Comedian John Mulaney hosted Saturday Night Live for the second time this week, and used his opening monologue to make a passionate plea to Lorne Michaels to hire more stand-ups and fewer celebrities to host the popular weekly comedy show. Mulaney’s plea took the form of a stand-up set that was easily the best introduction the show’s had since—well, probably since Louis C.K. hosted, which is a compelling counterargument against giving stand-ups too much power. Still, audiences have been conditioned over the years to associate Saturday Night Live’s set with an incompetent approximation of stand-up comedy at best and a terrible song at worst, so it’s always a thrill when someone who knows what he or she is doing comes out and absolutely kills it:
Mulaney mostly sticks to topics he’s mined in the past for his standup specials—his wife, their dog, Catholicism—and it makes for some of the strongest material in the set. His secret weapon, though, is taking premises that should no longer have any life in them and squeezing laughs from a stone. No one has successfully constructed a joke about how silly recorded subway announcements sound since the mid-1980s, but Mulaney somehow pulls it off, just like he somehow managed to find new jokes to make about J.J. Bittenbinder without overlapping with Mr. Show’s comprehensive profile from the 1990s. Mulaney’s appearance—and the episode as a whole, which was excellent—is a compelling example of what the show could be if it dedicated itself to comedy instead of advertising celebrities’ upcoming movies. Will Idris Elba, star of the upcoming Netflix series Turn Up Charlie and the Fast & Furious film Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw be able to top the work of a professional comedian like John Mulaney when he hosts next week? It’s much too early to speculate, but absolutely not.