The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
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.
Before taking a holiday break, Saturday Night Live announced that Louisville native and white-hot movie star Jennifer Lawrence will host the show’s first edition of 2013 on Jan. 19. The musical guest will be Denver-based folk rockers The Lumineers.
Lawrence was catapulted to A-List status in the past year with her starring role as Katniss Everdeen in the post-apocalyptic blockbuster The Hunger Games. She has since gained rave reviews and Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for her performance in the quirky comedy Silver Linings Playbook. She is considered a strong contender for an Oscar nomination for the same role. It would be the second Oscar nomination for Lawrence, 22, who was nominated for best actress in 2011 for her performance in Winter’s Bone (2010).
Silver Linings Playbook is about an odd relationship that forms between Lawrence’s character, Tiffany, and Bradley Cooper as Pat, who is undergoing treatment for bipolar disorder as the movie opens. The film has not opened yet in Lexington but is playing in Louisville and Cincinnati.
Jan. 19 will be Lawrence’s first turn hosting Saturday Night Live.
I can’t say this for sure, but I cannot recall any other Saturday Night Live cast member getting quite the send off Kristen Wiig got last weekend, dancing with Mick Jagger and being serenaded by The Arcade Fire and the rest of the cast with She’s a Rainbow and Ruby Tuesday.
Wiig has definitely been one of the brightest stars on SNL in recent seasons, and she is the last of a trio of brilliant women who have graced the stage of Studio 8H in the early 21st Century, along with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Early on, it was clear she was a unique talent, and her star rose over seven seasons, even if it did not always burn brightly. (As the Secret Word skit was foisted on us one last time Saturday night, a Facebook friend who is reliably up for SNL and I were grousing online about the skit we don’t even love to hate. We just hate it, as do many others judging by web chatter.)
But Wiig has hit more than she missed with her quirky persona, and an Oscar nomination of all things for Bridesmaids made it seem fairly certain this season was the last dance — Donna Summer reference, acknowledged — for her. But was she the only one leaving after Saturday?
Two other cast members are widely reported to be on their way out: Andy Samberg and Jason Sudekis, who both stood in the background Saturday night/Sunday morning as Wiig was celebrated.
I’ve heard some contend that Lazy Sunday 2, the final SNL Digital Short was Samberg’s send-off, but that would be like saying Secret Word was Wiig’s farewell. Final performance? Yes. But dance with Jagger? No.
And it is fair to argue Samberg has been as vital to sustained interest in Saturday Night Live as anyone in the cast the last couple years. The Digital Shorts — including I’m on a Boat, Laser Cats and some classics we cannot name on a family newspaper blog — started with Lazy Sunday, a rap by Samberg and Chris Parnell about going to see The Chronicles of Narnia, which became a viral video sensation before we really understood what viral videos were. They made classic use of guest celebrities, whether they were the show host or not, like Justin Timberlake and Michael Bolton. My favorite was Natalie Portman’s gangsta rap.
Many nights, slogging through lame skit after lame skit, the Digital Short was the only thing worth staying up for. But recently, if it was really good, your friends would have it up on Facebook in the morning, if you missed it.
Sudekis maybe hasn’t had quite the signature of Wiig or Samberg, but he has been a reliable player and is building a film and TV career with a few successes like Horrible Bosses under his belt. One argument I heard as to why he wasn’t as heralded as others was that owning the Mitt Romney and Joe Biden impressions, he may stick around through the election. No departures have been formally announced, though both Wiig and Samberg’s seemed to be sealed Saturday – Lazy Sunday 2 ended with Samberg declaring, “That’s how I’ma finish it!” It was poetic, really.
If all three are gone, executive producer Lorne Michaels has a bigger recruiting job than John Calipari building a new cast for the fall. SNL’s bench is mighty shallow.
Wiig’s farewell was a sweet and tasteful way to end the season, and maybe she got it because she was the class valedictorian. But if that’s so, it was only by a few points.
Seth Meyers reads the faux news every week on the biggest stage for American comedy, NBC’s Saturday Night Live, and he’s performed for President Barack Obama and other prestigious audiences. But really, as we learned at the Singletary Center for the Arts on Monday night, he’s just a slob like all of us, prone to making an idiot of himself when he meets the president.
“I said to myself, ‘Be cool,’ and you know you’re about to not be cool when you’re telling yourself to be cool,” Meyers told the audience that packed the 1,500-seat concert hall at the University of Kentucky. “George Clooney doesn’t go around telling himself to be cool all the time.”
Meyers went on to describe the ways he embarrassed himself when he met Obama. The first time, when the then-presidential candidate appeared in an SNL skit, Meyers, who is the show’s head writer, instructed the president on how to take off a Halloween mask, “something most children do every year,” Meyers noted. The second time, he managed to slap his girlfriend’s hand away when the president was about to greet her before Meyers’ appearance at the 2011 White House Correspondent’s Dinner.
Meyers’ appearance at UK, one of several stand-up shows he’s doing on his week off from SNL, was a mix of topical humor, similar to his Weekend Update segments, and self-deprecating slices of his life, like the time he got into a bar fight after unleashing his sarcasm on the wrong fellow drunk (it did not end well for Meyers).
The 75-minute set didn’t break any new ground in comedy, but it did keep the audience in stitches for much of the show and proved Meyers to be adept at a number of comic forms: jokes, stories, spontaneous humor. The strength of his act is riffing on shared experiences with the audience, such as a hilarious bit about the minuscule amount of French he retained from middle school and college.
Meyers had some jokes specific to the UK student crowd, like informing the freshman in the audience that not everyone gets to leave after a year for a job making millions of dollars.
“The NBA is the only place where they like it if you went to Kentucky for just one year,” Meyers said, noting a student could not go to a bank after a year of college and have them say, “Welcome to the management team.”
Though the 38-year-old is well-removed from his college years, Meyers was still in touch with his youth with stories like his and his friends efforts to catch a glimpse of nudity on late-night Cinemax movies when they were 13. “We celebrated like technicians at Mission Control, if Mission Control was worried about waking up their parents,” he said, and then mimed high fives and touchdown signals.
Monday night, Meyers proved that as entertaining as he can be live from New York, he was even funnier live in Lexington.
Seth Meyers’ show tonight at the Singletary Center for the Arts got me thinking about Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update segment, which he now anchors, and how it’s evolved over the years.
When I started watching SNL in the early 1980s, both new episodes and in reruns from the 1970s, the Weekend Update segment was an essential part of the older episodes with anchors like Chevy Chase (I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not), Dan Aykroyd, and Jane Curtin (Jane, you ignorant slut!). Then you had the guests like Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannadanna and Emily Litella (who made “nevermind” a catchphrase years before Nirvana) and Garrett Morris’ interpretation for the hearing impaired (OUR TOP STORY TONIGHT!).
I am trying to remember something from the early 1980s Weekend Updates, but nothing leaps to mind except for the fact that the first post-original cast anchor was Charles Rocket, who’s known for breaking the F-bomb barrier on SNL in 1981. But the Weekend Update segment wandered for years between different anchors, hosts, and names — some hits, many misses — until one man showed up in 1985 and made it essential viewing again: Dennis Miller.
The Weekend Update gig was perfect for Miller, who is witty and well-informed, to crack wise about the news, particularly figures like Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker whose televangelical kingdom was crumbling during his reign, the longest of any Weekend Update solo anchor to date. He also had a regular cast of guest characters to play off of, hosting in the era that gave us regulars like Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz, and develop signatures including the “That’s the news and I am outta here” sign off he did with a flourish of scribbling. I still think of that moment many times when Jon Stewart bows into The Daily Show with his own take on the scribble.
Miller made the Weekend Update segment matter again, and it pretty much has since his departure in 1991. He was succeeded by anchors such as Norm Macdonald and Kevin Nealon and in the 21st Century a golden series of tandems — Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey, Fey and Amy Poehler, and Poehler and Meyers. Meyers now has the anchor chair to himself, though recent alums make frequent guest appearances including Poehler this weekend.
But that we continue to care about this segment is most attributable to Miller, a guy who re-established the segment and redefined “news anchor hair.”
- More reading: Walter Tunis’ take on Taylor Swift.
Reflexively, I knew I really shouldn’t be too interested in this song.
The story of a high school girl longing for her buddy the football star, who is so stereotypically hooked up with the cheerleading captain, shouldn’t have resonance with a 42-year-old dad now trying to convince his own kids that all their school dramas will mean nothing in 10 years.
But Taylor Swift’s You Belong With Me comes from such an authentic place, a timeless story that my generation might have seen best articulated by the John Hughes classic Sixteen Candles. What’s more, it has that accelerating chorus — “She wears short skirts, I wear T-shirts/ She’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers” — and the soaring payoff, “You belong with meeeee-e-e.”
Yes, I had to take Swift seriously.
Of course, there are natural demographic reasons for me to dismiss her, as many do. As a 40-something guy, I am well out of her target demographic. I’m at an age when we’re supposed to look at sweet young things like Swift and think wistfully that they just might amount to something, someday.
But the reasons for rejecting what Swift, who plays a sold-out show at Rupp Arena Thursday, has already amounted to are as shallow as the football star dating the witchy head cheerleader, because that’s what his peers expect him to do.
In a pop culture world where every teen who gets a show on the Disney Channel thinks she’s supposed to be a pop star, Swift, 20, has separated herself from the pack — even her closest peer-competitor, Miley Cyrus.
Most important, she has the songs.
Usually Mariano Rivera is the one getting saves this time of year in New York City.
But Saturday night, with an American League East Championship already sewn up for the Yankees, it was Lady Ga Ga who was pulling out a last minute victory for Saturday Night Live.
And this was a screecher.
It was like one of those saves in a bad game where Mariano gets a few on base and has us Yankee faithful nibbling our nails before he gets the final out.
Now let’s be honest: two episodes into the season, Saturday Night Live has been terrible, like the Yankees starting a season 3-22. Three may be the most laughs I uttered last week, one being when I realized Jenny Slate uttered the F-word during a skit that set her up to do it.
This week started with an op-ed piece masquerading as an opener that had Fred Armisen’s doing his effortless — and I don’t mean that in a good way — Obama impression with the President saying he has not done anything since he got in office. Then, host Ryan Reynolds wasn’t as funny as expected, we got a pointless Family Feud sketch, another lame SNL Digital Short and even Ga Ga’s first appearance was a dud.
In a bit that’s already gotten a lot of bytes, she and Madonna staged a cat fight and nearly kissed during Kenan Thompson’s (inexplicably) recurring Deep House Dish sketch. Really, why did Madonna waste her time with this bit? There should be more to an SNL skit than showing up.
And Ga Ga’s first number, Paparazzi, was pretty routine, maybe most notable because she put the show on a two-week streak of airing words you’re not supposed to say on TV.
Really, it was not until the eighth inning, when Ga Ga came back, that she brought the episode into the win column. It was a shaky start as she appeared in a dress that looked like several conjoined silver hula hoops to sing Love Game. She went through a mechanical verse, then became human. She sat down, making no pretense that this was easy with the hoops. Taking off her sun glasses and popping her hands in the air, she greeted the audience, “Hello SNL” — somewhat unheard of from musical guests on SNL – and proceeded to get all Billy Joel playing a ballad/medley of Poker Face and Bad Romance injected with some personal reflections on New York, the Yankees, and simpler music than what we’ve been hearing from her all summer.
Then, she came back for the next and last skit mocking her outrageous outfits as both she and Andy Samberg showed up in bubble dresses — “I spent $20,000 on this dress,” she said, and he replied, “I made this out of garbage.” She also gamely attempted to kiss Samberg several times in their ridiculous outfits.
Ga Ga showed she has some chops beyond crazy fashion and naughty songs that make Madonna’s catalog sound like Amy Grant, and she had a sense of humor about herself.
Saturday Night Live showed it doesn’t have much going for itself this year without a suprisingly good guest performer. And unlike Mo Rivera with the Yankees, Ga Ga isn’t in the lineup for SNL every night.
The video service Hulu, we are told in its advertising campaign, is “an evil plot to destroy the world.”
That might be — he says, having been sucked into hours of watching reruns of Saturday Night Live and WKRP in Cincinnati.
But to listen to some people, you’d think Twitter was the one pulling the planet apart, 140 characters at a time.
David Letterman was at least honest in his dressing-down of Twitter on his April 24 show: “When you don’t understand anything, and you’re frightened by things, then you make fun of it, you ridicule it, and that’s what I’m doing. I have no idea what it is, but I’ll tell you this: I don’t like it.”
Funny — and funnier if you saw Dave deliver it in his cranky-old-man fashion.
It’s more annoying when you hear clueless comments. For instance, on NPR’s Weekend Edition on April 26, This I Believe co-producer Jay Allison compared his series of essays about faith to several Internet upstarts: “I think that separates it from Twitter and blogging and Facebook. It’s not a chronicle of what’s happening in that moment. It’s something that’s gathered over the course of an entire life.”
Yes, but neither I nor anyone else I know of has ever equated jotting a quick note with writing a memoir.
Lumping Twitter with an essay, or even blogging and Facebook, shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what Twitter is — and of the curiosity to find out.
(By the way, NPR has a Twitter account, churning out headlines on a regular basis.)
It’s not that hard to learn what Twitter is. As Internet applications go, it is one of the easiest out there.
So, this was my most recent experience as a Star Trek consumer: Earlier this year, at the Presbyterian Women’s book sale at our church, I picked up a trio of old Star Trek episodes on VHS for something like 50 cents a pop.
When I got home and my 12-year-old daughter saw the tapes, she pointed at me and screamed, “Neeeeerrrrrd!”
And she hadn’t even seen the Saturday Night Live episode where William Shatner asks a Treekker played by Jon Lovitz, “Have you ever kissed a girl?” and tells the whole crowd at a Star Trek convention to, “Get a life.” (The video is above, and the Shatner portion starts at the 2:30 point.) Yes, Star Trek‘s reputation as the benchmark show for sci-fi obsessed geeks still residing in their parents’ basements has trickled all the way down to today’s tweens, which makes the impending opening of the Star Trek movie this week really interesting.
Yes, there is a Star Trek movie opening this week, the latest in the reboot trend that has touched franchises such as James Bond and Batman. Normally, it would be silly to say, “yes, there is a Star Trek movie opening this week,” for the latest installment of a franchise this iconic. And yes, the movie is getting a lot of ballyhoo.
But then again, some of the ads for Star Trek, like ones rolling during the NBA Playoffs, have almost been unrecognizable as Star Trek. There are lots of hot young actors, hard charging music and things blowing up real good. One of the headlines on the current issue of Entertainment Weekly touts Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana as “Sexy new Kirk & Uhura.” Sexy? Star Trek?
Well, that is one of the delicate lines this reboot is dancing, as do other reboots: recrafting the old show for a new audience with new sensibilities while leaving enough of the franchise in to make it recognizable and satisfying to the established fans.
How well director J.J. Abrams pulls that off will be the key to whether the Star Trek brand, now 43 years old, continues to live long and prosper.
A few weeks ago, I saw an old Simpsons episode with Krusty the Clown hosting a Saturday Night Live-type show and telling the audience that the last half hour was awful — he used some more colorful terminology I cannot recall right now. Anyway, that has often been true of SNL.
But this week’s Zac Efron-hosted episode actually saved some of the best stuff for after Weekend Update, including this High School Musical 4 bit where Troy Bolton returns to East High to tell the next graduating class the awful truth about college.
Efron, of course, was on SNL to pump up enthusiasm for his new movie, 17 Again, which opens Friday and includes onetime Lexington resident and Kings star Allison Miller in the cast — if you follow that link, you’ll discover something about Allison that would drive many a tween girl crazy with jealousy. Kings, by the way, has moved to 8 p.m. Saturday, and guest stars Macaulay Culkin this week.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich