“Live from Zoom, it’s Saturday Night Live” isn’t a phrase people ever assumed NBC’s quintessential late night show would ever open with, but then again, most people likely weren’t using Zoom as daily vernacular a month ago.
The breakout star of Saturday Night Live’s unprecedented remote episode was the video conferencing tool tens of millions of people are using while working from home. It wasn’t just a casual throwaway line in a sketch during Saturday Night Live’s (SNL) most recent episode. It wasn’t just a venue where the show was filmed, standing in as a digital replacement for Studio 8H at 30 Rock in New York City. Zoom became a cast member in its own right as the SNL team worked remotely to put together a 90-minute show for Saturday night. There was a dedicated Zoom sketch, constant jokes that ended with Zoom punchlines, and an impressive Weekend Update segment all done using the productivity software.
Like everyone else stuck working from home, the cast of Saturday Night Live were also left to figure out a way to remain productive in an extremely abnormal time. For Saturday Night Live, that means there aren’t any sophisticated props, costumes, or audio and visual effects to carry gags. It’s a group of people sitting in front of their webcams, trying to think of witty one-liners. Zoom provides the barebones of what regular people need to continue working remotely, but as a venue for the show, it stripped down a form of entertainment reliant on a number of external factors into nothing but sheer drive from comedians to make something.
The big question is did it work? Not always, but Saturday Night Live rarely produces a show with nothing but outstanding sketches. As guest host Tom Hanks, who recently recovered from the coronavirus, said in his opening monologue, “It’s SNL — there will be some good stuff, maybe one or two stinkers.” Or to steal a traditional showbiz phrase, the show must go on. Ensuring that show goes on is much easier with a multi-billion dollar conglomerate behind it (SNL airs on NBC, which is a division of NBCUniversal, owned by Comcast) even without the props, cameras and sets its budget usually provides.
That was obvious in the sketches that made it to air. If Zoom was the stage, the format was more in line with what people might expect out of a YouTube upload or viral video on Twitter. Last night’s SNL more closely resembled TikTok than the live show fans are used to, but with even more limitations. There wasn’t any physical comedy to drive home jokes — no spit takes, exaggerated falling, or weird body contortions. Outside of a couple sketches, there weren’t even major collaborations among the comedians — a staple of Saturday Night Live— and the element that makes it a variety sketch show.