My wife and I were recently discussing Saturday Night Live, and she was explaining why she disliked the late 90s/early aughts era cast centered around Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, and Jimmy Fallon. She felt that they were just so incredibly smug. They had the attitude that the show was lucky to have them, and the audience was lucky to be able to watch them, and they weren’t shy to make you aware of that.
I felt like that was accurate. I wasn’t a fan of that era of the show either. (Though I do love the Celebrity Jeopardy skits.)
But it got me thinking about the personas/attitudes of the current cast. SNL frequently has skits where cast members appear as themselves, and also a lot of light characters where the underlying personality of the performer shines through. For most of them I couldn’t say whether these are their genuine personalities or are carefully crafted personas. If they’re phony personas, they’re consistent enough to be believable. (Except for Kyle Mooney.)
Here is how I would describe the on-stage personas of the current cast:
Vanessa Bayer: She comes across as insecure and ditzy, but manages to use that as a source of comedy.
Beck Bennett: He’s as smug as the late 90s/early aughts cast, without the talent to back it up. (In my opinion, he’s among the least funny of the current cast. Only Kyle Mooney is worse.)
Aidy Bryant: Like Vanessa Bayer, she’s insecure, but instead of being ditzy she’s more indignant about the way the world mistreats her.
Colin Jost: He’s like the overly eager smart kid who has been invited to dinner with his professors and is trying to impress them.
Taran Killam: He can’t believe he’s actually on Saturday Night Live, and is simultaneously thrilled and nervous about it.
Kate McKinnon: She always seems to be in character of whatever she’s playing, and doesn’t really have a persona of her own.
Kyle Mooney: He tries to play the socially awkward nerd, but does a bad job of it, so it seems horribly disingenuous. It’s like he’s playing the socially awkward nerd in an amateur musical. I always feel like at any moment, he could instantly cease his nervousness, say something pithy, wink directly at the camera, and then burst into song. As a real-life socially awkward nerd, I find this obviously fake portrayal to be condescending and grating, and think Mooney is actively anti-funny. Like, he sucks the humor out of any sketch that might otherwise have been good without his presence.
Bobby Moynihan: He always seems like he’s getting away with something, isn’t sure how long it could last, and is terrified that at any moment someone could yell, “Hey, you’re not supposed to be on Saturday Night Live!” and then drag him off the stage.
Jay Pharoah: Like Kate McKinnon, only plays characters and doesn’t have a persona of his own.
Cecily Strong: She shows up as herself, but when she does she’s kind of bland and doesn’t really have her own persona.
Kenan Thompson: Like Killam and Moynihan, he can’t believe he’s on Saturday Night Live, but he finds it ridiculous and amusing that they’re letting him be there. (Even though he’s been on the show for like half his life.)
Sasheer Zamata: Doesn’t show up enough to have her own persona.
Michael Che: He feels like he just doesn’t care and is phoning it in. Like he’s giving a presentation at a job he knows he’s about to quit. He doesn’t want to be a dick about it and is still going through the motions, but in his heart he’s checked out.
Pete Davidson: He shifts back and forth between being terrified that someone will figure out that he’s high on pot while on national live TV, and realizing that everyone already knows he’s high yet somehow he’s totally getting away with being on SNL while high as balls.
Leslie Jones: She’s an odd one because she has two entirely distinct personas. When she’s doing commentary on Weekend Update, she’s high-energy, fun-loving, and amuses herself by making people uncomfortable. (Especially Jost.) Outside of update, she’s angry and won’t take anyone’s nonsense. I have no idea if one or both of these personas are an affectation, or if they represent different sides of her genuine personality.
Jon Rudnitsky: Hasn’t been on enough to establish a persona.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with these descriptions?