Saturday Night Live, Season 40, Episode 4, “Jim Carrey/Iggy Azalea”
October 25, 2014, 11:30 p.m. (EST), NBC
Jordan Ferguson: I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Jim Carrey was the last thing this season of SNL needed at this particular moment. Carrey is very self-aware about his pathological need to seize the center and soak up the spotlight, but self-awareness is very rarely enough to solve a problem. Traditionally, Carrey’s manic overreaching can be endearing, and when well-deployed, it can be hysterical. Yet here we are in a season that is working very much as an ensemble piece, and “Jim Carrey/Iggy Azalea” drops an anvil into the middle of it that leaves the cast adrift, relegated to playing bit parts and straight men while Carrey commands the scene.
The other problem with someone of Carrey’s gravitational force and innate physicality is it encourages under-writing. Sure, you could come up with a strong comedic premise or find a new angle on old material, but why do either when you can just let Jim Carrey cavort around the stage for five minutes and call it a sketch? I won’t go so far as to call this a bad episode of the show, it just feels like a lazy one and at exactly the point we don’t need an undercooked episode. I’m not sure this is anyone’s fault—this is probably how you use Jim Carrey when you have him, and it isn’t like I blame Carrey for being himself as host—but it still left me disappointed.
There were still highlights, though. I liked the Matthew McConaughey runner, even if it was sort of half-formed and maybe made one too many return appearances. I think Weekend Update is settling into a groove, even if it will never be my favorite part of the show in its current format. And while the “Secret Billionaire” sketch was pretty dumb, the way Jim Carrey revealed the mechanical hand made me laugh as hard as anything else tonight. So what did you think, Luke?
Luke Annand: I’m probably the wrong person to ask this since I have a huge bias towards Jim Carrey. Having been a fan of his since I was 8 (so over 20 years at this point), I was going into this episode with high anticipation. Not just for the comedy superstar presence, but also given his experience as a sketch comedy player from his In Living Color days. He was the main reason I got into the show back in my university days. And his boundless energy as a comedic persona was already sharpened and on display on that show, which still fit into the overall cast and never came off as the token white guy. So asking me to be objective about one of my favorite comedic idols showing up is a tall order. But I think I can do it.
Starting with the McConaughey Lincoln commercials, I think it was just the right amount. It observed the rule of 3’s and never overstayed its welcome. If they had done a 4th commercial, THEN it would have been too far. And the 3rd one being an AllState commercial that McConaughey drives through gives it enough of a funny twist to it. The Secret Billionaire sketch I think is the 2nd best sketch of the night, since it had Carrey in Fire Marshall Bill mode as Abbott Bonneville King who kept getting weirder and weirder as the sketch progressed. When Carrey channeled his manic energy into new characters, that’s when I felt that he was on top. But he wasn’t the only one in that sketch (or the rest of the episode, for that matter) that was on point. I loved the detail of Moynihan’s Internet billionaire character wearing a hoodie in between his shirt/tie and jacket. And Strong was perfectly dim as Stacey, the batchelorette. The highlight for Weekend Update for me was the return of Drunk Uncle and his reaction to Michael Che, thus confirming Drunk Uncle’s barely concealed racism. And while the office costume party sketch had McKinnon and Carrey burning off their excess energy for 5 minutes (which honestly I actually quite enjoyed), the secret MVP of that sketch was Bryant as the one co-worker who didn’t dress up, but won anyways as a “meatball” or “red marble”. And despite having a weak payoff in her one major sketch, props to Leslie Jones for graduating to full on cast member. So now we officially have two women of color in the cast, although I wonder if that will exclude Nasim Pedrad from returning to the show since it looks like Mulaney is going to get the axe sooner rather than later.
For me, the only dud sketches (as well as Iggy Azalea) were the zombie apocalypse sketch (the show did a Walking Dead sketch a couple of years ago that was more on point than this) and the Carrey Family Reunion sketch which not even the presence of Jeff Daniels could save. That sketch got obnoxious really quickly and the only thing it proved is just how much of a singular presence Carrey is. When he does Ace Ventura or The Mask or Lloyd Christmas or any of his other characters, he makes those characters endearing and likeable. Anyone else doing them just makes them irritating. It’s like seeing someone else try to do Bill Murray. There’s only one Bill Murray and there’s only one Jim Carrey.
Since this is the “Halloween” episode, which of the Halloween themed sketched worked for you and which ones didn’t?
Jordan: I enjoyed the Paul and Phil sketch, which didn’t rely on its one-note premise too much, but instead had a lot of comic ideas floating around the edges. The Haunted Mansion-style sing along was funny enough, Jim Carrey and Taran Killam were fun as Paul and Phil, and the little character beats (“I died chasing a butterfly off a cliff!” “And then I killed myself!” or the way Moynihan yelled “Shut up!” with such lived-in annoyance) took it to the next level. I totally agree with you that Bryant was the MVP of the costume contest sketch (“I’m just a woman who’s trying her best” killed me), but that one was a dud for me. I love funny dancing as much as the next guy, but it mostly felt like they had a hole in the run down and decided to just let Jim Carrey and Kate McKinnon fill it with a lot of cavorting. As for the Carrey Family Reunion, this is a sketch we’ve seen before (I remember the Walken Family Reunion years ago) that serves no real purpose except showing off the cast’s ability to ape pretty distinctive personages, and here, the Carrey impressions were a mixed bag. Again, it felt like no one bothered to come up with ideas this week, thinking Jim Carrey would save things. Sometimes, as in “Secret Billionaire,” I think he did. Sometimes, as in that awful zombie sketch, no one could have. I’ll say this: I definitely felt the absence of the Bennett/Mooney piece this week. These two have already become integral to what I hope for from SNL on a weekly basis. I can’t really call them break out stars, because that’s sort of antithetical to what they are doing, but they are a definite bright spot.
Any other bright spots in this episode or season so far for you? How did you feel about the return of Drunk Uncle?
Luke: I loved the Paul and Phil sketch too and how they kept screwing up the Haunted Mansion vibe the rest of the characters were trying to maintain. I missed the Bennett/Mooney sketch of the week as well, although I loved how with Mooney’s costume, Strong’s character immediately went to butt and/or vagina and not peach. As for other bright spots, I loved the last sketch of the night of Geoff’s Halloween Emporium. When I saw Bayer and Strong in wigs, I thought this would be another variation of their porn star spokesperson sketches from the last few years. But the turn it takes of Geoff being possessed by a demon and Bayer/Strong as the straight women made it work. My favorite line of theirs was “We know you have access to Hell, big whoop!”
As for Drunk Uncle, he’s a character that I know I should be irritated with by now, but I still find enjoyable for some reason. I think what saves the character from being completely obnoxious or toxic is that beneath Drunk Uncle’s bluster, xenophobia and “You damn kids”-ism is an inherent sadness. Of a man whom the world has clearly moved on from. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up for debate, but his alcoholism is a byproduct of his feeling of irrelevance, which makes him relatable and thus one of the more interesting recurring characters on the show.
And while I understand why you think the 5 minutes of dancing is them just filling up air time, I got more out of it since it demonstrates why Carrey is one of my favorite comedy stars. You know the saying “Dying is easy, comedy is hard?” Well, that is true on so many levels. Have you ever tried to make someone laugh only for the joke to fall flat or for them to not get the reference you’re trying to make or to get even a reaction out of them? It’s a hard thing to do even just the one time, let alone on a regular basis. As well as timing, one ingredient of comedy that’s vitally important is fearlessness. The ability to make yourself look or sound ridiculous and not care if it works or not. For all the acclaim Bryan Cranston got as Walter White on Breaking Bad, I wish he had gotten just as much acclaim as Hal on Malcolm in the Middle, since on that show he was equally as fearless in his comedy. You mentioned at the beginning of this article Carrey being self-aware. Well, for me, Carrey is a comedic genius in how he can completely abandon his self-awareness in pursuit of a joke and the humor in any situation. There is no such thing as vanity in comedy. And seeing Carrey in a blonde wig and a pink skin tight leotard dancing around Studio 8H shows how vanity free and fearless he is when it comes to comedy.
Next week, we have another returning former SNL cast member who only lasted the one season hosting, Chris Rock with musical guest Prince. As for Rock, I imagine his introduction will be like Louis C.K’s and he’ll go right into his stand-up routine and be an actual supporting player with the cast rather than someone to build sketches around. As for Prince, I’m sure he’ll only be there just for the music, since as far as I can tell, Prince the man himself has absolutely no sense of humor whatsoever.
Jordan: It’s interesting you mention vanity here, because while I agree that a lack of it often fuels great comedy, I never get that feeling with Jim Carrey. To me, his epic overreaches and willingness to be obnoxious stems not from a lack of vanity, but an excess of it. I don’t think Carrey abandons his self-awareness, so much as embraces it. His biggest moments are his moments of most naked need, the times when he opens himself up enough to scream “Look at me!” The dance sequence is one such moment, a blatant grab for attention that almost leaves all attempts at comedy behind With Carrey, I often get the sense that getting the laugh isn’t as important as maintaining centrality in our gaze. He doesn’t care why you’re staring but that you are, and I’ve always thought he just settled on laughter as the most consistent way to rivet people. If this sounds critical of Carrey, it isn’t meant to be. I think he’s incredibly canny about what he is doing and why in virtually every moment. There’s a calculus to his comedy, even when he’s just talking out of his butt. I just don’t think his success comes from a lack of vanity in the way that, say, Will Ferrell’s often has (I’m reminded of Ferrell’s wearing the American flag thong sketch, which is basically entirely about his body not being fit for that costume). Jim Carrey’s comedy is a monument to his vanity. It just happens to be one worth visiting.
Luke: I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this. It’s interesting that you mention Ferrell, since I have a bigger problem with Ferrell than with Carrey. With Carrey, I see a fearlessness, range and warmth to him. And if there is an ego, it’s not enough to make him off putting. With Ferrell, I see the same schtick over and over and over again. There is warmth to him and the few “dramatic” roles he’s done (I’m thinking Stranger than Fiction) he was OK in. But for the most part, Ferrell just seems to do the same act over and over again with very little variation. You rarely get the sense that Ferrell is challenging himself or others as opposed to Carrey who is always willing to go out on a limb, fall off said limb and just bounce back, climb up the tree and try another limb. That’s what makes him one of the greats, even if in episodes like this, the material is hit or miss.
- “But you don’t buy a Lincoln because it makes sense. You do it because you love it. Or because you’re an Uber driver.”
- “Are Paul and Phil a part of this? Because I’m not scared of Paul and Phil.”
- “This dude did more in a day, with Ebola, than I’ve done all month.”
- “You go first.” “You’re the only one going!”
- “How does science explain that?” “It don’t. There’s ghosts.”
- Next Week: Chris Rock and Prince.