Justin Timberlake, entertainer extraordinaire

Justin Timberlake sings the praises of "Veganville" while a pork salesman played by Bobby Moynihan watches on "Saturday Night Live," March 9, 2013. © NBC photo by Dana Edelson.

Justin Timberlake sings the praises of “Veganville” while a pork salesman played by Bobby Moynihan watches on “Saturday Night Live,” March 9, 2013. © NBC photo by Dana Edelson.

It’s not like Justin Timberlake needs more love.

With the release of his new single, Suit & Tie, he’s being hailed as a savior of pop. And then, with this weekend’s appearance on Saturday Night Live, he’s being hailed as a savior of that franchise — would that Lorne Michaels could book him every week.

But watching this week’s episode, something occurred to me; something that’s essential to J.T.’s current success.

It was in the Veganville sketch when, dressed as a big piece of tofu, he taped his boombox with his foot and did a variation on Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby – “brown rice baby” — to school pork salesman Bobby Moynihan that it occurred to me: this guy is having fun. 

Most of the performers we see on national and global stages such as SNL worked hard and are living some sort of a dream. But few seem to enjoy it as much as Timberlake, whether he is playing alongside old comic pal Andy Samberg or singing with an astonishingly large ensemble for a modern pop star — the closest example I can think of on this season of SNL is another host and musical guest, Bruno Mars. Even in films such as The Social Network, where he had some tense scenes as Internet entrepreneur Sean Parker, Timberlake appears to be devouring the moments he has to perform.

And there is something infectious about that. On the Grammy Awards and SNL, his band seemed to relish playing off on him, and by the time Saturday night’s show got around to the Caligula sketch, everyone was in on the party.

Of course, this is not just achieved overnight. Timberlake, 32, has been working years to hone his skills as a performer. And there had to be some hard work behind that show Saturday and the upcoming The 20/20 Experience, his first album of new music in more than six years, which comes out March 18.

But the man knows that when he hits the stage, people are not there to see you work. We are there to be entertained. And Timberlake is in the process of showing us he is the 21st Century’s No. 1 entertainer.

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