Sunday, October 26, 2008

SNL: Jon Hamm's handsome comedy acting school

Spoilers for last night's "Saturday Night Live" coming up just as soon as I enjoy some ham in the john...

To Jon Hamm's annoyingly perfect CV -- charismatic, great actor, damned handsome -- we can apparently now add good comedian. If he starts playing in Hugh Laurie's band, something may have to be done about the guy before he begins his plans for world domination.

Hamm's episode didn't necessarily have the highs of the Tina Fey-as-Sarah Palin sketches, but it was one of the more solid 90-minute episodes they've done in a while, and Hamm proved to be a great sport and an even better mimic. His James Mason impression in the Vincent Price Halloween episode was brilliant, and his JFK (admittedly, an easier impersonation to pull off) in the "Solid as Barack" variety special was very good too.

(Speaking of Mason, I must once again ask a question that went unanswered the last time I raised it about a year ago: can anyone identify the comedian who does a bit in which he imagines Mason replacing Moe as leader of The Three Stooges? It's driving me nuts.)

For a show that even the monologue acknowledged is fairly obscure, "Mad Men" got a lot of love -- and, in some cases, did jokes that depended on (and, thankfully, got) the studio audience's knowledge of the series to work.

(For a counter-example of this, I think back to when John Travolta hosted right as "Pulp Fiction" was coming out and they did a long sketch mashing up "Welcome Back, Kotter" with "Reservoir Dogs," and it died because nobody in the theater appreciated Barbarino dancing to "Stuck in the Middle with You" while slicing someone's ear off.)

Of the two most explicit "Mad Men" sketches, I thought Don Draper's guide to picking up women was the funnier idea -- and also the one where Hamm seemed more in character, though that may just be because they had the time to get his hair done right for video, but not for a live show where he couldn't be greased down all night -- but the Two A-Holes shooting down a classic Don Draper pitch was funny in its own right. Will Forte's Pete Campbell sounded weird, and Bill Hader overplayed Salvatore's queenier qualities, but Hamm playing it straight worked, and on a meta level I loved the contrast between Elizabeth Moss trying very hard to fit in and be Peggy and John Slattery being unable to resist showing how amused he was to be there.

I also thought the sex criminal Halloween sketch was a good example of a strong premise that they introduced, told a few jokes about, then got out as quickly as possible (so quickly they didn't even bother to end the sketch, in fact) before it got overplayed.

Finally, I'm reluctant to bring this up because of how nasty and juvenile everyone tends to get whenever politics and this show are discussed -- and, as a reminder, play nice and talk about the show and not about the politicians, or each other, or I start deleting comments -- but after reading complaints here and elsewhere that the show was giving Joe Biden a pass on all his recent gaffes, I was amused to see not one but two sketches -- both the Obama variety show and the opening sketch with Biden and John Murtha saying crazy things -- mocking Biden.

What did everybody else think? And are you as bummed as I am that Amy Poehler (who gave birth over the weekend) likely made her final appearance ever on the show in the Don Draper's guide video?

61 comments:

Anonymous said...

Alan,
Why do you think that Amy Poehler will no longer be on the show? Is her contract up or something, or do you think she will be doing movies?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Poehler was going to stay until she had her baby, and then when she gets done with maternity leave, she's going to be starring in an NBC primetime comedy from "The Office" producers.

Chris said...

This is in James Mason's wikipedia entry:
In the 1970's, the comedy improv teams Second City and Distilled Water both did routines in which incredible shifts in historical circumstance would place James Mason in bizarre situations such as replacing Moe Howard (of Three Stooges fame) when the latter was unexpectedly killed after being hit over the head with a board, becoming an early morning DJ on a Chicago Top 40 radio station, working as an auctioneer, being a headliner on All Star Rasslin' in which he threatens and taunts his upcoming opponents on TV close ups, and running a mail order course in which people could learn to act and sound like James Mason.

Bobman said...

decent episode, I thought ham was really good and I loved all the mad men shoutouts.

But I especially loved the amy poehler tribute. Mostly because i'm a big softy. I was also struck by how much less enjoyable weekend update was without her. I like Seth myers but he really needed amy.

That First Andrew said...

While I thought it was a decent outing, it lacked a lot of the laugh out loud moments that make for the best episodes.

Loved Hamm's James Mason impression, but it was clear they had no idea how to use him, given that they had two Mad Men sketches (one of which he had to play straightman) and he had all of one sentence in the Solid as Barack sketch.

Definitely some decent chuckles, particularly the sex offender sketch, but nothing that stands out. While I liked parts of the Vincent Price sketch, Liberace ruined it for me. Kristin Wiig's Norma Desmond was dead on, but having Liberace show up and toss in some gay jokes was just lazy. They needed some filler.

Best line: I spell my last name with two Ms. And my first name doesn't have an H in it. Felling stupid now? You should be.

Zeke said...

I'm usually not a huge Poehler fan, but I wil say her Alaska rap last week was one of the funniest bits on the show in years and years. And amazingly she pulled it off while 8-months pregnant. A classic. And a wonderful way to go out on show.

As a Mad Men fan I adored this week's episode (which with the Harry character running out with a tear in his eye during the sales pitch, was a wonderful parody of "The Wheel" episode.) And yes, the Don Draper's guide to picking up women was hilarious. I believe part of the advice was "have everything you say be profound." Not to mention all the advice of looking fantastic in a suit, out of a suit, etc.

Forte's Halloween sketch in the start of the show was also a highlight. The more Forte the better.

Definitely the best episode of the show since Tina Fey hosted. (Even if the initial Biden sketch went on too long. But that's par for the course.)

That First Andrew said...

Also: The improv newspaper comic guy has been on before. Wasn't that funny the first time, and, considering it is only ONE joke, it definitely didn't require repeating, Made me miss Keenan screaming "Fix it"

Nicole said...

I was glad to see the Joe Biden sketches.. I thought maybe the SNL staff had been reading your blog. The Obama Variety Hour was pretty funny too, but I wasn't as impressed with the sex offender sketch. Hamm was doing what he could with it, but I didn't find it funny beyond the initial reveal and thought they should have aired it later in the show and used the Butts skit much earlier.

I also wasn't a fan of the A Holes, they just weren't that funny to me. They didn't play off the Mad Men actors that well. I did like the Mad Men parts of the sketch and Hamm was great in his Circle of Life speech again.

The hands down best sketch was the Vincent Prince Special (funny enough they are airing one of his movies just before the Mad Men finale). Hamm truly impressed with his Mason impression, and Wiig was hilarious as Swanson.

As for Coldplay, they really sucked live yet played 4 times, which leads me to believe that no real contingency plan existed for an Amy-free SNL episode.

Andy said...

As got as Hamm's Mason was, Wiig's scarily accurate Nora Desmond/Gloria Swanson that really made the sketch the best SNL in a long while.

Wondering what you though of the RASTA-TRENT sketch. Admittedly, making fun of pasta-farians is a little like shooting fish in a barrel, but Andy sold it with his energy and his embarrassment around actual black people.

Andy
MastersofHumility.com
Home of BABY PALIN

LA said...

Seriously, is there anything he can't do? LOVED seeing Jon Hamm do comedy so well.

I'm so jealous of you East Coasters right now, watching the finale. I've got 2.5 more hours to wait.

Must. Not. Read. Spoilers.

Nicole said...

Not a Mad Men spoiler, but there will only be one commercial interruption so prepare accordingly.

Anonymous said...

Hamm PWNED last night. you all know it's true. I hate SNL i n recent years but this was the first show I watched completely. Coldplay sucked. Radiohead for idiots. But Hamm is a star. Period. He evne was able to sell idiotic sketches like the Butts and Ham sketch. "remember, if it tastes like ham, don't wipe your ass with it." Yeah, John Slattery's bemused look was a smiler for me. Loved seeing him and Moss there, wished Ms. Hendricks coulda made the trip. Genius.

Steve said...

An overall very solid episode.

There wasn't a sketch that I legitimately disliked. I was disappointed with the Two A-Holes sketch as I love the one where they go to an abortion clinic.

Jon Hamm was terrific. Great Mason impersonation. and his political ads for Finger/Deldeaux were played very well. Additionally, the Jon Hamm John Ham was a terrific fake commercial.

My favorite sketches were the variety hour and the sex offender sketch.

Carla said...

Lucky dawgs. The "Mad Men" finale isn't even being aired this week in Canada. We have to wait until next Sunday to watch it. I'm livid!!

LA said...

nicole - thanks for the info!

Nicole said...

It did air on AMC in Canada. And if you really want to see it soon, it can be found it a few hours on bit torrent sites.

Paul Matwychuk said...

What are you talking about, Carla? I'm in Alberta, and I just finished watching the Mad Men finale.

And it was 13 different kinds of awesome!

Alan Sepinwall said...

Please make sure to talk about the "Mad Men" finale in the review post, and don't put spoilers here.

Rachel said...

I generally like Coldplay and thought they stepped up by playing more than the usual two songs.

I know one sketch that got cut because of Poehler's labor was a Bronx Beat one with the returning Maya Rudolph.

Overall, a very solid show. I thought Anne Hathaway's show had more laugh out loud moments, but Hamm was a very game and capable host.

Anthony Foglia said...

I thought it was a terrible episode. Except for Don Draper's Guide, nothing struck me as very funny. Hamm did do a great job though, throwing himself into every sketch, I just wish the material was better.

I had high hopes for the first "Mad Men" sketch, but once it became "Two A-Holes..." I lost all interest. And it didn't help that Draper was written out of character. (He wouldn't have been that confrontational right off the bat.)

I hope someday they bring him back and he gets a better episode.

StickUpKid said...

"Next week I'm supposed to tell black people the election has been cancelled."

I loved this episode. I'm willing to admit that I have been giving this show a chance even when it probably did not deserve it. But his episode was solid from beginning to end. I got a good chuckle out of Sandberg's dig on white rastas. I've met too many of those guys.

Jon Hamm rocked it. The "Finger in Butts" sketch had me tearing up it was so funny. That could easily have been a really lame sketch but he delivered it pitch perfect.

I was especially glad to see a return of the Vincent Price sketch. Hader is just amazing and Wiig, Armisen and Hamm made that a classic.

All in all a great episode. And don't worry Poehler fans, I'm sure she will stop by some time to kick some sick ass rhymes when the time is right. Maya Rudolph made it back last night didn't she?

Stef said...

Missed SNL last night so I'm trying to catch up. So far, I don't love the A-Holes sketch cuz the A-Holes just aren't funny. But "Don Draper's Guide to Picking Up Women" is a classic!

Artemisia said...

Man, I thought the episode had some of the worst writing of the year. The Biden opening was completely unfunny and dragged on for-effing-ever and the Finger campaign and Jon Hamm's John Ham made me cringe.

But I agree that JH himself was fantastic - clearly has comedic abilities. LOVED the Don Draper Guide to Picking up Women - whoever wrote that knows the show and JH hit exactly the right note. And he killed as James Mason. (Also? first time I've really loved Wiig this year - she SOLD Gloria Swanson in that). The A-Hole sketch was like a microcosm of SNL - stupid-ass SNL characters falling flat and wasting some great guests. The Mad Men folks saved that one, but just barely.

I guess the whole thing left me with a heightened appreciation for good writing and wanting more JH and company.

Matter-Eater Lad said...

I agree with all of the praise for Jon Hamm's turn as host. No one's mentioned yet that there were two fairly lengthy sketches in which he was the only performer on screen, which is really impressive for someone not known for is comedy chops.

Anonymous said...

Hamm doesnt really have much range. "Be Don Draper" for a whole show ain't exactly hilarious.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was a solid show, and the SNL did their best given that not a lot of people know Mad Men or Jon Hamm. I actually watched the show with my brother and my friends who had no clue, but still laughed out loud!

My favorites are definitely DD's Guide and the Vincent Price sketch. JH has range! And if he is bent on taking over the world, well then, I look forward to being one of his minions.
:)

chrissie said...

I got the sense that Elizabeth Moss was a last-minute replacement for Amy Poehler in the Mad Men skit, since it didn't allow for her to get an audience recognition moment the way Slattery did on his entrance.

The Jon Hamm John Ham sketch was the funniest of the night ("Feel like a dummy yet? Because you should.") but it was the Rosie O'Donnell "Oh, yeah!" Kool-Aid joke during Weekend Update that made me laugh the hardest.

Helene H. said...

"....take six hour lunches....disappear for weeks at a time...."
Jon Hamm rocks!

Anonymous said...

I also wondered if Moss was a last minute stand-in for Poehler (I read that Moss was opening on broadway this weekend and so she would have been in the neighborhood) and as much as I love Elisabeth Moss, the idea of a very pregnant Amy Poehler spoofing a very pregnant/oblivious Peggy would have been hilarious.

And Jon Hamm was awesome.

Dijonase said...

Hamm was also the guest on the podcast Never Not Funny a couple of weeks ago. If you don't listen, I'd recommend checking it out. It costs a buck an episode (or 19.99 for a 26 episode season), but it's one of my favorites and the Hamm episode was a highlight. Check it out at www.pardcast.com

Craig said...

I thought it was the funniest show of a dismal season. I was disappointed that they put the two A-holes in the middle of the Mad Men sketch. I thought they had pieces in place for a really funny sendup. Although perhaps they thought not enough people would get it unless they put in a familiar element.

Alex said...

I had a feeling this one might be good, mostly because Hamm is a relative unknown, and I was right. Didn't like the Sex Offender sketch, disappointed with Two A-Holes vs. Mad Men, but I think Hamm did a great job overall. Who knew he was such a solid mimic?

I feel like Amy might pop up once or twice for a proper goodbye, even if it's a short cameo appearance or something.

dez said...

I had high hopes for the first "Mad Men" sketch, but once it became "Two A-Holes..." I lost all interest.

Yeah, they did not mesh well at all with the Mad Men world. Sucked all the life out of that skit.

My faves were Don Draper's pick-up guide and the Finger/Butts sketch. Great to see Maya Rudolph again. And agree with others above that Coldplay sucked, which surprised me because I've seen them live before and while they're not my faves, they were pretty good. Sounded like Chris Martin was sick or something last night, although he sounded okay on "Yellow."

The Pagan Temple said...

I thought it was one of their strongest and most consistently funny shows. Usually, by the time Weekend Update is over (and sometimes before it starts) you might as well turn it off. This was good all the way through, with a few weak spots. I didn't care for the Two A-Holes, for one.

One of the funniest ones to me was the Vincent Price's Halloween Special. Unfortunately, SNL didn't see fit to include the video on their website, or if they have, I can't find it. I was wanting to put it on my blog as a part of a special series of Halloween posts kind of thing. Would anybody know where I can find it?

pixelwax said...

If you are a Radiohead elitist or you didn't know Jon Hamm or Mad Men, this show must have blown a baker's dozen different ways this side of Sunday. (Yes, that was intentionally belabored.) While the show didn't have great moments, it was solid from beginning to end. And I certainly cannot remember the last time I laughed after Weekend Update. I'll bet it's been a decade or three.

pgillan said...

I can't believe Jon Hamm's John Ham isn't getting more love. That's the first thing in a long time that's forced me to pause the TV so I could stop laughing. And I don't know if it was just run-off, but I even thought the Finger in Butts skit was funny, even though it was as a 3rd grade joke. Maybe because it was a 3rd grade joke?

I didn't get the "Two A-Holes" thing at all, and I thought it was a painfully unfunny waste of the obligatory Mad Men parody, but now I realize it's because that's a running gag I was unaware of. Still no excuse for not being funny, though.

I don't watch a lot of SNL, but this is only one I can recall where it felt like the guest was doing all the heavy lifting, and it's elevated my opinion of Hamm as actor (not that I had a bad opinion of him, I've just never seen him in anything but Mad Men- could be a fluke).

bkistler99 said...

Not bad overall - uneven, but the high points canceled out the lows. Hamm delivered, which I'm glad for - bought him drinks a month or two ago (hangs at my bar of choice) and glad to say he is super-cool, no star attitude whatsoever, he deserves his success. So, in the end - the show worked, by today's SNL standards (granted, not high.) Bonus points for Elisabeth Moss and John Slattery cameos, anything to keep Mad Men going strong. Jon Hamm's John Ham was disgusting, in a good way, if that's possible...

medusa said...

Glad others thought that Elisabeth Moss was there as an Amy Poehler replacement - that was my thought too!

And yes, please, SNL, stop the stupid newspaper guy sketches! I've seen 3 of them and the joke was barely funny the first time. Now it's just painful.

J said...

It was hit-or-miss, but it was nice to see Hader's Price sketch again - it's so consciously not-of-this-generation that I'm always afraid no one in the studio audience will ever laugh. The highlight for me was Jon Hamm's endorsement of John Ham, mostly because it recalled the 12:55am brilliance of Peter Sarsgaard's SARS-Guard.

Normally I'd say that pushing FOUR musical numbers would be preferable to airing out an inferior sketch, but this time it just meant that I kept the show on mute for long stretches. Coldplay is music for people who think prunes are candy.

Anonymous said...

Jon Hamm's John Ham was brillant! Loved Don Draper Sketch & Price's Halloween Special.

Anonymous said...

SNL needs new writing. The Vincent Price sketch, Barack Obama Variety skit, The Don Draper's Guide to Picking Up Women and the Jon Hamm's John Ham were the only skits that were remotely funny. And the Amy tribute was cute.

The rest was just not funny at all. The had all sorts of talent with Hamm, John Slattery & Elizabeth Moss, but they managed to botch even that up by picking regular characters which didn't work with the time, etc.

Whiskey said...

agree that Jon Hamm totally rocked it and carried the show. Was annoyed that Slattery, who is hilarious in his own right (just read his interviews sometime) was used mostly for the face recognition and didn't get to deliver even one of those perfect one-liners he's so great at. The A-Holes didn't belong in the Mad Men sketch and it dragged. Don Draper's Guide should be included in the Mad Men S2 DVD extras, it was pitch perfect (pun intended). The Biden/Murtha skit would've benefitted from some editing -- shorter would've been funnier. The Obama Variety show worked tho it certainly could've been funnier. I was glad to see Rudolph back, bummer they didn't get to do a Bronx Beat with Hamm reminiscent of the one with Brian Williams (see, that to me was one of the last truly solid shows from beginning to end, maybe because no one expected Williams to be so *good* at it?).

We hated the Sex Offender & Vincent Price sketches, and the only thing that saved Weekend Update was the Robot Phone's one line about calling black people next week to tell them the election was cancelled.

I have high hopes that Jon Hamm will get the chance to catch someone's eye and get tapped to do a RomCom or two as a leading man, as well as dramas -- he's got movie-leading-man written all over him and I for one don't get tired of watching him.

As for SNL, I think I'll go back to watching the 1hr versions on E! It's almost painful to watch these 90 minute eps...

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'm sure Hamm would be good in a romcom, but what I really want is to see him do an action movie or a thriller. There are very few actors in the business -- successful working ones, anyway -- who are quite as rugged and masculine as Hamm. He feels like a throwback to the kinds of men who were stars in Don Draper's era.

Uncle Crizzle said...

I think the comic you're talking about is Greg Travis. I saw him a couple of times doing this bit where he wondered what would it be like if James Mason was in the Stooges:

[in James Mason voice]: "Curly, I'm going to slap you in the face very hard."

Can't find the clip, though. E-mail him for verification at www.gregtravis.com.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, I could definitely see Jon Hamm in an action/thriller. When he wore the tux for the party given by Barrett, I kept thinking 007!

dez said...

I'm sure Hamm would be good in a romcom, but what I really want is to see him do an action movie or a thriller.

You'll get your chance with the remake of "The Day The Earth Stood Still." I hope that film doesn't kill Hamm's movie career because it looks sucktastic.

Elwood said...

can anyone identify the comedian who does a bit in which he imagines Mason replacing Moe as leader of The Three Stooges?

I may be wrong, but I seem to remember this as part of Kevin Pollack's late-80s, early-90s stand-up routine.

debbie said...

There are very few actors in the business -- successful working ones, anyway -- who are quite as rugged and masculine as Hamm. He feels like a throwback to the kinds of men who were stars in Don Draper's era.

TOHTALLY agree. Jon Hamm definitely feels like he's from another decade...a reincarnation of Rock Hudson, but without the closetedness.

I liked Samberg's Rastafarian video, but that's probably because I have an intense hatred of white guys with dreadlocks.

Matt said...

Now that you mention it, Hamm would be almost perfect for the inevitable U.S. remake of French flick "Ne Le Dis A Persone (Tell No One)," which had a respectable arthouse run this summer and followed the oddball path of U.S. bestselling novel-->French movie.

Jenn. said...

I thought that this episode was solid, especially as they appeared to have to do some major adjustments with Amy Poehler having gone into labor. I thought that Jon Hamm was excellent as a host. As much as I like Viva la Vida (and I really do---one of my favorite singles of the year), I thought that performance was really off. The other two songs were better, I thought, and Coldplay did take one for the team by sticking in an additional song. Interesting thought that Moss was a last-minute addition---as she's in NY for a play, she could have been called in if Amy was supposed to be in the skit.

I have no opinion as to whether they should have done a Biden gaffe skit as a matter of fairness. But I have to say that I love that Joe Biden impression and was glad to see the opening skit just because of that.

Tom said...

Don Draper's guide to picking up women was funny, and got me remembering one of my favorite SNL bits of the 00's -- Tom Brady in a fake industrial film on sexual harassment in the workplace:

http://www.nbc.com/Saturday_Night_Live/video/clips/sexual-harassment/258532/

Anonymous said...

I liked the episode too, but the funniest sketches only consisted of Jon Hamm being Jon Hamm (or Don Draper, twice). It hardly showed his versatility as a comic actor and if it was any other guy, he wouldn't be this universally praised. Maybe some people like Mad Men a little too much?

Withnail said...

You know, I got to say -

I'm increasingly disappointed that during the Most Important Election Of Our Lifetimes, Saturday Night Live has yet to come up with a compelling take on Barack Obama.

Amy Poehler destroyed with her Hillary. Tina Fey's Palin redefined celebrity satire. Hell, even their Biden gets a few laughs.

So why is so hard for comedians to come up with the Joke about Obama. Almost every satiric version of him has failed.

All except for Obama's roast of himself at the Al Smith Dinner. He made fun of himself so well, taking shots at his arrogance, his sense of entitlement, his sheer glean of perfection.

This guy is - god willing - going to be our president for the next four years. Let's find the joke about him.

Anonymous said...

Alan, here's your answer to your query .. The comic's name is Greg Travis and he performed it on Rodney Dangerfield's "Opening Night at Rodney's" 1989 HBO special .. (Yeah, you're an expert on TV, sure, ya are!)

Sincerely,

Chris

nathansmart said...

One crazy thing about the Mason impression... In dress rehearsal the character that Jon Hamm played was Dean Martin. That means that at the last second they switched it over to James Mason and he hadn't had any rehearsal for that impression!!

This guy's a genius I tell you. For more on how funny he is, listen to him on Jimmy Pardo's Never Not Funny podcast and Doug Benson's I Love Movies podcast. He's hilarious!

Roy said...

Another comedian that placed James Mason in odd situations was Gilbert Gottfried.

For expample: James Mason as Ralph Kramden: "Alice, Norton and I are going Bowwwwwwling!

cgeye said...

If folks want to google "Vincent Price's Halloween Special", you can find the video posted -- and I ain't gonna make NBC's job easier, in posting the direct link...

chrissie said...

In Maureen Ryan's column today, Matthew Weiner confirms that Moss was brought in to replace Poehler. (Spoiler warning for the link)

http://featuresblogs.chicagotribune.com/entertainment_tv/2008/10/mad-men-peggy-a.html

chrissie said...

Sorry, link didn't go through on the last post. The story is linked through TVTattle.com on 10/28.

Christopher said...

Ausiello says Jon Hamm is close to signing on for a multi-ep arc on 30 Rock. (this gift just keeps on giving...)

http://ausiellofiles.ew.com/2008/10/jon-hamm-to-gue.html

bitsy said...

Jason Sudeikis never ever makes me laugh, and I'm sorry but his Joe Biden sucks. That opening sketch was so bad it was hard to watch.