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Deconstructing Woody Harrelson's SNL Monologue While Injured AND Live Dates
Into the comedy weeds with anti-vax jokes about weed
Hi folks, happy March and welcome to another blog Thursday. I have live comedy dates to tell you about AND the show now has both a name and some key art!
The show’s called Satire Slides. I’ll be presenting my favorite ideas from this very publication and other works as satirical slideshows.
Friday, March 17 and Friday April 28 at Dynamic Eldorado here in Atlanta. Come to both. And while you’re at it, share this post!
Your boy’s working injured
I fell off my bike on Saturday morning, sprained my wrist, and bruised my bohonkus. I have a bruise the size of a frisbee on my right flank which makes me look like I’m turning into the McDonald’s marketing character Grimace starting with my ass.
In the wrist department It’s a delicate balance between getting the brace tight enough to actually immobilize the joint while not letting it be so tight that it cuts off circulation or makes my skin itch.
But three things definitely do make my skin itch:
Seeing people who should know better, and definitely have resources to do better, serving up garbage comedy
Being ravaged by diseases for which I’ve chosen not to be vaccinated even though I easily could be
The continued rightward drift of comedy (as discussed previously in the below post)
With all that in mind, let’s delve into Woody Harrelson’s SNL monologue from last week, blow by blow.
It’s of interest to me, a comedy writer, because it’s a great example of what not to do both on a technical comedy writing and performance level, as well as the levels of hubris and basic human decency.
If you know someone who might find all this weed-adjacent weed-wading, why not share this post with them? You’d be making a man with a bruised ass feel slightly less bruised.
If you’ve not yet watched the monologue in question and want to before we get into it, here it is.
Woody Harrelson Has Had a Long and Storied Career
It’s not possible to summarize Woody’s long career in a sentence. He was hilarious in Cheers, terrifying in Natural Born Killers, and flawed and brooding in True Detective. The man is no slouch. And yet, here, he lets us see him slouching mentally, ethically, and politically.
I point this out just to say, the guy has the resources and the experience to know how to do this right. After all, as he says in his monologue, this is his 5th time hosting SNL.
Here he is hosting SNL from 2014, for example, being silly, promoting his work, etc.. Standard stuff.
Natural Born Killer
This is a blow-by-blow line-level breakdown of a monologue that’s already been covered and reaction-videoed heavily, so I’ll forgive you for giving it a miss but if you want a comedy writer’s take, here it is.
Here’s his opening joke:
Hello, you beautiful people. And then you ugly people, too.
Straight off the bat it’s like, okay, but why? Ugly according to whom? Ugly because of physical characteristics they can’t help? Or ugly because of ass-backward ideas about public health they’re not qualified to have? I’m getting ahead of myself.
This country seems so divided. Beautiful, ugly, black, white, blue, red. I love everybody. Maybe because I'm a redneck hippie.
Not really much of a joke here, just a guy who wants to say he’s a redneck hippie. He’s positioning himself as a realist who has no investment in any ideology which is a thing people pushing a particular ideology almost always do.
You know, the red in me thinks you should be allowed to own guns. The blue in me thinks squirt guns.
This is a man advocating for a right he already has in a country that does nothing to stop ongoing slaughter.
This is a joke that could only be written by someone who has placed the deaths of so many people at so many school shootings on one side of a scale and their own wants and needs on the other and then found their own personal wants far more weighty.
This is the first point in the monologue where you have to think Woody wrote this 100% himself and refused all help. I don’t know for sure, obviously, but I do think that any page or PA on the show, let alone the writers, would have said, “Hey man, with respect, let’s not do this one. Remember all those dead kids?
But then again, even if Woody comes off as an ass, the point from SNL’s perspective could be to win back red state viewers by owning the libs.
The next chunk is weird and nonsensical because its laying tracks for the closer which is also weird and nonsensical.
So I'm red and blue, which makes purple. I'm purple.
Hey guys I’m a realist, okay? A really real totally real realist who sees both sides! BOTH sides, okay?
So this is my fifth time doing this... And you know what that means? No jacket. Okay. The last time I did SNL was around Thanksgiving 2019, three years ago, and you would not believe what happened after the show the next day. It was a Sunday, as it always is the day after I do Saturday Night Live. It's like a pattern I noticed. Anyway, I went walking in the greatest part of this city, Central Park leaned against a tree and started to read the craziest script. Oh, okay. Full disclosure, I smoked a joint first.
Big long chunk of nothing here. I guess you could say “I smoked a joint first,” and “as it always is the day after I do Saturday Night Live,” are punch lines and, “It’s like a thing I noticed,” is a tag, but this whole section is bizarrely lukewarm.
When people refer to a “tight five,” meaning a tight five minutes of comedy, this is exactly the kind of lukewarm stuff they’d cut to tighten it up.
The reason I like herb more than alcohol is because it makes me feel good. No hangover and I never wake up covered in blood.
Woody has a point here. Marijuana does not have the same associated dangers alcohol does. I don’t think it’s a great punch. Why blood? Why so violent? But at least this joke is making a point that works.
But regardless, I have decided quit smoking pot altogether and I'm sticking with it till after the show.
Sure, why not? It’s kinda the guy’s catchphrase. He smokes weed. If you didn’t want this kind of joke, you wouldn’t invite Woody to host.
Yeah. Last week in Austin, I was talking with my friend Nick. We have a lot in common. He wrote True Detective and I was in True Detective. I'm vegan, and all the animals he eats are vegan.
“Animals are vegan,” is very much trodden territory so I think the point here is to reinforce the “I’m purple!” idea. Woody is vegan. He has friends/colleagues who are not vegan.
Presumably, if one of the parents of the kids shot in a school because of this country’s nonexistant gun control approached Woody and pointed out that there is nearly no gun control, let alone common sense gun control, Woody’s defense of his pro-gun stance would be, “But I’m vegan!”
And I was complaining about how I start smoking around noon and get progressively dumber as the day unfolds. Forget basic words, simple objects, e, t, etc.. And I was hoping that the wifey-poo might say, Oh, no, that's not true. But instead, she says, at least you're aware of it.
And I say, Well, that that doesn't feel like much consolation. And she says, Think of all the dumb people who don't know they're dumb. You're ahead of them.
This is straight-ahead first-open-mic Dangerfield-wannabe material: I thought I was like THIS but my wifeypoo said I’m like THIS. This would be a low-effort joke as delivered by your boomer coworkers at the water cooler, let alone as delivered on SNL by a storied American actor.
It’s like being served crap food in an expensive restaurant, but you don’t have to eat the food, they want you to eat the plastic wrapper.
Thanks, hon. But on top of the herb, I'm a wee bit of a wee bit of a drinker. I don't know why I went irish
Because it’s a low-effort joke that hasn’t been funny ever. If the Irish are famous for anything these days it’s, what, having a good democracy? A president with a cool dog?
But in a personal triumph, last year I had seven months with no alcohol and five glorious months.
I think this is a flubbed delivery. Maybe Woody meant to say he’s had five months sobriety in seven long months, meaning he’s counting stretches of time as sober with lapses in between? This way around it doesn’t make sense to me.
Anyway, what were we talking about? Oh, yeah, I was telling you about that script. So I blame the fatty, which, you know, I got in L.A. at my dispensary, The woods. I mean, obviously, I didn't transport the herb from California to New York because that's highly illegal. My manager, Jeremy did.
Drugs guys. Isn’t that funny? Drugs!
Again though, this is what you expect of and want from Woody. Hur-hur drug references.
Here comes another lukewarm chunk. Forgive some of these typos, the transcription software isn’t good at conversational stalling sounds.
He would prefer that I talk about our movie Champions. It's coming out in two weeks, right? His comedic masterpiece. But I'm not here to sell champions. It sells itself. Projection projections have it making more than Avatar.
I think Woody thought this last was going to be a laugh line but it was powerfully lukewarm.
But whatever. I'm no salesman. Know I don't. Where was I? Yeah. Okay. No.
So three years ago, Central Park, Sunday morning, the Lord Day, trying to resist the temptation to puff too early in the day. Of course, I succumbed.
Lukewarm chunk over, now we get to an actual joke which in this monologue seems oddly rare.
Like a lot of people, I have a devil on one shoulder and on the other shoulder I have a larger, more frightening devil.
This punchline was telegraphed so clearly by the delivery that even though it’s a classic format it fell flat.
If you’re going to deliver a cliche line like this with a twist for comedy purposes, rush through the setup so everyone thinks you’re going to do the whole cliche. Pause right before your twist as if you just thought of it, then let it fly.
If you slow down to a crawl, as Woody does here, everyone knows there’s gonna be a twist.
And there's a battle going on in here. You know, I'm just. I'm just saying that I am many different things. Anarchist, Marxist, Marxist advocate, hedonist, non discriminate, extreme path epistemological deconstructionist, Texan.
I guess the point of rattling off all these terms is to seem like someone who has “done their own research,” a phrase which, in modern times, means someone who has traveled extremely far up their own ass and has confused their own large intestine as a legitimate credential award ceremony.
It is fair to judge people by what they say, but fraught to judge them by what they say they’re saying.
Woody’s not saying, “Workers of the world, unite!” as Marx did. He’s saying that he has judged himself fairly to be a fair judge. He’s borne outrageous (and not at all fake) criticism from his “wifeypoo.” He is a vegan with friends who are not vegan. He’s purple, purple, purple!
And that’s why, according to him, we should take heed as we arrive at the point of all this Central park script-reading stuff.
But back to the tree in Central Park in that script for yourselves. In my place, like the curve of your neck against the roots of the tree what kind of tree was it and what kind of trees they have in Central Park? Oh yeah, it's a palm tree.
Why is this here? It’s a terrible joke. Some of the words are mangled by the transcription but… Woody’s trying to position himself as an unreliable narrator? I have no idea. In a boggling entirety of a monologue this is but one perplexing mote.
So they lay your head on the palm, fire up a heater from Jeremy and start reading.
Okay, so the movie goes like this. The biggest drug cartels in the world get together and buy up all the media and all the politicians and force all the people in the world to stay locked in their homes. And people can only come out if they take the cartels drugs and keep taking them over and over. I threw the script away.
I mean, who is going to believe that crazy idea being forced to do drugs? I knew that voluntarily all day long. Anyway, it's about that time. Come on. It's still no joke. Okay, well, we got a great show for you tonight. Jack White is here, so stick around. Will be right back.
Ugh. Final thoughts below. Do subscribe if you haven’t already and consider going paid. Thank you!
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The Upshot: Get Your Shots
Look if you want to stick it to Big Pharma as a cartel with outsized power on American politics, that is a valid criticism in which I will wholeheartedly join.
It’s also true that American politicians and the judicial system are for sale. That’s what John McCain and Mitch McConnell fought so bitterly about before McCain’s death. McConnell won. Citizens United got passed. We have all lost bitterly as a result and our grandkids grandkids will suffer the results.
But adding the anti-vax component takes those valid criticisms and turns them into a joke that could potentially get people killed.
I don’t know why red-staters demand so fiercely that anyone forced anyone to “stay inside” here in the US. That. Never. Happened. And it happened even less in red states. To moan about it is to lie about it.
If you didn’t move around much during that time it’s because (a) you personally chose to observe the highest possible safety during that time and (b) you had the resources and situation to make that choice.
Lots of people wanted to be as safe as possible during COVID but were forced to go to work anyway. They were forgotten by people with wealth and power who were so far up their own asses their farts smelled like weed breath.
Woody is so used to getting everything Woody wants that being asked to take a COVID test or get vaccinated if he wants to work on movies seems to him like oppression.
As for why SNL thinks that’s a good horse to ride, I have no idea.