Here’s the confusing truth about Kim Kardashian West. As a performer—as a presence in the room, even—she is uncharismatic, zipped-up, and rigid. Every movement is mechanical. She reads cue cards like they’re law books, and her style of listening is to nod with vague interest while looking beyond her scene partner. And yet, and yet, and yet: I found myself liking the woman more and more as her episode of Saturday Night Live unfolded. There’s something so endearing, inspiring even, about how hard this woman works. She was in nearly every sketch, which in itself shows a sign of respect for the assignment. And my god, she is a good sport and had clearly told the writing staff to go ahead and take every shot.
Kardashian West’s monologue was a perfectly fine delivery of quality burns. Clad in Pepto cherry blossom, from fingertip to heel, she hit the fact of her sex tape, her venal momager, Kris; “my perfect butt;” her sisters (who take her photo as reference to their plastic surgeons); her mother’s gold-digging boyfriend; her father’s famous client, O.J. Simpson; Caitlin Jenner. It was like a wedding DJ playing the perfect obvious hits for drunk wedding guests who just wanted to dance.
In her delivery, Kardashian West tried to modulate her voice, throw in a hand gesture every now and then—and you could tell she’d been coached to pause for audience laughter. And it was clever for her to end by telling the audiencs that what she likes about herself is that she’s genuine, and she understood the genuine honor of being in the room. This felt like the artistic equivalent of a couch potato training to run a marathon: somebody who doesn’t have delusions of greatness, but rather dreams of accomplishment. The woman did something nobody thought she could and, because of her obvious efforts, didn’t embarrass herself. I found myself rooting for her.
”The People’s Kourt” was a great opportunity to skewer her lip curl of a sister Kourtney, while lording over a courtroom as unimpressed judge. I do wish Kardashian West had been able to push deeper into Kourtney’s energy-sucking disapproval of all things in her presence, and also that the person in charge of wigs had come up with another option. (It’s worth saying that Khloe Kardashian was on hand last night, participating in two sketches, while Kourtney was a no-show, presumably because comedy is boring and just really bad for her energy.)
Kris Jenner, a markedly stiffer performer than her daughter, was suing daughter Kylie for costing the brand money by not spitting out her new baby sooner. Mikey Day’s Travis Barker showed up to mac on the good judge. Their besties Machine Gun Kelly and Megan Fox (a spot-on Pete Davidson and Chloe Fineman) drowsily panted on one another. I was sure we were going to get a Kanye West sighting, however glum and from behind sunglasses, but Chris Redd did a nice, absurd turn.
“The Dream Guy” had all the makings of a great sketch—a pool of love interests that includes a dreamboat for every hankering, from John Cena to Chris Rock to Chace Crawford to The Bachelorette’s Tyler Cameron—but Kardashian West struggled to elevate her performance above solid line readings. Even at the sketch’s peak — “I really connected with one of my producers…Amy S., do you accept this token? — Kardashian West felt at a remove from the material. When Amy Schumer responded, “With both of my holes,” Kardashian West gave the appearance of mildly breaking. But even that felt like part of the script—as if she’d been told by her publicist that audiences love a good break, so she should try to pretend she would ever fight back laughter through quivering lips.
The real hero of the sketch was Kyle Mooney, who is so, so good at playing zeros who think they’re a 10. I’d love to see more of him in more sketches this season thinking he’s a big dog. He could be a season MVP.
Other high notes? Aidy Bryant swapping places with Kardashian West for a day, modeling yellow vinyl with a full bush and then falling over in the influencer’s Met Gala condom of an outfit; a “Skims for Thick Dogs” campaign that introduced a pooch who’d gained so much confidence from her new shapewear she’d started dating Scott Disick; Kardashian West catching a power nap on a club sofa; Bowen Yang—more Bowen Yang, please! —dressed as the Blue Genie in the Aladdin skit. Here was another good example of Kardashian West being too self-conscious to fully give herself over to the scene, so preoccupied was she with the way her Jasmine braid was landing on her shoulder.
Halsey gave a lovely performance with her second song, “Darling,” that had Lindsey Buckingham joining the singer on stage. Witchy woman, indeed. Now there is somebody with charisma, who seems to pulse with both the capacity for joy and darkness. Kardashian West seems perfectly accepting of the fact that she is not that deep and will never command a stage like Halsey. But the woman goes so hard and deserves all due respect. Last night was a job well done, in work not well-suited to her strengths. Mama tried.
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