Saturday Night Live Once Added So Many New Cast Members That It Became A Joke

It's an interesting time to be a fan of "Saturday Night Live." Since the season 47 finale in May, we've seen the cast departures of Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Pete Davidson, Alex Moffat, Kyle Mooney, Melissa Villaseñor, Chris Redd, and Aristotle Athari. We've also seen four new cast members join the cast: Marcello Hernandez, Molly Kearney, Michael Longfellow, and Devon Walker. It might sound like a lot of changes, but don't worry: at least we know Kenan Thompson's sticking around. 

The last time there was a cast shake-up on this level was in 2013, when Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis and Fred Armisen all left at the same time, and six new cast members were added for the new season. If you're thinking that's an unusually high number of cast members to add at once, you're correct. The show itself was aware of this, which might be why the host Tina Fey made it the focus of her opening monologue. To help(?) them out, she gets all the new cast members on stage and makes them do an embarrassing dance in front of everyone.  

"Remember it was your dream to work here," she tells the newbies as they dutifully dance in unflattering outfits. As the self-aware hazing ritual ends, Tina Fey dismissively tells them, "Congratulations, you're done for the night." Regular viewers know what she means: it's rare for cast members to get any major roles in their first episode. They typically settle for minor roles before hopefully getting a breakout sketch sometime before the winter break.

Arcade Fire or New Cast Member?

The great thing about Tina Fey is that, throughout her many years on the show (on and off screen), she's always seemed passionate about making sure new cast members get some time to shine. So it's not a huge surprise that, despite what she says in the monologue, this is not most of the newbies' only appearance in the episode. 

The second live sketch after the monologue is about a game show, in which host Tina Fey is asked to differentiate between the new cast members and the week's musical performers Arcade Fire. Kenan Thompson is the host (and now that Bill Hader's gone, he'll be the writers' go-to guy for game show hosts), and he shows us pictures of the cast members and the band: they all look incredibly similar. For each round, Thompson has one person in each group walk on stage, where Fey struggles to tell them apart.

The sketch is made funnier (and a little sadder) by the fact that, unless you're a longtime "SNL" viewer or a fan of Arcade Fire, you too will probably have a hard time guessing correctly on some of the rounds. After all, out of those six new cast members, only Beck Bennett made a long, lasting impression on the show. Kyle Mooney also stuck around for a long time and developed a small but passionate group of fans, but he was never a major presence. As for the other four cast members? None of them made it past that first year, and none of them have gone on to become household names. So when round two comes along, and you see Noël Wells standing next to Régine Chassagne, you might be just as lost as Fey pretends to be. 

That's something you gotta earn!

Another recurring gag in the sketch is that after Fey makes her guess, the new cast member tries to talk to her. Both Mooney and Wells manage to get a few words in before Kenan shuts them down. "Hey!" he yells to Wells, "No lines! You get no lines! That's something you gotta earn, okay? Get out of here! Get your ass out!"

The terrified new cast members leave the stage, painting a funny (and deeply unflattering) glimpse of what life must be like beyond the scenes at "SNL." Kenan Thompson, who even nine years ago was famous for his long tenure on the show, acts like someone who once had to put up with a lot of abuse as a new cast member and is now more than happy to throw that abuse back at the people below him. The behind-the-scenes atmosphere of "SNL" is famous for being cutthroat and chaotic, and this whole sketch plays into that. And considering that two-thirds of this new group of performers didn't make it past their first season, it really does seem like the humor here is based on some harsh truths. 

Things get more meta in the final round, where a flummoxed Fey decides to call in long-time showrunner Lorne Michaels as her lifeline. While Lorne thinks of his answer, the announcer reminds us: "As Producer of 'Saturday Night Live,' [Lorne] himself recently hired one of these people to be in the cast." After thinking it over, Lorne takes his shot and says, "Is it the Black one?" referring not to either Mike O'Brien or Win Butler, but to Kenan Thompson.

"This was a humbling round for me," Kenan says as Lorne quietly leaves the stage. "Dude's known me half my life."

Lorne's absurd on-screen portrayal

Lorne's involvement serves as a nice escalation of the sketch's premise, but it's a somewhat surprising characterization of him. During the Bill Hader/Andy Samberg years, Lorne was most notable for his role in the recurring "Laser Cats" sketches, where he plays a serious, unimpressed figure who can't believe the nonsense Bill and Andy are making him sit through.

Later, through Kyle Mooney's fake behind-the-scenes documentary sketches, Lorne would similarly be portrayed as a man who's tired of the cast members' antics, to the point where he doesn't bother to step in when things get out of control. When Mooney shoots weekend update anchor Colin Jost in the leg, Lorne tells the cameraman bluntly, "I don't usually condone castmates shooting each other, but Colin can be annoying."

Lorne's portrayal in this 2013 sketch is surprising in how he portrays himself as a bumbling, racially insensitive buffoon, but honestly it's just nice to see him on screen in any form. His inclusion here helps to cement the sketch as one of the most delightfully meta things "SNL" has ever done. We know him, Fey, and Thompson are all intimately aware of how things work behind the scenes, and although we know they're just playing characters here, it's fun to speculate just how much of this sketch was based on any sort of real experience. 

The season 48 premiere is on October 1, 2022 and will be hosted by Miles Teller and feature Kendrick Lamar as musical guest. We don't know how "SNL" will handle the four new additions to the cast in this episode, but hopefully they'll take a cue from the season 39 writers and make sure Hernandez, Kearney, Longfellow and Walker get a fun early moment in the spotlight.