The cast of “Saturday Night Live” wrapped up their 46th season on May 22 by addressing the audience directly in the cold open to discuss the “crazy” year we all just went through due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But they weren’t alone: comedian and actor Chris Rock, who hosted the first episode of the season, joined them to bring things full-circle.
Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, Kenan Thompson kicked things off from the monologue stage at Studio 8H, with Thompson noting that it was actually a “fun year for me, but I’ve discovered people don’t love hearing that so I’m just going to say, ‘Yeah it was crazy.'”
Things were then turned over to Heidi Gardner, Bowen Yang and Ego Nwodim, who reflected on going from “weird shows at home to terrifying shows in person.”
“Everyone else was fleeing New York, but Lorne [Michaels, executive producer] was like, ‘We should go back — for comedy,'” Nwodim said.
They showed a photo from a rehearsal, during which cast members wore masks in addition to their wigs and costumes, and they used stock footage of people in hazmat suits to represent what the writers’ room looked like.
“I remember there were so many COVID precautions that if I wanted to hug anyone, I had to pull them into a closet and do it in the dark, away from the authorities,” McKinnon said. “That led to a lot of confusion.
Bryant reminisced about holding her breath for 10 seconds at a time because she heard that if you could do that, you didn’t have COVID and “I believe in science.” That latter statement got raucous cheers from the live, in-studio audience.
Pete Davidson shared that he couldn’t believe he made it the entire season without testing positive — “for COVID,” he quickly clarified.
But it wasn’t only the cast members who had a different experience this year on “Saturday Night Live,” and Chris Redd reminded everyone of this by telling a story about the time guest host Adele was getting her COVID test next to him and “we locked eyes and I panicked and said, ‘It’s a living.'”
The audience for the show changed over the course of the season, as well. This episode was the first one with a full (and fully vaccinated audience). Not only did they have to wear masks and sit in socially-distanced pods for the majority of the season, but also, during the early pandemic days, the audience was made up of first responders, “which sounds really nice but we quickly realized that a doctor who left an ER after a 30-hour shift is maybe not the best audience for comedy,” Bryant said.
“One time — and this is true — a guy in the audience was just reading a medical textbook,” Strong said. Although Bryant laughed at this, the show had receipts and quickly cut to a photo to prove it.
“That’s when we started inviting second responders,” Thompson said. They are “the people who show up to the scene of an emergency and go, ‘Oh damn, look at that!'”
And of course New York, where “Saturday Night Live” films, was forever changed by the pandemic. Chloe Fineman pointed out how the whole city would come together to bang pots and pans at 7 o’clock every night to say thank you to the doctors and nurses working to eradicate the virus. “And I remember how we slowly stopped doing that until there was just one weird guy doing it alone for two weeks,” Beck Bennett said.
“We went from, ‘I love New York!’ to ‘I hate that guy,” said Melissa Villaseñor.
The first-year cast members — Andrew Dismukes, Punkie Johnson and Lauren Holt — noted it was a weird time to start on a show like “Saturday Night Live” because they couldn’t even be in the writers’ room.
“It was a really hard year, but sometimes adversity only sharpens creativity,” Strong said before cutting to a highlight reel from the season that was just a slow-motion clip of guest host Elon Musk dancing as Wario.
Memorable behind-the-scenes events also were mentioned, namely Alex Moffat reminding the audience of the time singer Morgan Wallen was booked for the show — “and then unbooked,” followed Mikey Day. “And then rebooked,” said Moffat. “And then canceled,” replied Day.
When Rock came out, he noted that his episode feels like it happened “six years ago.” To further prove his point of “how messed up” the year has been and how fast things have changed, “I wanted Kanye West to be the musical guest,” he said of his September 2020 episode. “And he couldn’t do it because he was running for president. Remember that?”
“Also, the week I was here, the sitting president who said COVID would disappear got COVID,” he continued. “That was this season. Then the election was over, Heat Miser loses, clearly the right time to end the season — to leave, but no. These idiots did 12 more shows. Even Jim Carrey knew it was time to go home.”
Davidson said the important thing was that they were all in it together, though as he did, his background started to get fuzzy, which made Strong and McKinnon ask if he has been doing the show from home this whole year.
To wrap things up, Thompson noted how special it was to have a job at a time when so many people did not, while Strong added that even seeing only the tops of friends’ faces was better than just being “alone in our apartments with our adopted pet children and thanked the audience for being there through “an election, an insurrection and an objection that there was an insurrection.” Bryant paid tribute to music producer Hal Willner, who passed away in April.
“This was the year we realized we’re more than just a cast, we’re a family,” a teary-eyed McKinnon said.
“Saturday Night Live” airs live coast-to-coast Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. ET / 8:30 p.m. PT on NBC.