Paul Rudd Is Still the Only Person to Host a Canceled ‘Saturday Night Live’ Episode
Sure, Paul Rudd is a member of the ever-expanding Five-Timers Club, that group of comic celebrities who have hosted Saturday Night Live fives times or more. But Rudd has another claim to fame that no other SNL luminary can touch: He’s the only guy who hosted a show that canceled nearly all of its live performances hours before it aired.
December 18, 2021, should have been Rudd’s night. The SNL episode right before Christmas is usually among the best of the year, reserved for super-strong hosts and everyone’s most excellent sketches before taking a holiday break. Alas, the pandemic’s second wave was unforgiving. “It was that week where that Omicron variant came back hard,” Rudd told Dana Carvey and David Spade this week on the Fly on the Wall podcast. “It was really tense. And I remember going in and getting tested Saturday morning. I got the results of my test, it came back negative, and I was just jumping for joy — and then the whole thing got shut down.”
With the variant spiking in New York, having a live audience was deemed irresponsible. Most of the cast and crew, save for Kenan Thompson and Michael Che, went home. But two friends of the show, Tina Fey and notorious COVID Patient Zero Tom Hanks, were already on hand to induct Rudd into the Five-Timers Club. “The show got canceled at about two or three in the afternoon, but (Hanks and Fey) were already there,” remembered Rudd. “So we were trying to come up with a show on the fly. It was really a fascinating thing to see and be a part of.”
If you had a ticket for that night, you were out of luck. No live audience made for a weirdly quiet ambiance when Hanks and Fey opened the show to a mostly empty house, with only a few crew members chuckling along. Rudd entered the stage to the strains of a single saxophone providing his musical intro.
Besides the open, that was it for a live show. The rest of the 90 minutes was made up of sketches that had been taped earlier in the week, augmented by a hastily assembled hodgepodge of classic holiday bits. “I remember Lorne saying, ‘Do you have any Christmas episodes that you really liked?’” Rudd explained. “And I said I remember when I was in high school seeing Steve Martin talking about his Christmas wish. And I memorized it and I loved it because it was Steve.” Rudd then pulled out his Michaels impersonation: “It’s in the show.” (Carvey commended Rudd for becoming a member of the 70-Timers Club — i.e., the group whose members all do Michaels impressions.)
The amazing thing was that there was a show at all, scotch-taped together from mostly nothing in a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. “It was so strange,” Rudd concluded. “It was such a weird feeling.”