts his head, flattered. There are others, he promises. People who are successful, and still nice. Its when you meet the people who are successful and arent nice, you think: Whats yer excuse? Cos Ive met the other sort.

Styles read Keith Richards autobiography a while back, and he recently finished Eltons, too. (Soooo much cocaine, he marvels.) We talk for a bit about whether extreme dissolute behaviour and artistic greatness go hand in hand. Styles, who has just released his second solo album, Fine Line, the penultimate track of which is called Treat People With Kindness, has to hope not. I just dont think you need to be a dick to be a good artist. But, then, there are also a lot of good artists who are dicks. So. Hmm. Maybe I need to start scaring babies in supermarkets?

A couple of lads hustle over to offer drinks. A photo is requested; they say theyll wait. Im weirdly anxious about Styless phone, which is slung on the table in front of him. What must be the black-market value of that thing? If fans were to get hold of it, would they want to open Styless music app first, to listen to tracks from the new album, or rush to see his messages and calls, to find out who Styles has been flirting with late at night? The interest in his music has always run at a ratio of about 50/50 with the interest in who he is dating.

Its a ratio Styles tries to adjust in favour of the music by being vague about his ex-partners, real and rumoured (Taylor Swift, Kendall Jenner, Parisian model Camille Rowe), diverting to discuss his songs about failed relationships. A year ago, when Styles was floating around near this pub in north London, where he lives, and California, where he tends to record, looking for inspiration for the new album, his close friend Tom Hull told him: Just date amazing women, or men, or whatever, who are going to fuck you up Let it affect you and write songs about it.

Styles, who writes in collaboration with Hull and producer Tyler Johnson, sounds as if he took the advice. The new album, Fine Line, is at its best when capturing late-hours moments, drunk calls, wandering hands, kitchen snogs. A golden-haired lover recurs. There are up tracks, down tracks, some with the trippy delirium of harpsichord-era Stones, others with the angsty Britpop swell of strings. While I listened, I couldnt help scribbling down names, possible subjects. On the lyric Theres a piece of you in how I dress I wrote: maybe Kendall? In a song about a lover way too bright for me: surely Taylor.

With Taylor Swift in 2012. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Styles says he keeps to a general rule: write what comes and dont think about it too much afterwards. The only time he worries about an individual lyric is if it risks putting an ex in a difficult position. If a songs about someone, is that fine? Or is that gonna get annoying for them, if people try to decipher it? Has he ever got that judgment call wrong and taken a bollocking from an angry ex? Styles raises an eyebrow. Maybe ask me in a month.

I quiz him on something Ive often wondered about. Why are the very famous so inclined to hook up with the very famous? From the outside it looks twice the hassle, with twice the odds of ending badly. Dont we all do that, though? Styles asks. Go into things that feel relatively doomed from the start? I ask him why he doesnt date normals. He seems tickled: Um. I mean, I do. I have a private life. You just dont know about it.

Styles doesnt particularly like being asked about his love life, but is amused all the same, as he is about most things. When I ask about the logistics of someone as well known as him dating someone anonymous (Do you need to give them, like, some sort of primer?), Styles snorts with laughter.

Uh-h-h. Like any conversation, I guess, its easier if youre honest. But I try to let it come up when it comes up. Cos thats a weird thing to talk about, yknow? If youve just started seeing someone, and youre, like: [he adopts a throaty, mission-briefing voice] So! This is whats gonna happen! Styles holds out his hands: no, ta. I dont wanna have that conversation, man. It would be fucking weird.

And not very sexy, I say.

Not sexy, Styles says, no.

Shirt and H and S rings, Gucci. Other rings, Styless own. Photograph: Samuel Bradley/The Guardian. Nail artist: Jenny Longworth at CLM

A quick aside about his accent, which is hard to capture in print. (Nat sexy, no.) After a workout in a hotel gym recently, Styles says he was taken aback (taken abeck) to be asked by a stranger whether he was speaking in a fake voice. He was appalled. But after so long crossing borders and time zones, living and working between England and the US, the accent has undergone a jazzy remix, and tends to get farthest from its Cheshire roots when hes around strangers. Once Styles begins to get comfortable in the pub, the flatter, no-nonsense sounds of his youth return. Nowpe he says, for nope. Fook, for fuck.

What the fook are they? This was the response of his childhood pals, he remembers, back in the village of Holmes Chapel, when little Harry had the gumption to show up in the playground wearing Chelsea boots instead of the approved chunky trainers. Styless parents had separated when he was very young, but there is no origin-story trauma: he has always stayed close to both. His mother, Anne, would praise his singing voice in the car, and when Styles was 16 it was agreed he could audition for a singing contest on TV.

The craziest part about the whole X Factor thing, says Styles, who auditioned for the ITV reality show in 2010, is that its so instant. The day before, youve never been on telly. Then suddenly Suddenly youre a piece of national property. You dont think at the time, Oh, maybe I should keep some of my personal stuff back for myself. Partly because, if youre a 16-year-old who does that, you look like a jumped-up little shit. Can you imagine? Sorry, actually, Id rather not comment You dont know what to be protective of.

By the winter of 2010, Styles was a fan favourite, a key member of One Direction, a five-piece that enjoyed enormous national exposure and gathered millions of fans before any music had been released. Cameras filmed every part of their rise. There wasnt any time in the dark to practise, test things out, mentally brace. We didnt get to dip in a toe, Styles says. But, listen, I was a kid, all I knew was: I didnt have to go to school any more. I thought it was fucking great. He remembers having a lot of fun, and being well taken care of. He jokes: Maybe its something Ill have to deal with a bit later. When I wake up in my 40s and think: Arrrggh.

With One Direction in 2012 (far right). Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

In February 2012, One Direction were feted at the Brit Awards, hours before they were due to fly to the US for the first time. On TV that night they looked young, silly, chuffed on the precipice of something huge, and with no clue at all. Their subsequent wonder-run (five platinum albums, four world tours) had its foundations in their ridiculous popularity in the States. Right away, Styles remembers, We were fuelling a machine. Keeping the fire going. He remembers it as a stimulating time; maybe overstimulating. Coming out of it, when the band stopped, I realised that the thing Id been missing, because it was all so fast paced, was human connection.

I first met Styles in 2014, around the time the lack of human connection was starting to bite. One Direction were promoting their penultimate album and Id been commissioned to write about themthe Guardian. Management felt the boys were so exhausted that my minutes in their presence had to be strictly counted. Inside a circle of cripplingly hot lights, while someone ran the stopwatch, we interacted as humanly as we could.

In Dunkirk (on left). Photograph: AP

I remember how jaded the best singer in the group, Zayn Malik, seemed. (Malik was weeks away from quitting.) I also remember how flattered and bewildered the others were to be asked a few grownup questions and not what Louis Tomlinson would later describe to me as whos-your-favourite-superhero all that shit. Styles was watchful and quiet that day. By total chance, a week later, we were in the same London cafe and he tapped my shoulder. He was having lunch with friends. Will ya join us?

It struck me as a quietly classy move. I was fascinated to see him interact with mates hed chosen for himself. Styles was dry and funny, older than his years. After lunch we said the usual things about keeping in touch, and followed each other on Twitter. I kept an eye on his updates, about leaving One Direction, releasing an impressive, self-titled debut album in 2017, playing for 36,000 people in Madison Square Garden in New York, acting in Christopher Nolans Oscar-nominated war movie Dunkirk. Meanwhile, I did my best to manage the mess that had been made of my own account after Styless Twitter follow ignited a small explosion of teenage longing in my mentions. For at least a year I received weekly, sometimes daily, pleas from people who wanted messages conveyed to H. Still now, every few days, fans in America, Asia and Europe follow me to see what H sees in their timeline.

He has around 50 million social media followers, and with that comes the ability to ripple the internet like somebody airing a bedsheet. Ive noticed, though, how rarely Styles directs people to support specific causes, last doing so in 2018, when he encouraged people to join a march against gun violence. Why dont you use your influence more, I ask? Because of dilution. Because Id prefer, when I say something, for people to think I mean it. He runs his fingertips across the table. To be honest, Im still searching for that one thing, yknow. Something I can really stand up for, and get behind, and be like: This Is My Life Fight. Theres a power to doing the one thing. You want your whole weight behind it.

Its one of the things that sets Styles apart, the way he puts his whole weight behind the different aspects of this strange job. If you watch footage of him as a guest host on Saturday Night Live last month, Styles plunges in, fully inhabiting the silliness of every sketch. He has good songs in his repertoire (2017s ballad Sign Of The Times stands out), and would probably admit to some middling songs that attest to his relative inexperience as a writer. But whichever of his songs Styles performs, he goes all-in, trusting that his zest and energy will hold an audiences attention. He approaches this interview in roughly the same spirit, not enjoying every question, fidgeting, pleading for clemency once or twice, but giving everything due consideration.

I bring up something Styles joked about earlier: the possibility of waking up in his 40s with deferred mental health problems.

Mm, he says.

Jacket and brooch, Maison Margiela. Photograph: Samuel Bradley/The Guardian

Have you thought about therapy, I ask, to get ahead of that?

I go, he says. Not every week. But whenever I feel I need it. For a really long time I didnt try therapy, because I wanted to be the guy who could say: I dont need it. Now I realise I was only getting in my own way. He shrugs. It helps.

Lately hes been reading a lot (Lisa Taddeos Three Women stood out). Hes watched a lot of Netflix (crime thrillers and music docs). He recently cried through Slave Play on Broadway. I sense in Styles, at 25, a pent-up undergraduate hunger, maybe a desire to make up for lost time. Ive definitely been wanting to learn stuff, try stuff, he says. Things I didnt grow up around. Things Id always been a little bit sceptical about. Like therapy, like meditation. All I need to hear is someone saying, Apparently, its amazing, and Ill try it. When I was in Los Angeles once, I heard about juice cleanses. I thought, yeah, Ill do a juice cleanse.

How messy were the results?

You mean? Styles raises an eyebrow, recalling the poos. They were all right. I was just hungry. And bored.

One notable feature of Styless solo career has been his headlong embrace of unconventional clothing. A 2017-18 tour could have been sponsored by the Dulux colour wheel: mustard tones in Sydney, shocking pink in Dallas. In a more serious sense, some of Styless choices have fed into an important political discussion about gendered fashion. In May, as a co-host at the Met Gala in New York, he stepped out in a sheer blouse and a pearl earring. One evenings work challenged a lot of stubborn preconceptions about who gets to wear what.

He says: What women wear. What men wear. For me its not a question of that. If I see a nice shirt and get told, But its for ladies. I think: Okaaaay? Doesnt make me want to wear it less though. I think the moment you feel more comfortable with yourself, it all becomes a lot easier.

With Kendall Jenner at the Met Gala in May. Photograph: Getty Images

What do you mean, I ask?

Styles is leaning forward, hands folded around his cup of tea. A part of it was having, like, a big moment of self-reflection. And self-acceptance. He has a habit, when hes made a definitive statement, of raising his chin and nodding a little, as if to decide whether he still agrees with himself. I think its a very free, and freeing, time. I think people are asking, Why not? a lot more. Which excites me. Its not just clothes where lines have been blurred, its going across so many things. I think you can relate it to music, and how genres are blurring

Sexuality, too, I say.

Yep, says Styles. Yep.

Theres a popular perception, I say, that you dont define as straight. The lyrics to your songs, the clothes you choose to wear, even the sleeve of your new record all of these things get picked apart for clues that youre bisexual. Has anyone ever asked you though?

Um. I guess I haaaaave been asked? But, I dunno. Why?

You mean, why ask the question?

Yeah, I think I do mean that. Its not like Im sitting on an answer, and protecting it, and holding it back. Its not a case of: Im not telling you cos I dont want to tell you. Its not: ooh this is mine and its not yours.

What is it then?

Its: who cares? Does that make sense? Its just: who cares?

Dress and shirt, Comme des Garons. Photograph: Samuel Bradley/The Guardian. Stylist: Harry Lambert at Bryant Artists. Hair: Paul Hanlon. Makeup: Florrie White. Set design: Samuel Pidgen

I suppose my only question, then, is about the stuff that looks like clue dropping. Because if you dont want people to care, why hint? Take the album sleeve for Fine Line. With its horizontal pink and blue stripes, a splash of magenta, the design seems to gesture at the trans and bisexual pride flags. Which is great unless the person behind it happens to be a straight dude, sprinkling LGBTQ crumbs that lead nowhere. Does that make sense?

Styles nods. Am I sprinkling in nuggets of sexual ambiguity to try and be more interesting? No. As for the rest, he says, in terms of how I wanna dress, and what the album sleeves gonna be, I tend to make decisions in terms of collaborators I want to work with. I want things to look a certain way. Not because it makes me look gay, or it makes me look straight, or it makes me look bisexual, but because I think it looks cool. And more than that, I dunno, I just think sexualitys something thats fun. Honestly? I cant say Ive given it any more thought than that.

In our musty corner of the pub weve somehow passed a couple of hours in intense discussion. Well lighten up, before Styles heads home, with some chat about clever films (Marriage Story), stupider viral videos (the little boy whos just learned the word apparently), that favourite-superhero stuff that, after all, has its place. He talks about the curious double time scheme of a pop stars life those crammed 18-hour days and then the sudden empty off-time when Styles might find himself walking miles across London to buy a book, afterwards congratulating himself: Well, thats an hour filled.

Before we stand up I ask if hes minded any of my questions.

He pushes out his lips, possibly recalling them one by one, then shakes his head. What I would say, about the whole being-asked-about-my-sexuality thing this is a job where you might get asked. And to complain about it, to say you hate it, and still do the job, thats just silly. You respect that someones gonna ask. And you hope that they respect they might not get an answer.

I tell him I do.


Styles has to find those lads who wanted a photo. He scoops his phone off the table and flicks his thumb around the screen. Lately, he says, when he messes around on his phone in an idle moment, its mostly to look at videos clips that his friends have sent him, in which their kids sing along to music hes made. Never gets old, Styles says, beaming.

A few years ago, when he emerged from the boyband, blinking, shattered, he set himself three tasks: prioritise friends, learn how to be an adult, achieve a proper balance between the big and the small. Full stadiums, provocative outfits Styles genuinely loves these things. But I guess Ive realised, as well, he says, that the coolest things are not always the cool things. Do you know what I mean? He grabs his parka and his phone and, a little stooped, heads for home.

Harry Styless album Fine Line is out now.

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From an unlikely bodega musical to the return of Opera Man, a patchy season still brought with it some hilarious moments

Saturday Night Live finished its 44th season this past weekend which means its time to look back at the periods best moments. If theres anything to be gleaned from this highly subjective list, its that the show is at its best when avoiding political and pop culture headlines (which, to be fair, no one seems up to the task of adequately satirizing any more), and instead focusing on weirdness and idiosyncrasy.

So here are 10 of the best sketches from this past season:

10. Colin Jost and Michael Che swap jokes

Much of the critical ire aimed at the show these days is directed specifically at Weekend Update hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che and for good reason. At best, Jost and Che come across as bland and indifferent; at worst, as smarmy frat boys. But when the duo wrote jokes for one another and forced each other to read them on air, sight unseen, they showed they have the potential to use that same unlikability to their advantage. The malicious, envelope-pushing humor they display here is funny beyond its shock value, especially the edgy racial material written by Che for Jost.

9. Paranormal Occurrence

Of all of Kate McKinnons recurring weirdo characters, theres none so consistently hilarious as Coleen Rafferty the unflappable, chain-smoking southern schlemiel who finds herself on the disgusting end of some paranormal mischief. The character made two appearances this year, and while both were excellent, the first gets the edge thanks to its particularly creative references to genitalia.

8. Bodega Bathroom

This high-concept parody of Broadway and movie musicals everything from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to Rent set around a filthy New York bodega bathroom manages to make excellent use of almost the entire cast while juggling a series of difficult songs and impressive costumes, props and staging.

7. HSN

This deranged and profane sketch about a guest on the Home Shopping Network who leaves her wares in the Uber she took to the studio and then proceeds to verbally immolate herself on live TV is a masterclass of ratcheting hilarity. Cecily Strong is wonderful as the sympathetic but psychotic loser at its center, and things get even better when Aidy Bryant shows up as her monstrous mother and pulls everything into full-blown southern Gothic territory. Credit as well to host Claire Foy, whose subtle reactions are as good as the others histrionics.

6. Opera Man Returns

When it was announced that Adam Sandler would be returning to SNL for the first time since he was fired over two decades ago, hopes ran high that hed bring back some of his memorable characters. While Canteen Boy was nowhere to be found, Opera Man did make a glorious return to the Weekend Update desk. Sandler showed he still has the chops to pull off the character, while reminding us of what a great performer he can be when his heart is in the material.

5. Charmin

James McAvoy was one of the best hosts of the season, and this sketch which finds a focus group made up of idiots answering questions about a Charmin toilet paper commercial was the clear breakout from his episode. His scatalogically obsessed Philly meathead proved an instantly classic character, and if SNL is smart itll find an excuse to bring him back every couple of years to reprise the role.

4. Weezer

From thinkpieces to Reddit forums to entire podcasts, the question of when (or more generously, if) Weezer went downhill has given music nerds plenty to debate. SNL managed to capture this very specific argument beautifully in the standout sketch from its Christmas episode. While viewers unfamiliar with the alt-pop-punk icons might have been left scratching their heads, this was a true gift for fans (and detractors) of the group.

3. Whats That Name?

Already a sharp takedown of deeply ingrained cultural misogyny, what truly elevates this sketch is the psychological game of cat-and-mouse that develops between sinister talkshow host Vince Blake (Bill Hader) and dumb donkey contestant Todd (John Mulaney). Given their history as creative partners, its no surprise Hader and Mulaney displayed the best chemistry to be found anywhere within this season.

2. Chris Farley Tribute

Adam Sandlers homecoming provided one of the most moving moments in the history of Saturday Night Live when the comedian performed a tribute to fellow SNL alumnus and best friend Chris Farley, who died in 1997. The show had paid tribute to Farley on previous occasions, but none felt truly adequate until now. That Sandlers tribute was allowed to close out the show made it all the more powerful.

1. Career Day

The funniest, most gonzo, most rewatchable sketch of the entire season came during its first episode. As decrepit but fiery oil baron Abraham H Parnassus, Adam Driver turned in a character for the ages a cross between The Simpsons Monty Burns and There Will Be Bloods Daniel Plainview, all by way of Vincent Price (Drivers impression even managed to eclipse Haders). Everything in this sketch is pure gold every line of dialogue, every choice Driver makes, every interaction he has with the rest of the cast. Even Davidsons breaking adds to the electricity of it all. Parnassus could probably carry an entire movie, but for now well have to settle for this perfect five-minute sketch.

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The Late Night host discusses how talkshows became a hotbed of political activism and the terrifying thought he might be to blame for Donald Trump

It is 6pm in New York and inside the NBC building known to those who work in it and those who watch the shows produced out of it as 30 Rock excitement is spreading in one of the green rooms. Blazered NBC pages officiously tidy away coffee cups left by messy guests, while Tracy Morgan, one of tonights guests, practises his lines for an upcoming sketch with his entourage (Im not Tracy Morgan look at my moustache!). The temptation to get up and look for Jack Donaghy and Liz Lemon is great.

But this is not a fictional scene from Tina Feys legendary and, in this building, seemingly omnipresent sitcom. Rather, it is the runup to the talkshow Late Night, helmed since 2014 by Feys former Saturday Night Live colleague Seth Meyers, which goes out four nights a week at 12.35am.

In Britain, if a comedian were given a talkshow that airs at 12.35am, it would look as if they were barely clinging on to the Z list. But in the US, it is confirmation that their career is made. James Corden, over on the CBS network, has become (much to Britains bemusement) a bona fide US star hosting The Late Late Show, which airs at the same time, while the previous hosts of NBCs Late Night were David Letterman, Conan OBrien and Jimmy Fallon. As such, it is seen as the testing ground for arguably the highest-profile job on US TV: host of NBCs The Tonight Show, currently held by Fallon, another SNL alum. But Meyers is doing things a little differently from his predecessors.

Meyers interviewing Kellyanne Conway on Late Night.

At about 6.30pm, the audience is ushered into the surprisingly small studio. Rule of thumb about US TV: all studios are smaller and all hosts are better looking than you expect, and Late Night with Seth Meyers ticks both of those boxes. Handsome in that unthreatening, clean-cut American way, Meyers sits behind a desk and launches almost immediately into jokes about DonaldTrump (He held a press conference hostage).

Late-night TV hosts, from Johnny Carson to Letterman to Corden, are known for their gentle wit, funny regular slots (Lettermans Top 10 lists, Cordens Carpool Karaoke) and soft-soaped interviews. Nothing to scare the most mainstream of horses, in other words. Meyers, however, is becoming increasingly celebrated for his political bent. Vanity Fair dubbed him the real heir to Jon Stewart, and last week the New York Times described him as the most potent of the late-night hosts. In January, he interviewed Kellyanne Conway, who would shortly become the White House counselor to the president and, in his amusing-but-not-snarky, clued-up-but-not-aggressive style, took her to task about reports that the Russian government has compromising information on Trump. In his regular segment, A Closer Look, he focuses in depth on an often-political issue. Unsurprisingly, for the past few months, and especially since the inauguration, it has been dominated by Trump, and tonight is no exception.

It is racist to assume all black people know each other, Meyers says, referring to Trump telling April Ryan, an African-American reporter, to set up a meeting for him with the Congressional Black Caucus. We dont assume you know all orange people. Can you set up a meeting with the Lorax?

Morgan then enters stage left, signalling the switch to the celebrity part of the show.

About an hour later, I meet Meyers in his dressing room. There is a 1990s Nintendo game console hooked up to the TV, and on one wall hangs the cue card from his final SNL appearance, with shoutouts to him on it from Amy Poehler, Bill Hader and others. Meyers looks as if he has just had a massage, as opposed to just finishing a 12-hour working day, plus an early morning wakeup call from his wife, Alexi Ashe, courtesy of their 10-month-old son, Ashe. On top of the usual rigours of hosting a daily TV show, there has been, unusually, no comedown after the election; if anything, the political pace has stepped up a notch.

Even in 2008 which was probably the most exciting political cycle Iexperienced while at SNL there was a sense of a hangover afterwards. But this time, it has been relentless, and were only relentless in what were doing because [the Trump administration is] so relentless in what theyre doing. So this is all a reactive relentlessness, he says, gloving, as he often does, his political points with aneasygoinglaugh.

Meyers during a Late Night White House press conference sketch. Photograph: NBC/Getty Images

Late-night TV has, he agrees, certainly changed in the past decade. Instead of being the thing Americans fall asleep in front of, dominated by fluffy celebrity interviews, it has become the source of some of the most high-profile political activism in the US. Theres Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee on TBS and The Daily Show, now hosted by Trevor Noah, on Comedy Central. But these are all cable shows. It is far more unusual for a network host to seize the political mantle, as Meyers has done on NBC, and as Stephen Colbert has done to an initially much less certain extent on CBSs The Late Show. And, for many viewers, these shows have become their primary news source.

I feel like everyone you mentioned owes an enormous debt to Jon Stewarts Daily Show, because I think that started this trend of people having talkshows where they have a point of view that theyre not afraid to share, says Meyers.

But while Stewart may have provided the US TV template for combining entertainment and politics, the truth is that entertainment wouldnt have started to become more like the news if TV news hadnt already turned into entertainment. In a new book, The Daily Show: An Oral History, Lizz Winstead, the shows creator, says she got her inspiration from watching CNNs coverage of the Gulf war: CNN had replaced their fancy reporters with young people, and they were on roofs, and there was a theme song and all this shit. And I just thought: Are they reporting on the war or trying to sell me awar? Winstead recalls.

It is almost impossible to find actual news on US cable because the channels are dominated by hour-long talkshows hosted by people such as Bill OReilly (Fox News) and Chris Hayes (MSNBC) giving their spin on the news in a way that is pretty indistinguishable from Meyerss A Closer Look, but with fewer jokes. Surely this illustrates the dissolution of boundaries between TV journalism and entertainment, to journalisms detriment and entertainments gain?

Well, I speak for my show only when I say were in debt to journalists because were just pulling clips all day long which they made in the first place. We know that a lot of people watching our show havent been watching the news as closely as we have they havent been following hundreds of reporters on Twitter all day. So I guess our goal is to say: Hey, heres what happened today in 10 minutes, and hopefully well tell you in a way that wont make you throw your remote at the television, he says.

According to Meyers, NBC has been totally supportive of the show having a [political] point of view, but as Feys 30 Rock gleefully illustrated, TV networks dont do anything out of a sense of moral obligation; they are guided purely by the financials. NBC clearly saw which way the wind was blowing for US talkshows. Fallon has notably resisted giving his show a political spin, a tricky stance during this particular election and one that nearly undid him: the photo of him chummily ruffling Trumps hair during an interview before the election became the visual symbol of the medias toothlessness with the GOP candidate.

Tina Fey as Sarah Palin and Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton in Meyerss SNL sketch. Photograph: Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU/Getty)

Meyers, inevitably, defends his old friend: Jimmy had always presented himself as an apolitical entertainer. It would have been different if the interview had taken place on a show that had presented itself as being political, but I understood when it happened.

But Fallon himself seems to feel regret. The week before I met with Meyers, he appeared on Fallons show.

Your interview with Kellyanne Conway was fantastic I had Trump on the show and, er, it had a pretty big reaction, Fallon said, sounding uncharacteristically deflated. Colberts more politically leaning show is currently beating Fallons in the ratings, and Meyers show is ahead of Cordens apolitical talkshow.

I ask Meyers if he thinks its a problem that all these late-night political comedians lean left. Doesnt that play into the Trump narrative of a mainstream media bias?

I dont know what else to do other than tell people what I think to be untruths. I mean, theres that idea of Oh well meet them halfway, but I dont know where halfway is any more. Its like asking someone to meet halfway on a bridge thats already collapsed, he says. But we dont come in saying: How are we going to get Trump today? We come in saying: Whats in the news today? And were now on a 26-day streak of it being Trump-related, but thats not because were out looking for it.

Anyway, he says, their influence shouldnt be overstated, and hes right. After all, these shows all mocked Trump throughout the election and we all know how that turned out.

Except, I respond, doesnt the 2011 White House correspondents dinner disprove his theory? He visibly winces.

In 2011, Meyers hosted the dinner, an annual DC shindig for the media, but this one has gone down in infamy because it was almost certainly the night Trump decided to run for office. Fresh from his birther pursuit of President Obama, Trump attended and was mocked ruthlessly by both Meyers and Obama, to Trumps visible fury.

Someday someone may well write a kind of micro-history of that night, as historians now are wont to do, as a pivot in American life, Adam Gopnik later wrote in the New Yorker.

Meyers with his wife Alexi Ashe. Photograph: WireImage/Mike Pont

Yeah, that is pretty terrifying, says Meyers with an easy laugh.

One of Meyerss lines was: Donald Trump has been saying that he will run for president as a Republican, which is surprising since I just assumed he was running as a joke. Did he ever think it might be risky to goad Trump like that?

No! Not at all! I mean, you have to remember back in 2011 he was really drilling into this birth certificate thing, saying all these things that seem like misdemeanours now compared to all the other [things he has since said]. So I couldnt have asked for a better target, because the best target is someone no one can defend, and he was doing indefensible things.

Could he see how angry Trump was?

No, but when I walked off stage, I had never received so many texts so quickly, most in a congratulatory vein, but also a lot of people warning me to stay away from him, he laughs again.

Meyers, 43, grew up in suburban Illinois and New Hampshire, the son of a financier and French teacher. It was, Meyers says, a super loving and supportive family, which I know is not where comedians are supposed to come from. But Meyers and his younger brother, Josh, who is an actor (Red Oaks, That 70s Show), compensated for their happy childhood by watching Monty Python and SNL with their parents. I think the greatest gift your parents can give you if you want to be a comedian is good taste. Once youve watched Monty Python, you cant watch Full House, he says, referring to the awful 1980s sitcom that launched the Olsen twins.

Meyerss career path has looked almost stunningly effortless. In 2001, he was cast in SNL, a blessing from the comedy gods. But he soon had a collapse of self-confidence, or something close to it.

I was very much aiming to go into movies eventually, like a lot of SNL people. But, soon after I arrived, all these really good actors started, like Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis and Andy Samberg, and Ithought: If I were casting a movie, Iwould put all of them in it over me. I thought I was an excellent writer, but I knew they were better at acting than me, he says.

To his relief, SNLs founder and producer, Lorne Michaels, made him writing supervisor and gave him the plum job of hosting SNLs regular satirical news slot, Weekend Update. This, almost certainly, is what eventually got him the Late Night gig. Weekend Update taught him how to combine politics and comedy, and so did writing the famous SNL skits in which Tina Fey played Sarah Palin and Amy Poehler played Hillary Clinton. Healso helped write one of SNLs greatest moments, when in 2007 a massively pregnant Poehler rapped about Sarah Palin (In Wasilla, we just chill, baby, chill-a/But when I see oil its drill, baby, drill-a), while Palin herself gamely danced along.

That was my favourite moment in the show, and I always say that would not have worked if Palin had not been such a good sport, says Meyers.

Doesnt he worry that the current administration wont be like that, and he wont even get them to appear on his show?

Well, hopefully we treated Kellyanne Conway well enough so the word gets out that were to be trusted. Id love to have Sean Spicer on, that would be interesting, he says.

Interesting, if unlikely.

Maybe, maybe, he concedes. The truth is, although he would never say it, that with the growing strength of Meyerss monologues and political slots, the guests on his show are almost by the by. I have to assume that [the administration] would be happier if we all gave up doing what were doing and thats why you cant give up.

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Chappelle arrives back on the scene amid a new wave of black comedians, some of whom fit the Def Comedy Jam mold while others take after his offbeat humor

Its hard to believe that Dave Chappelle hasnt hosted Saturday Night Live before. It seems impossible that someone who has influenced comedy like he has would have never received a career-defining moment like that. Then again, Chappelle made himself scarce in the years after walking away from his massive hit series Chappelles Show. Plus, SNL though the launching pad for Eddie Murphys meteoric rise to superstardom has rarely been amenable to the talents of black comedians. That Chappelle is choosing this as his major comeback vehicle (and bringing A Tribe Called Quest along with him) is significant, especially at a time when its fair to wonder where black comedy is headed in the second half of the decade.

Ive seen Dave Chappelle perform live twice: at the height of Chappelles Shows success at a mid-sized theater in Fresno, California, and this year, in Los Angeles, on the eve of the Academy awards. The latter show took place inside a Latin dance club near Echo Park. We were made to hand over our cellphones so as not to spoil a raucous evening that included guest appearances by Oscar host Chris Rock (testing out material for his Oscar hosting gig) and Christopher Kid Reid from Kid n Play. That Fresno show was tight, controlled and traditional. The LA show included a running gag about orgasming, lots of cigarettes and the occasional blunt. It was a stream-of-consciousness monologue that would be familiar to anyone whos seen Chappelle live in the past few years as if late-period Lenny Bruce didnt have to fight against censorship and could just get high on stage and ramble. That formless, meandering style lends itself to glib, controversial rhetoric like his recent comments on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at the Cutting Room in New York. He called Trump the most gangsta candidate ever and while acknowledging that he voted for Clinton, said that shes not right, and we all know shes not right.

Chappelles canonical status as a comic allows him these sorts of indulgences and I cant say I didnt enjoy myself, but I cant help but yearn for the focused, hungry Chappelle who I worshipped as a young adult. As an awkward biracial kid in a small town, Chappelle was the first black comic I could relate to. He straddled the line between worlds in a way that even Eddie Murphy couldnt. Chappelle was vulnerable before white comics like Louis CK and Marc Maron made that cool, and well before black stand-ups like Hannibal Buress and W Kamau Bell could get away with it. But he was never patronizing or disinterested in his own blackness the way Bill Cosby could be.

Historically, black comedy has been about bravado, about decibel levels, and about playing to the crowd Murphys swagger in Raw and Delirious, Richard Pryors bare emotional intensity and confidence, Redd Foxxs bawdy misanthropy, and Bernie Macs grumpy old man ferocity. Its a tradition typified by Def Comedy Jam, the Russell Simmons institution thats returning to TV this weekend, the same night that Chappelle hosts SNL.

The Eric Andre Show on Adult Swim: one of the shows that continues Chappelles tradition. Photograph: null/PR company handout

The special, All Def Comedy, is a revival of sorts for the Def Comedy brand and a spinoff of a digital series produced by Simmonss All Def Digital multi-platform brand. Looking at the lineup it seems that black comedy hasnt changed much since Chappelle went home. All Def is hosted by Chris Rocks brother Tony, a fixture at LAs Laugh Factory and the go-to MC for shows like this. Tony also hosted the short-lived Showtime at the Apollo revival, Apollo Live on BET. A glance at some of the YouTube clips of the listed performers reveals common themes that run through the history of black stand-up: the inscrutability of black women, infidelity, the great mysteries of the bowel movement and the trials and tribulations of being broke.

The supremely confident, strong black comic is personified today by people like Kevin Hart, arguably the biggest comedy star in the country today at least in terms of his ability to consistently draw fans to movie theaters, football stadiums and various home media devices. Theres certainly self-deprecation in Harts work: his persona is that of someone who projects authority and self-esteem, but constantly subverts that image. Its a deft modernization of the black comic standard. Theres also SNL cast member Leslie Jones, who derives many of her laughs from her booming voice and unshakeable belief in herself, a character trait that became invaluable during her recent struggles with Twitter trolls and the alt-right.

But that was never Chappelle. From the conceptual absurdity of his drug-dealing baby bit to the laconic stoner humor of Half-Baked, Chappelle never seemed to embrace the theatrics of Rock or Murphy (and their descendent, Hart). His crackly voice and lanky frame didnt lend themselves to the gravitas of those people. His tendency to crack up or appear mystified by his own jokes (signified by a habit of slapping his microphone on his thigh) was endearing, not intimidating.

His inviting, non-threatening persona might have opened the door for the complicated response to Chappelles Show that drove him away from the spotlight. A recent piece in The Fader by Amos Barshad looked back at the sketch that pushed Chappelle away a racially charged bit of satire that a white audience member enjoyed way too much for his liking. Without the air of menace, the sex appeal, or authority that Rock, Murphy, Pryor, Foxx and others brought to their work, Chappelle might have made the jokes we all tell ourselves in the barber shops or basketball courts acceptable to white folks putting black pain on a Hot Topic T-shirt.

That he walked away says more about his intelligence and keen sense of empathy than anything else in his body of work. He couldnt stand to profit from work he didnt believe in, which is not necessarily true of many of his peers in black comedy. After all, Robert Townsend directed BAPS and Bill Bellamy was in whatever this was supposed to be.

The influence of Chappelle is felt in comics such as Buress, the Lucas Brothers, Wyatt Cenac, Eric Andre and others acts that dont struggle to appeal to white audiences and dont really fit in the baroque Def Jam mold. Black comedy today is seeing the same sort of divide between alt-comics and club comics that fundamentally altered the white comic landscape in the 1990s and 2000s. Chappelle could do both and based on the diverse makeup of the tiny club show I saw, he still can. The thing is, the Def Jam comic will always be a necessary part of the black cultural experience. He or she is a conduit for our frustrations, an avatar of strength in the face of rampant prejudice, and a keen observer of a world most people dont understand. Theyre also, to borrow a phrase, for us and by us in a society dominated by whiteness as status quo. Chappelle might have retreated from the siren song of the mainstream because they didnt really understand him (or even care to), but hopefully what we will see on Saturday night is a reminder of how he got so close in the first place.

  • Dave Chappelle appears on SNL, Saturday; HBOs All Def Comedy airs at 10pm ET, Saturday

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The global superstar might be playing Glastonbury this year but his penchant for making comedic cameos of varying success has been overlooked until now

Coldplays Chris Martin has been called many things throughout his career: a bedwetter, a geography teacher, a woeful fucking waste of a snails time … but a comedic maverick? Never. Until now, that is.

The Devonshire frontman has long been a supporter of comedy. A close friend of Simon Pegg and Ricky Gervais, he is a musician who understands that, when it comes to mocking the famous for their ludicrous lifestyle, if you cant beat them, join them. Most recently, Martin provided a skit for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, in which he offers to create lyrics for the US talkshows theme tune.

The skit follows a similar theme to most of Martins comedy appearances parodies in which his perceived seriousness is the butt of the joke, sometimes to brilliant effect. In some cases the very earnest act of impregnating Gwyneth Paltrow with a baby named Apple is even up for roasting.

So heres a brief chronology of Chris Martins comedy career.

Shaun of the Dead 2004

As with Bob Geldof and Bono, the British find nothing funnier than an artists earnest philanthropic pursuits. The earliest example of Martin parodying his charitable nature and perhaps the moment in which his dalliance with comedy began came alongside Simon Pegg and Nick Frost during one of zombie comedy Shaun of the Deads more meta moments. Representing the charity Zombaid, Chris Martin who also appeared as a zombie in the film and Johnny Buckland sit beside Vernon Kay on the T4 sofa to preach about their new charity venture set up following the zombie possession of their drummer and bassist. A beautifully understated performance from the heir to Steve Martins comedic throne.

Score: 5/10

Extras 2006

As previously mentioned, Chris Martins comedy cameos often involve the merciless ribbing of his many charity-based endeavours. In Extras, Ricky Gervaiss character Andy makes a charity promo video while scrabbling for credibility and industry praise. Martin appears as a ruthless self-promoter, his sole intention to advertise the bands Greatest Hits album. Can we get on with this? he says ahead of the videos first take. Ive got to do Aids and Alzheimers and landmines this afternoon and I wanna get back for Deal Or No Deal. Plus Gwyneths making drumsticks. Its funny, but a lingering sense of smugness resides.

Score: 6/10

Brno 2009

Enlisting music industry heavyweights to promote his 2009 film, Brno, Sacha Baron Cohen created a spoof charity single entitled Dove of Peace, with the Coldplay singer appearing alongside Sting, Bono, Slash and Snoop Dogg. A source told the Mirror newspaper at the time: Chris Martin was in stitches throughout the recording and only just managed to get his lines out. Maybe you had to be there.

Score: 4/10

The Simpsons 2010

During episode Million Dollar Maybe, Homer wins $1m in the lottery. Having missed a wedding reception in order to buy the winning ticket, Homer uses his prize money to buy back the love of his nearest and dearest with anonymous gifts; hiring the band to play a concert for Bart, who lives out every music fans fantasy and pauses the show to nip to the bogs. While a Simpsons cameo is the cornerstone of an artists fame, an animated Martin loses some of his puppyish appeal. If youre still in any doubt of Martins innate humour, watch the video below, as he manages to make the whole Simpsons writing room laugh.

Score: 5/10

Saturday Night Live 2013

Often a musicians part on a SNL skit can seem a little PR-motivated; an attempt to soften the sometimes inaccessible and earnest stars of the celebrity world. Martin appears as Jan Pockabook, alongside Fred Armisen and Kirstin Wiig (in character as Garth and Kat), who share some of their new festive Thanksgiving music. Martin might have been upstaged by the two comics performances, but it was an admirable step away from his sincere, charity-pushing repertoire.

Score: 8/10

Comic Reliefs Game of Thrones Opera 2015

Arriving at a point in which Chris Martins lovelife was the subject of much media attention – his divorce, an album full of songs about the divorce, the subsequent paparazzi shots of Martin and a string of young Hollywood A-listers his Red Nose Day video managed to momentarily extinguish some of the heat surrounding his private life. Entitled Game of Thrones: The Musical, its the greatest rock opera of all time (at least in the eyes of its creator), featuring Coldplays first romantic song about incest and a reggae track entitled Rastafarian Targaryen.

Score: 10/10

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