"Saturday Night Live" scored some solid laughs this week playing to its strength in mocking the past week's most talked-about topics - namely the president's selfie and appearance at Nelson Mandela's memorial service and the comedic fury triggered when Fox's Megyn Kelly said Santa Claus was "white." The show succeeded on both counts by playing off the absurd with just the right touch.
First in this week's crosshairs was the phony interpreter who spent his time during the service for Mandela flashing nonsensical sign language and hand gestures while standing just feet away from several world leaders, including President Obama.
Obama [who is now owned in satire by Jay Pharoah in much the same way Dana Carvey was George H.W. Bush, Will Ferrell nailed Bush 43 and Darrell Hammond morphed into Bill Clinton] tried to speak about both Mandela and his current health care plan's continual woes at the presidential podium, But Thamsanqa Jantjie [Kenan Thompson] mimicked and mocked Obama with a string of awkward and sometimes quasi-profane gestures.
Thompson's character was eventually escorted off the stage by Secret Service agents. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel [Kate McKinnon] took his place and demanded a selfie from a very hesitant Obama.
"Oh really? I feel like you kind of owe me after the whole wiretapping mein cellphone thing," McKinnon said in a German accent right out of "Hogan's Heroes."
Thompson returned during Weekend Update as Santa Claus - "You've heard of Secret Santa. Well, the secret is out and I'm black as hell" - as the show tackled and hopefully used some serious comedy to deflate the debate about the race of Santa Claus.
Yes, America, it's come to that.
The "Santa race controversy" hit critical mass after Kelly created a stir and string of late night jokes by saying that [hide the kids] Santa was "white" while discussing an equally absurd piece in Slate that said the Christmas icon should be a penguin because that would not be seen as racially offensive or insensitive by blacks and other non-whites.
Sometimes, real life cannot be imitated by art, but SNL gave it a shot and nailed it.
"People don't want to live in a world where Santa is black and one of his reindeer is gay," he said. That would be "Prancer."
"White guys taking credit for what a black guy did?" said Thompson. "I'm more used to it than I am OK with it."
He also warned people not to call the police if they saw him coming down the chimney and told anchor Cecily Strong that Mrs. Claus was white. "Do you think a black woman would live out in the middle of the snowy wilderness?" Santa asked. "If she was black, we'd be living in Atlanta near her Mama."
SNL is no stranger to claims of racial bias. When this season's new cast was named, several critics cited the lack of a black female member as a shortcoming. The show poked fun at itself when it was hosted by Kerry Washington earlier this season and recently held auditions for a black female cast member who will be added in 2014.
John Goodman returned this week to host for the 13th time.
His first appearance as host in 11 years was full of solid sketches and served as a terrific warm-up act for next week's Christmas show, which features former cast member, current "Late Show" host and future Jay Leno replacement Jimmy Fallon and five-time host Justin Timberlake as the musical guest. Expect the internet to be filled all week with suggestions about which recurring characters and sketches will make an appearance.
The surprise cameo this week came when Robert DeNiro and Sly Stallone showed up with Goodman as the "Three Wise Guys." They were lost riding camels on their way to Bethlehem to pay tribute to the Baby Jesus.
Among their gifts, an envelope full of cash. "I heard this kid was going to be big," DeNiro says. He and Stallone are appearing together in "Grudge Match" this Christmas season.
Goodman joined Bobby Moynihan "Drunk Uncle" during Weekend Update as his "Drunker Uncle" and the two lamented about changes in the world they just can't seem to understand.
"PS4. X-Box One. Humanity zero,"
Celebrity chef Guy Fieri was torched by Moynihan in a promo for the "Guy Fieri Christmas Special."
"It's nothing but cars and bacon."
Kings of Leon was the musical guest.
[Readers and mobile users can watch the entire episode right here.]
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