It’s no secret that Saturday Night Live has had a rough couple of seasons, but as a lifelong and current fan of the late night sketch show, one of the places where SNL has consistently soared has been with the Weekend Update segment. Seth Meyers anchored the desk until he left to host Late Night in early 2014, and for a few months before his departure, he was joined by a co-anchor named Cecily Strong.
Strong–alongside Kate McKinnon–made a powerful showing with her silly characters since joining Saturday Night Live, but even I will admit that her stint on Weekend Update was a little rocky at times. When Meyers officially left the show towards the end of the 39th season, he was replaced on Update by head writer Colin Jost. It seemed to most that for the rest of the 39th season, he and Strong failed to nail the prestigious dynamic that had made Update one of the strongest segments of the show since Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon teamed up in 2000. When the show came back for the 40th season in the fall of 2014, it was announced that SNL writer and The Daily Show correspondent Michael Che would replace Strong at the desk, but she would still remain a regular cast member.
This weekend, Cecily Strong hosted the White House Correspondents Dinner, a post that has been recently held by the likes of Stephen Colbert, Wanda Sykes, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, and Joel McHale. What’s amusing about the WHCD is that, no matter what, a headline typically emerges the next day saying that the host “bombed.” Alongside hosting the Oscars, it appears to be the most thankless job in comedy. Even Stephen Colbert, who offered an infamous and searing monologue when he hosted in 2006, played to a shocked and almost silent room.
While President Obama and Keegan-Michael Key’s “anger translator” bit was the talk of the night (and it was HI-LARIOUS), I watched Strong’s 20+ minute monologue and thought she nailed it, laughing out loud many times. An equal opportunity offender, Strong landed jokes about Joe Biden’s grabby hands, Hillary’s seemingly inevitable Democratic nomination in 2016, the racial tensions between the police and the African-American community, and lots more. And, for me, this raised the question: Why was it Cecily Strong who got kicked off of the SNL Update desk, again?
According to The New York Times, Strong was approached to host the dinner just as it was being announced that she would be replaced on Update. Part of the reason that Strong was selected was, according to president of the White House Correspondents’ Association Christi Parsons, her “heartland brand of humor”. But also because, and Parsons put it plainly, “[I]f every year, for too many years, you have the same late-night middle-aged white guys up there talking, then maybe it’s possible you’re not getting a wide range of perspectives.” She’s not wrong. With the exception of Wanda Sykes, Cecily Strong is the only other woman to host the dinner in over twenty years. What’s up with that? For her speech, Strong worked with writers from Update as well as The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, so where is the disconnect between her ability to do Update style jokes written by Update writers in studio 8H at 30 Rock vs. doing them in Washington, DC? Exactly, there isn’t one.
Ultimately, I would guess her no longer being on Weekend Update came down to tradition and time. It’s somewhat of a tradition for the head writer to anchor Update (Tina Fey and Seth Meyers were also head writers) and according to Lorne Michaels, the pairing of Jost and Michael Che was, “about a new era, what feels appropriate for now.” Michaels also claimed that they, “did a lot of combinations and tests” and the best they found was Jost and Che. Yeah, except probably not because, while I can admit that Jost has gotten better as time has progressed with him behind the desk, he was awarded the luxury of time to build a rapport with his co-anchor, while Strong had to work alongside two different partners in the span of one year, only to be replaced because Lorne Michaels had flat out decided that if it had worked in the past, it would work again, and Jost would not leave the desk. It’s that simple.
At the end of the day, this is all just speculation, of course, and as Strong herself has said, her no longer anchoring Update has led to her being able to do more sketches and favorite Update characters like “The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started A Conversation with at a Party” and “The One-Dimensional Female Character from a Male Driven Comedy.” Plus, no matter what, she now has the satisfaction of knowing that she successfully hosted the White House Correspondents Dinner–with or without the Weekend Update desk.