Jason Momoa’s Enthusiasm Doesn’t Translate to Funny on ‘SNL’

If only Momoa could punch his way to laughs
Jason Momoa’s Enthusiasm Doesn’t Translate to Funny on ‘SNL’

Jason Momoa is like the guy from the varsity football team who’s given a small part in the high school musical as a goof. Everyone knows the jock isn’t an actor, but he’s so much bigger than everyone else on stage that people dig it anyway. “Ha ha, that’s Travis in a dream-sequence dancer leotard!” The big oaf does a couple of pirouettes to frenzied applause, then gets off stage before he can do any real damage. 

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In that kind of small dose (and Momoa has made a couple of SNL cameos over the years), the humongous guy trying to act can be funny. But as host, you can almost feel the SNL writers struggling to find things for him to do. Momoa’s sweet spot is “good-natured rage,” which is a swell fit for, say, Aquaman. His only other gear, though, is “good-natured loud” and that’s a problem for a 90-minute sketch show.

Things got off to a considerably shaky start with Momoa’s monologue, one of the shortest in recent memory. The guy was off the stage in less than three minutes, likely because telling jokes isn’t exactly his strong suit. So instead, he threw out a few Hawaiian phrases, plugged Aquaman as well as his sustainable drinking-water company, and screamed, “I love life!” At least he’s got that going for him.

The night’s worst idea was casting Momoa as a Hispanic bouncer alongside a nightclub promoter (Marcello Hernández). Let’s just go ahead and demote the SNL writer or producer who told Momoa, “Just imitate Marcello’s accent — it will be hilarious!” The result was less “funny” and more “unintelligible” or “borderline offensive.” To be fair to Momoa, it’s hard to imagine this sketch premise killing with a more skilled comic actor, although Hernandez somehow managed laughs.

The closest SNL came to finding a suitable vehicle for Momoa’s “good-natured rage” vibe was “Rome Song,” a musical ode to guys really being into all things Roman Empire. The sketch gave Momoa an excuse to show off his massive guns (not the only time in this episode when the shirt came off so the big guy could flex), wave a sword around and wreak havoc. Now this is Momoa’s element! It’s a shame that the song wasn’t more clever — additional observations that kids like dinosaurs and women are into astrology feel pretty tired. 

There’s no guarantee that Saturday Night Live kills when it hires professionally funny people to host. But it’s no coincidence that this young season’s strongest episodes were hosted by Nate Bargatze and Pete Davidson, while the weak links were fronted by Bad Bunny and Momoa. DC Comics gets it — notice how it didn’t hire a guy like Bargatze to play Aquaman? When it comes to SNL, it’s usually best to leave the linebackers on the bench and let the theater kids do their thing.

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