In his double-duty stint as host and musical guest on “Saturday Night Live,” Jack Harlow was one of the most energetic guests the show has seen in many episodes. He’s not ready for prime time yet as an actor, but the 24-year-old Kentucky-born-and-raised rapper brought an energy to the show that was undeniable.
He appeared in nearly every sketch — a rarity for hosts these days — and his confident but often self-deprecating demeanor influenced the writers to deliver sharp dialog: The show took clear aim at Hollywood’s often condescending portrayal of Southern life and Southern culture.
One reality-show spoof featured Harlow playing up an exaggerated Southern accent as a befuddled groom at a Halloween-night wedding with a best man, played by Andrew Dismukes, who dressed up as “the Joe-ker” for the occasion. Over the protests of the bride (played by Heidi Gardner), wedding guests vote on whether the “Joe-ker” gets to stay. (“Survivor” host Jeff Probst even popped up to adjudicate.)
Another sketch skewered the poverty and addiction-porn movie genre with the backdrop of an AA-type recovery meeting. Harlow played a reluctant attendee who eventually is coaxed into revealing that he’s always “had a great idea for a Pixar movie.” The idea, which involved suitcases, bounced around the room until Tom Hanks busted in with a cameo. Cecily Strong — in a sharp return to the series — played a strung-out looking woman with electrified hair who helpfully reminds the crowd that “movies about drug addicts have to have a song.” The bit ends with a group (including Hanks) arm-in-arm in a chorus line singing “Pack Yourself With Love.” Harlow also shined as a confused rider in Cellblock 666’s haunted elevator, which also featured Hanks as the King of Halloween, “David S. Pumpkins.”
While Harlow has said he comes from a liberal background — he referenced his close friendship with Lil Nas X, the most outspokenly gay artist in hip-hop history, during his opening monologue — both sketches may have reflected an eye-roll at how Hollywood views deep red-state America, especially at a time of such division in politics and culture.
Harlow also spoofed himself as a handsome heartthrob and ladies’ man in numerous ways, from sexy gyrating as a bartender in a sketch with Bowen Yang to hitting on Whoopi Goldberg (played by Ego Nwodim) in a “The View” sketch to diving into the crowd during his monologue to take the hand of an adoring young woman (“Michaela,” she managed when he asked her name.) In another sketch, he played a frat boy dressed as a tampon, repeatedly yelling “Sigma” to the camera and asking where he can score some “coke.” That willingness to make fun of himself has been a hallmark of his career: He appeared as a janitor in an “SNL” skit last year when he was a musical guest; he plays a short-order cook in the video for his breakthrough single “What’s Poppin.”
Harlow was all over Studio 8H last night, donning a white “Saturday Night Fever” outfit and summoning the spirit of John Travolta for “Lil Secret/First Class,” and smoothly performing “State Fair,” a play to his “younger days” – “the hate used to get to me, I just laugh now.”
Harlow, who was named Variety’s 2021 Hitmaker of the Year, is coming off of two No. 1 singles in the past 12 months — his own “First Class” and his tag-team with Lil Nas X, “Industry Baby” — and on Saturday night, he came to play. With 2023 Grammy nominations likely (we’ll find out on Nov. 15), this fast-rising star can add a successful “Saturday Night Live” hosting stint to his resume.
(Additional reporting by Jem Aswad.)