The Emmys may be having an identity crisis over what constitutes a comedy these days, but one thing remains crystal clear about the Television Academy — voters still find the men of ”Saturday Night Live” irresistibly funny.
For the second year in a row, the actor in a comedy series category is dominated by “SNL” alums. Jason Sudeikis (“Ted Lasso”), Bill Hader (“Barry”) and Martin Short (“Only Murders in the Building”) all made the cut for the 75th ceremony. It’s a repeat of last year, when the same trio nabbed nominations, in addition to Short’s co-star Steve Martin, who was never an official “SNL” cast member but served as a frequent host and is forever associated with the show. (He was oddly snubbed this year.)
Go back a decade, and other “SNL” men have held their ground in the category: Kenan Thompson (“Kenan,” 2021), Larry David (“Curb Your Enthusiasm,” 2018) and Will Forte (“The Last Man on Earth,” 2016). And women, including Tina Fey, have also picked up acting trophies for post-“SNL” projects.
“SNL” is a comedy institution with a nearly 50-year legacy as a training ground for talent that eventually flies the nest to take the industry by storm. It shouldn’t be that big of a shock that the TV Academy loves to throw nominations (and statues) at those that cut their teeth inside the walls of Studio 8Hin Rockefeller Center.
But it’s actually a pretty impressive feat at this moment in Emmy history. The sheer breadth of television since the advent of streaming has shifted affection for comedy offerings away from network sitcoms to the series taking big swings in the genre. However, considering that every show around a half hour still gets lumped in as a comedy, some have called for an overhaul of the definition of what is funny — and what is just drama in small doses.
In many respects, “SNL” has been pushing those boundaries for years and it shows in the work of its Emmy-nominated alumni.
Take Sudeikis’ coach-out-of-water crowd pleaser “Ted Lasso” on Apple TV+. The series is without a doubt ripe with comedic moments and one-liners that have found their way onto mugs, T-shirts and virally circulated memes in its three-season run. But since its second season, the series has shown more interest in the existential crises of its characters (the usually cool-as-a-cucumber Ted struggles with panic attacks for much of the series) at the expense of its uproarious comedy.
Then there’s HBO’s “Barry,” a hitman-turned-actor saga serving up a brand of laughs that, over the course of its four seasons, became just about as dark as the blood it spilt on a weekly basis. Toeing that line between comedy and carnage was always part of what was so enticing about Hader’s vision for the series, on which he served as producer, director, writer and star. But by its final season, even its biggest fans spoke of the series with sarcastic quips about it being TV’s biggest laugh riot.
Sudeikis and Hader have been nominated for every season of their respective shows, having each picked up two consecutive statues. They will close out those impressive runs side by side, just as they began their time at “SNL” as featured players in 2005 for Season 31. They stuck around for the next eight years, before saying goodbye together in 2013.
During their time on the show, “SNL” itself went through an evolution of sorts, led by the seismic debut of digital shorts the same year the pair joined the cast. Hader’s role in the infamous “Dear Sister” digital short in 2007 is exactly the kind of surrealist comedy that has carried “Barry” to Emmy gold already. And even though Sudeikis debuted Ted Lasso in a series of 2013 NBC Sports promos, the character could have easily been an earlier creation for “Saturday Night Live.”
Conversely, Short stars in one of the few traditional comedy heavyweights in this year’s Emmys race with Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building.” Although it too has a body count, the series has built its foundation on the comedic profiles Short and Martin developed at least in part through their “SNL” appearances. Short, who won his first Emmy as part of the “SCTV Network” writing team in 1982, spent a single, but transformative, season as a cast member from 1984 to 1985 — the show’s 10th. He has returned to host over the years and is linked to the early seasons that define the show’s unimpeachable legacy.
This is all to say that, yes, “SNL” has spent half a century churning out comedy greats, and it still has a solid record of rocketing them to success — even if they are changing their comedic tune with the times. (Oddly enough, the Emmys didn’t recognize any mainstay actors in the supporting category, where they frequently are recognized.)
What started as a weekly exercise in pushing the boundaries of comedy on TV for these men has become a key part of this gold-plated movement to subvert expectations about what makes us laugh. But there is still a long way to go on that front. So for now, we can just enjoy one final battle for the Emmy between Barry Berkman, Oliver Putnam and Ted Lasso.