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Posted at 4:15 PM ET, 08/30/2010

Can three newcomers save 'Saturday Night Live'?

By Sarah Anne Hughes

Dear Tina and Amy, I miss you. Please come back. (AP Photo/Dana Edelson)

Posted by Sarah Anne Hughes

I don't think I'm alone when I say that "Saturday Night Live" wasn't that great last season. Yes, it-girl Betty White's guest turn on NBC's late-night gray lady was pretty great, but the rest of the season's writing was lazy and (most of the time) painfully not funny.

It was announced Friday that cast member Will Forte -- best known for his MacGruber sketch/feature film flop -- will not return for the show's 36th season.

Of course "SNL" is a show with a lot of cast turnover, but it seems the show is losing its best cast members rather quickly. In the past five years, "SNL" lost Tina Fey, who also served as head writer, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Chris Parnell and Rachel Dratch among others. "SNL" received a huge boost from the 2008 elections, namely Fey's Emmy-winning impression of former governor Sarah Palin, but the elections were quickly over and the show returned to poop jokes, a weird recurring sketch about a family that kisses too much and a lot of Kristin Wiig characters.

With Forte's departure a sure thing, rumors about new cast members have started. The New York Post is reporting that comedians Taran Killam, Paul Brittain and Vanessa Bayer will join the cast. NBC hasn't confirmed anything yet.

Are these three unknowns funny enough to help breathe some life into "SNL"? Let's do some Internet investigation.

Taran Killam

Taran Killam is certainly the most well-known of the three, but that's not saying much. He was a featured player for one season of the now-canceled "SNL" show-alike "MADtv" in 2001-02. More recently, he played Jimmy on ABC's "Scrubs" and has been on a couple of episodes of "How I Met Your Mother." He has a child with "Mother" cast member Cobie Smulders. I think Killam has definite potential. Like Kenan Thompson, Killam has sitcom experience, which has served Thompson well enough on "SNL." But in a cast of mostly white men -- Bill Hader, Seth Meyers, Andy Samberg, etc. -- couldn't the show use a little more diversity?

Paul Brittain

Paul Brittain is a Chicago comedian who performs with improv trope iO Theater. Brittain doesn't have an IMDB page, but I did manage to find a video he starred in from the 2010 Combustion Festival, an improv festival in Toronto. There just isn't enough information on Brittain at this point to make a full assessment about his comedic skills. But, as I said with Brittain, another white guy?

Vanessa Bayer

Like Brittain, Bayer is performer from iO Theater in Chicago. Her IMDB page lists three projects that look pretty low budget to me. She also starred in a Blue Shield of California insurance commercial, which was kind of funny, kind of scary. In a male-dominated show like "SNL," it's always nice to see another woman in the cast, especially one that is relying so heavily on Kristen Wiig. Although (note: this judgment comes purely from a 30-second commercial), Bayer does seem a little Wiig-esque, no?

I'm sure these three are funny. If they weren't, they wouldn't have been considered for the job. I think the bigger problem with "SNL" is the writing. And until Meyers decides to leave and some new writing blood is injected into the show, no amount of new cast members will help.

What do you think? Do you think three new cast members will help "SNL"? Is "SNL" even worth saving? Tell us in the comments section.

By Sarah Anne Hughes  | August 30, 2010; 4:15 PM ET
Categories:  TV  
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Maybe SNL can regain a trace of their 2008 luster by lampooning America's religious right wing-nut demagogues in the media (bring back Darrell Hammond to play Glenn Beck), electoral candidates (Rand Paul, Sharron Angle, Joe Miller, Pat Toomey, et al.) and incumbent pols (e.g., Cooch) who've made redonkulous pronouncements.

I STILL miss "That Was The Week That Was"!

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | August 30, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Is it still worth saving? I didn't know it was still alive. I hate to admit it but even in 2008 I waited to see the Tina Fey/Amy Poehler skits online and haven't sat in front of a TV to watch SNL since, well, I dunno ... the '90s? RIP ... stick a fork in it.

Posted by: Omyobama | August 30, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

Well, the writing was lazy in 2008, too - you all just thought it was great because they were making fun of Sarah Palin.

Posted by: David90 | August 30, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

Everyone loves to SNL bash. While its greatness has certainly come in fits and spurts throughout the years, I thought the show was actually pretty good last year. My biggest complaint is that the cold open is almost always an Obama speech. Change it up a bit, gents.

Posted by: gtrain82 | August 30, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

I STILL miss "That Was The Week That Was"!

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | August 30, 2010 5:16 PM |

Nosy, since you've now planted the music in my head and it won't go away, I'll let you share the misery.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | August 30, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

SNL skits take one joke and do it over and over and over and over and over and over again. They don't even conclude a skit with a different joke. The celebrity monologues are truly terrible in comparison with Leno or Letterman. The Weekend Update bits used to be funny, but now the Daily Show does that every day and much better.

If it wasn't for Sarah Palin, SNL would have been canceled two years ago.

Posted by: Delongl | August 30, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

people SNL bash because it's such an easy target - and for some of you younguns this didn't used to be true. Of course now, with smart funny stuff available from the intertubes and cable, SNL has just spiraled down to fill the least common denominator niche of the 'Benson' of american sketch comedy.

Posted by: quintiliusvarus | August 30, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

One of the problems with SNL in recent seasons is the writers have decided annoying is funny. If you analyze most of the sketches, especially Wiig's, the joke seems to be how annoying the characters are. And tastless. The recurring sketch of the singing sisters, one of whome is obviously developmentally disabled with deformed limbs, is so cringeworthy I have to fast forward the DVR past this remarkably insensitive running gag. Of course, many of us are now older and "hamburger, hamburger" and the shark at the door would probably seem stupid if we were to see it for the first time. Unfortunately, SNL has ceased to be considered hip enough to attract the type audience which would appreciate some of the stuff they are now doing. Maybe they should start writing and casting for an older audience.

Posted by: 20steveltd | August 30, 2010 6:52 PM | Report abuse

Is SNL worth saving? How is that even a question? Of course, it is worth saving. People have been cracking up over SNL sketches for a long time. And they are still laughing. Sure, the writing is not the best right now, but it can improve. SNL is not too far gone. The actors are funny and the supporters are many. Will it ever return to its glorious days? I cannot say. The loss of Will Forte is huge. However, all we can do is hope for the best in this new season and hope that we laugh as much at the new stuff as we did at the older stuff.

Posted by: mogo001 | August 30, 2010 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Horrible show. I try to watch but it's like the writers never really studied quality nuanced comedy, just slapstick. And they seem to target one audience: the midwestern low IQ beer drinking guy who is dating his cousin. Their recurring characters (Magruber, the girl who always one ups everyone, the brotha with the dance show) are one trick pony's. How do you make a one trick pony a recurring theme and expect someone with an IQ over 100 to tune in twice? Really. It's as plain as day that the writers think the audience is extremely stupid.

The whole writer team should be fired. Most of the cast should go too. And really, really people...they should DIVERSIFY the cast, crew and writers. No racial group has a monopoly on comedy although the producers of the show seem to think one or two groups do. Just because in it's heyday (the 1970's) there was one black guy and they considered that diversity back then, it doesn't really represent America today. We were a decade removed from the Civil Rights act. Times have changed. Where's the Asian person? How about a Latino? Wait, wait for about TWO Black cast members!!!

The show is bland. It lacks flavor. And they'll rotate in more blandness hoping to make it less bland.

Saturday Nite is dead.

Posted by: 20yrskinfan | August 30, 2010 7:26 PM | Report abuse

Chevy Chase has been better than expected on Community and so I'm wondering why all comedians have to be 20/30 something. Bring in some Glee for sure but a balanced group should be the foundation. BTW... I thought it was a great season. With guest hosts like Taylor Swift and Don Draper even Justin Bieber made for a real time capsule in a non-political year. Then again, what do I know. I don't think Modern Family is that funny.

Posted by: angriestdogintheworld1 | August 30, 2010 8:57 PM | Report abuse

It does seem that they latch on to one marginally funny/disturbing sketch, then flog it to death. And the Wiig vehicles are the worst of them.

Posted by: amicus | August 30, 2010 9:12 PM | Report abuse

I think most posters above have it right - the writing sux and even a new John Belushi wouldn't stand out in recent years.

Posted by: GarrisonLiberty | August 30, 2010 9:13 PM | Report abuse

I agree with others that the show just isn't funny anymore. It is consistently lame regardless of who is in the cast. I think they should consider changes at the very top. Yes, that would include Lorne Michaels. The show needs some younger voices. It is stale.

Posted by: niceshoes1 | August 30, 2010 9:35 PM | Report abuse

they should get that youtube comic John Roberts that does the Mom with the red wig and the tweenager Jackie and Debra videos. That's a very funny guy.

Posted by: funnyha | August 30, 2010 9:35 PM | Report abuse

I thought SNL had its moments last year. Their biggest problems were the overdose of Kristen Wiig and the constant unfunny Fred Armisen-based skits. Still Andy Samberg's digital videos were usually great, Bill Hader has gotten a lot better, and Seth Myers was usually funny on Weekend Update. Although I generally didn't care for Will Forte, I will miss the classic ESPN skits.

This year I hope SNL promotes either Abby Elliot or Nasim Pedrad from featured players to dilute amount of Wiig in each episode.

Posted by: sirocco23 | August 30, 2010 9:40 PM | Report abuse

Most of you are dead right. The Target skits are as funny as scratching a blackboard. I thought we'd never again see a classic skit such as Julian Bond's "You've come a long way Negro" and Christopher Walken's "More Cowbell" but then along comes Taylor Swift's Monologue Song. It's rare gems like this that will keep me watching and hoping but most of you are right - this show is on life support.

Posted by: ajlerner1 | August 30, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, but criticizing a new hire for being just another white guy is pretty unprofessional. Especially when your main problem with SNL is . . . the writing. Is there some correlation between minority comedians and good comedy writing that you'd like to let us in on?

Posted by: simpleton1 | August 30, 2010 9:55 PM | Report abuse

I could name a couple of great ones who would save the show, but as they are white males they should not be hired, and instead any old boring women should have a chance.

Posted by: kls1 | August 30, 2010 9:57 PM | Report abuse

It never ceases to amaze me that any half hour of Jon Stewart's program (in large part, written in less than 24 hours) is funnier than virtally any episode of SNL.

Posted by: mhs101255 | August 30, 2010 10:02 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, the Singing Sisters are what made me throw in the towel on this show. If they want a recurring Lawrence Welk bit, they should produce musical numbers that never would have made it onto Welk except by some hideous clueless oversight, being performed by singers who obviously don't get the counterculture references in the lyrics. Like that clip that went viral on youtube from the Welk show for real, showing an insanely clean-cut couple singing "One Toke Over The Line."

Posted by: jlizkenn1 | August 30, 2010 10:55 PM | Report abuse

"painfully not funny."

That's been true of SNL for 25 years.

--faye kane, homeless idiot savant
Read more of my smartmouth opinions at

Posted by: Knee_Cheese_Zarathustra | August 30, 2010 11:00 PM | Report abuse

Simpleton1 said:
Is there some correlation between minority comedians and good comedy writing that you'd like to let us in on?

Just that diversity reaches out to more people. Thats kind of the theme of that thing we live in. What's it called again? Oh yeah, America. For a struggling show that is desperate to reach an audience that has diversified significantly, it might be a good direction to target new markets. SNL ain't tackling the Latino, Asian or Black marketplaces. They shoot in one direction - and they aren't even doing that successfully. As long as more people means more advertising dollars, anything that will bring in more viewers is a good thing.

Arguably one of the best variety shows in the last decade was the Chappelle show. Diverse writers/diverse cast. Surely not all comedy is racially based but there is vast a strata of comedic content that isn't even on the menu at SNL because there's no writers familiar with any other cultures to even identify the comedic points. And even if there were, there's no cast members to act the scenes out. You want a scene with two white guys talking to two black guys? Somebody's in black face. Yeah, some white guy has to dress up as a black guy with paint on his face. That's not going to fly. If the writers could conceive it, the script couldn't even be done.

Diversity of comedy really isn't available with out diversity in the writers and cast. And there's not much diversity in the current SNL writing or cast and that's a big part of its failure. Rotating in a cast of a bunch more of the same isn't going to save this show because you aren't adding any new viewpoints and aren't reaching out to any new audiences.

Posted by: 20yrskinfan | August 30, 2010 11:53 PM | Report abuse

SNL, aka, Saturday Night Lame, should hang it up. Unlike mhs101255, Stewart and Colbert don't amaze me. I appreciate both shows for being the best of this generation's comedy. Every show has it's useful life. SNL's useful life ended in the mid 90s. It's been a zombie for at least 10 years.

SNL has its moments of hilarity....but the ratio of moments of hilarity to moments of boredom to moments of annoyance is
1 : 300 : 100

The question is not who will save SNL, but who in NBC's hierarchy has the guts to put it out of our misery.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | August 30, 2010 11:58 PM | Report abuse

True, much of the "humor" is pimply-faced high school boy stupid, but several in the cast are real talents, including Kristin, Jason Sudekis and Bill Hader. The news one-liners are sharp, though the longer Seth Myers bits are often awful (Exception: Blind NY Gov. David Patterson (Fred Armisen) wandering in front of the camera or his ongoing bashing of NOO JER-SEY! laughs me off the couch.) The new cast members have been bland, but hey, that's been SNL for 35 years. Hours of inane for moments of greatness.
Remember the great bit between Lorne Michaels and NY Mayor Rudi Guiliani ending the sullen mood following 9/11. Lorne asks, "well, can we now start being funny?" Rudi deadpans, "Why should today be different?"

Posted by: Jaybird248 | August 31, 2010 1:15 AM | Report abuse

I agree with the poster who said Lorne Michaels has to go. Michaels thinks Kristin Wiig is funny. He thought McGruber would make a great movie. He seems to think Fred Armisen does a great Obama impersonation, since he opens the show with him week after week. The man is simply out of touch with funny. Nowadays I watch for the Andy Samberg digital short and the musical guest.

Posted by: kbockl | August 31, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

"Of course "SNL" is a show with a lot of cast turnover, but it seems the show is losing it's best cast members rather quickly."

*sigh* Please don't criticize until you check your own P's and Q's :P

Posted by: sigmagrrl | August 31, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

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