Every show deals with questions about its cast—talent, diversity, experience—but only one show gets its hiring practices scrutinized as though it’s a sports team, where fans discuss things like “usage,” how certain players might fill specific positions and roles on the team, and future potential. And that show is Saturday Night Live.
“Who can play a normal guy in sketches? Who will be the go-to for celebrity impressions? What about politicians? Can that person fill the shoes of the person they just let go? Are these people too similar? Will there be enough playing time for all of them?”
It’s a weird, wholly unique conversation that takes place every season, and wondering how all the casting pieces will (or won’t) fit together has turned into a yearly debate. So when SNL hires new cast members—like Deadline reported this week—Melissa Villaseñor, Alex Moffat, and Mikey Day, the best thing to do is continue treating it like a sports team and go to the video tape to breakdown the new draft picks. So while some of us might not know much about these three comedians, we’re going to see what we can learn from watching them in action.
In a truly baffling realization, the casting of Melissa Villaseñor is the first time in forty-one previous seasons, that a Latina woman has been cast on the show. How there has not been Latina woman worthy of being in the cast until now is beyond us, but we’re glad she’s here regardless: the show is always better when the cast is diverse; it opens up the possibilities of what the writers can create, and brings more voices and viewpoints to the show.
The arrival of a Latina comedian Villaseñor to the SNL stage is long overdue. (It’s just too bad there hasn’t been a single funny Asian person in four decades…)
Scouting Report: Age 28, from Whittier, CA., an impressionist with a wide array of voices, she has worked as a stand-up comedian out of Los Angeles for a decade.
Where Do I Most Likely Know Her From? America’s Got Talent (Season 6/2011)
Villaseñor made it to the final 16 before being eliminated, but she certainly doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of. In her debut she pulled out a Natalie Portman impression, the kind you didn’t even know you needed, and also did the world’s best Kathy Griffin (close your eyes when she starts doing it).
Do I Know Her From Anything Else? She’s done voice over work for Adventure Time (she voices Grob, among others), and, uh, she was a contestant on that Dana Carvery impression show this year, but you probably didn’t watch that.
What’s clear is—besides doing lots of musical impressions—she has a penchant for doing spot on impersonations of other female comedians, which is a huge bonus because it’s like adding a whole litany of funny women for the purposes of writing sketches.
However, being a great impressionist isn’t enough to get on the show, you also have to be able to do original characters.
But Will She Be Funny in Sketches? Yes.
How Do You Know? We watched this (slightly NSFW) video from her YouTube page:
Verdict: Even though she is obviously talented and funny, and ticks off a lot of the SNL player attribute boxes, she might struggle to get enough airtime this season since the bench is deep when it comes to the talented female cast members. We are still weary of how the fantastic Noel Wells didn’t get invited back for a second season despite being really funny, but this might be one of those casting choices aimed at the future just as much as this year. Kate McKinnon has mega-star written all over her, and Vanessa Bayer has already been with the show since 2010, so who knows how much longer either of them might stick around, so it’s possible Villaseñor can just focus on being funny without worrying about being doing enough to stick around because they know she’ll move up on the depth chart soon.
Scouting Report: Chicago native and sketch veteran, an alum of “iO Theater, Second City and Annoyance,” who has such a small presence on the web it’s hard to find his birthday.
Where Do I Most Likely Know Him From? Nothing. No, seriously, the odds you know him and his work are slim. Before the Alex Moffat Fan Club and his family and friends start yelling at me, I’m just being honest. His IMDb page lists four credits, with the most recent being 2015 indie film Uncle John, which was definitely not a comedy.
He’s the good looking young guy talking to the girl in the trailer:
So even though he is not a well-known commodity, it is still strange how little of his work is readily available.
So Why Did They Cast Him? Well it is a sketch comedy show, and he is clearly a successful actor in the medium, having been a member of three renowned Chicago improv theater groups. Plus, from what little we can see, he seems very likable and funny.
Plus he seems silly—a strangely underrated trait when evaluating cast members:
Verdict: Sometimes your team makes a draft pick and you have no idea who the hell that person is. That’s what this feels like, but that doesn’t make Moffat a bad pick, because he clearly has a great sketch pedigree, and—most importantly—he looks like he can immediately step in and fill a role the show desperately needs: the normal guy. That might sound like a backhanded compliment, but it’s not. SNL always needs someone that can be funny as the straight man, or to hold a silly scene together, or to play a bunch of roles in a single show. With Taran Killam gone, Moffat has a real chance to get a lot more air time than normal first year members tend to receive by doing that. Just because there isn’t a lot of video to watch doesn’t mean he won’t be exactly what the show needs.
Scouting Report: Age 36, out of Orange County California, a writer and performer, and a Groundlings alum that has actually written for SNL since 2013.
Where Do I Most Likely Know Him From? As an actor? Maybe from Maya and Marty (a.k.a SNL-Lite) this past summer? Unless you are really good about your Robot Chicken voice actors (he also worked as a writer).
He’s the one guy here you don’t recognize:
Is He Funny? Well he apparently co-wrote last season’s best sketch with Colin Jost, so unless you find this unfunny it would appear he has an amazing sense of humor.
Okay, He Can Write, But This is About Acting. Anything Else? There’s more from Maya and Marty, and also lots of old videos of him on YouTube, including as a part of a parody web series where David Blaine tortures a gay couple with unwanted magic. (NSFW language.)
Hmm, I’m Not Sure I Get This One Yet: That’s not a question, but this will probably help explain why Lorne Michaels thinks he is ready to make the leap to the front of the camera:
Yup. Yup That Explains A Lot. How About Another One? Sure! Here’s him doing an old James Van Der Beek:
Verdict: Like Moffat, it seems as though he’ll be able to help fill the hole Taran Killam’s departure created, meaning he might have an easier first year than poor Jon Rudnitsky who won’t be back for a second season, and yet the two feel very different. Moffat seems like he might be the sillier of the two, so he may fill that role in sketches where the comedy comes more from the performance (being silly, over-the-top), whereas Day might be better in sketches that are more driven by the writing. We imagine his fellow writers will understand his style better and be able to write for him right away (and that he’ll be able to write for himself). The switch didn’t last for Mike O’Brien—who returned back to just writing for the show after one season in the cast—but it did work for people like Tina Fey, Jason Sudeikis, and Leslie Jones (among others). Like O’Brien, who still pops up in taped sketches, our gut says Day might excel there too.
So What Draft Grade Does SNL Get For Their Three New Players? Uh, the show isn’t an actual sports team people, so this metaphor has come to it’s natural end. These are all talented people, clearly, so it will come down to how they are used as opposed to of what they are capable.
Melissa Villaseñor seems to fit the SNL mold the best with her impressions, but she has a lot of veteran women ahead of her that do a lot of the same things. Alex Moffat seems most prepared for doing sketches week after week, but sometimes it is hard for a new member to get things written for him, which Mikey Day won’t have to worry about.
The good news is that soon enough, after the new season debuts on October 1st, we’ll have plenty of more video tape to breakdown, and we will, because that’s what we do with SNL.
What do you think of the new cast members? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.
Featured Image: Filmbuff/Melissa Villaseñor/Above Average