Forget that All-Star business, the air was pretty rare in Studio 8H last night as Lorne Michael‘s cultural juggernaut, Saturday Night Live, aired “SNL 40,” a black-tie celebration of its last 40 years on TV. SNL is an American rite of passage on Saturday nights and has spawned a slew of famous comedians, comedic writers, and catch phrases in the American lexicon including “We want to pump…you up!” “You look mah-velous” and “Hmmmm. Is it Satan???”
In the red carpet beforehand, almost every African American comedian of note in the last few decades came through including some who were never players on the show, but who put their mark on comedy nonetheless including Dave Chappelle, JB Smoove (did we see a little snub between them on the carpet?) and Whoopi Goldberg.
Noticeably absent was SNL player Tracy Morgan, who suffered a pretty horrific car accident in November 2014, but Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin gave him a nice shout out during the three-and-a-half hour show (Baldwin’s awful impersonation of Morgan not withstanding — hey, he tried).
As expected, the show was a giant sea of whiteness, both self-aggrandizing and a bit self-deprecating around their glaring lack of diversity over the years. As Melissa McCarthy said when she came out during Steve Martin‘s intro monologue, it was definitely all about the “white men over 80 club.” In fact, Martin himself also took SNL’s lack of black cast membership over the years head on: “This is like a high school reunion — a high school that is almost all white.”
But all that aside, let’s be clear on the reason most of us tuned in: What has been teased for weeks was Eddie Murphy‘s return to the SNL stage.
Other highlights included an all-female newscast with Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Jane Curtain (with a truly “explosive” Melissa McCarthy ending); Louis C.K. saying that SNL skits are waaaay too long and Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg vocally-backing a reel of “breaks” (when comedians bust out laughing during skits.)
Frankly, the three-a-half-hour marathon as a whole was, in fact, a self-congratulatory snooze-fest, but nostalgia and curiosity kept us tuned in.
Genius Eddie Murphy disappointed in that he didn’t give us more of what we surely wanted — which was him — but we at least know that he got his propers on the stage that made him.
Here’s to more funny in the world — we surely need it.
Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect the fact that Chris Rock is a former cast member of SNL.